Wednesday, May 5, 2010

  • The town hall and ‘student engagement'
  • 'Social innovation' lectures start tonight
  • Also noted while the sun shines
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Visitor peering at low-slung car]

The Formula Motorsports team showed off its work at the Canadian International Autoshow in Toronto in February — but that was then, and this is now. After “the fastest engine install ever”, conducted one evening last week in Carl Pollock Hall, the team has a new competition car (zero to 100 in 3.5 seconds) to unveil today. See the vehicle and its builders in the Student Life Centre, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

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The town hall and ‘student engagement’

Just after the end of winter term classes, president David Johnston and provost Feridun Hamdullahpur spoke at a “town hall meeting” that drew a nearly capacity crowd of staff and faculty members to the Theatre of the Arts. “I was encouraged,” says Johnston in his most recent e-mail message to the campus, “by the thoughtful and civil discourse that took place. I look forward to these meetings because I find the level of interest and the tone of discussion at this university to be great.” A video of the meeting is now available online, and the lively minute-by-minute comments made by several people on Twitter are collected, thanks to my colleague Kayleigh Platz, on a site that rejoices in the name of Twapperkeeper. Or, of course, you may prefer the summary that appeared next day in the Daily Bulletin.

The dominant issues discussed at the town hall were the university’s budget and the effects of a government-imposed pay freeze on the “broader public sector”, including higher education. The budget has lately been revised, to take advantage of extra money being provided by the government to cover the costs of steadily growing enrolment. The pay freeze is still something of an enigma, though, with university officials trying to determine how and whether they can go ahead with merit increases (for staff) and progress through the ranks increases (for faculty) that would normally have been due on May 1.

The secondary issue at the town hall meeting was “student engagement”, the elusive connection that brings the right students to this university, keeps them here, enriches their education and draws out their own contributions to Waterloo life. A rough measure of engagement is the dropout rate — the more engaged students are, the less likely they are to leave.

Bruce Mitchell, the associate provost (academic and student affairs), has been chairing an Undergraduate Student Retention Committee that includes half a dozen associate deans from across campus and is supposed to “propose realistic objectives regarding enhanced retention” and “identify best practice initiatives that should be improved or introduced”.

He said yesterday that the committee has just submitted its report to the provost, and expects it will be discussed at the major thinking-and-planning event of the year, the Executive Council “retreat” that will be held just before the Victoria Day weekend at the Kempenfelt Bay resort.

It’ll be on the agenda there along with two related reports. One comes from Bud Walker, the interim associate provost (student services), about orientation and other aspects of the transition to student life. The other is from the committee that’s been reviewing the structure of student services and the associate provost’s job description following the retirement of long-time incumbent Catharine Scott.

As for the retention study, “In addition to reviewing literature related to retention and examining practices at other universities,” Mitchell says, “the Committee has met regularly during the fall 2009 and winter 2010 terms. Consultation has occurred with members of the Faculty Relations Committee, the Manager of Residences, and residence dons, and the Undergraduate Student Relations Committee. In addition, the Associate Deans have consulted with first year students and senior year students in their own Faculties, as well as with selected faculty teaching first year courses, plus some academic support staff.”

Keeping students at Waterloo, and making them want to be here, is not about weakening standards, he added: “Improved engagement will not be sought at the expense of reducing quality of academic programs, or allowing students who are not performing satisfactorily to continue.”

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'Social innovation' lectures start tonight

A UW research group is inviting five Canadian leaders in the field of social innovation to share their insights on how to deal with the root causes of social challenges. The Innovators in Action speaker series, hosted by Social Innovation Generation at Waterloo, will apply the ideas of social innovation to specific sectors and issues — cultural change, inclusion, education, multi-sectoral collaboration and youth mentorship.

The speakers will give keynote addresses during May and June. Each keynote lecture — the first one takes place tonight — will be followed by a local panel discussion, with panelists sharing their reflections on the keynote address and offering insights into their own experiences.

"The speakers, all leaders in their fields, will share experiences of operating at the national level to identify and address the root causes of intractable social challenges," says Frances Westley, who holds the university’s J.W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation.

Ric Young, architect of numerous campaigns for change and one of Canada's leading authorities in the field of social innovation, will deliver the opening keynote this evening (7:00 at The Museum, 10 King Street West, Kitchener). He will touch on the integral role that culture plays in creating the conditions for social change, understanding the complexity of intractable social problems and exploring the kind of approaches needed to address them. 

On May 19, Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, will talk about the case currently before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, in which the Government of Canada is charged with racially discriminating against First Nations children and their families. Blackstock will discuss how this case is one of the most formally watched legal actions in Canadian history. With more than 4,000 people and organizations committed to watching, the tribunal has the potential to set a precedent of equity across all services on reserves.

On June 2, Penny Milton, CEO of the Canadian Education Association, will present the case for transforming education in Canada through innovation in schools. Schooling problems, she says, require adaptive "learning-by-doing" approaches rather than "across-the-board" technical or policy responses. Illustrations will be drawn from the Canadian Education Association’s multi-year research and development initiative entitled "What did you do in school today?"

On June 16, Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS Discovery District, will touch on the growing importance of multi-sectoral collaboration, which promotes the mutual exchange of ideas, values, talent and capital across sectors. Such an approach fosters innovation for the advancement and progress of society. 

And finally, Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, will close the series on June 23 by sharing how his agency created new approaches to old issues. He will also discuss how a nationally federated organization can evolve into one that is more nimble and responsive to the needs of its members. The agency looks at how innovative approaches to mentoring can be created in a system that has been functioning for many years.  

All of the lectures are free, although an online RSVP is required.

Social Innovation Generation (SiG) is a collaborative partnership among the university, the Montréal-based J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and PLAN Institute in Vancouver, designed to foster a culture of continuous social innovation in the country. The SiG project is “focused very specifically on social innovations that have durability, impact and scale. Our interest is on profound change processes and our overall aim is to encourage effective methods of addressing persistent complex social problems on a national scale.”

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Also noted while the sun shines

Offers of admission to Waterloo for this September continue to go out, as high schools continue to report students' marks to the Ontario Universities Application Centre. The timing of the process has slipped a bit from previous years, says Kim McKee of the visitors centre in South Campus Hall, whose work includes organizing a spring "You @ Waterloo Day" for high schoolers who have been offered a place at this university (and, perhaps, others) and are trying to make up their minds. The open house has usually been held on a Saturday, but not all the offers will be out before May 15, and the Saturday after that falls on the Victoria Day long weekend: what to do? "Together with the faculties and the admissions team," says McKee, "we have decided to host You @ Waterloo Day 2010 in the evening, on May 20. We are looking at this as a really great opportunity to put a new twist on our You're In strategy!" Some 3,000 visitors are expected between 4 and 8 p.m. that Thursday, she says. Some specifics are already online.

Conrad Grebel University College has announced that its president, Henry Paetkau, will be leaving when his current term expires in June 2011. Paetkau has headed the Mennonite college, affiliated with UW, since January 2003. "After considerable deliberation and discernment,” he said in a letter to the college’s board of governors, “I have decided to conclude my service.” Says a Grebel news release: “Dr. Paetkau arrived in the midst of a major building project that saw the residential community grow by some fifty percent.  The academic program has also been expanded and strengthened in a number of areas since then with the appointment of several new faculty, the establishment of a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies, and the approval of a conjoint Master of Theological Studies degree with the University of Waterloo. The Board accepted Dr. Paetkau's decision to conclude his service and expressed its appreciation and deep gratitude for his leadership and service to the College and the church.”

High school students across Canada, and beyond, will be SINning tomorrow. It's the day of the 42nd annual Sir Isaac Newton (SIN) Physics Prize Exam, sponsored by Waterloo's department of physics and astronomy and this year being tackled by approximately 4,100 students from all parts of the country and abroad. "Some of our foreign participants," says physics professor and SIN director [Physics diagram]Rohan Jayasundera, "are from China, USA, India, Latvia and Malaysia. Thanks to the members of the SIN team we were able to create another fun and challenging exam and have them mailed to all the participating schools on time." He sends along a sample question, one that was used in the 2009 exam: Worried about future economic downturns, Isaac Newton hides a gold brick (which is at rest) at the bottom of a large bucket filled with water. The brick has dimensions 20.0 cm x 10.0 cm x 5.00 cm, and the bucket is cylindrical with height 1.00 m and radius 0.250 m. If the density of water is 1.00 g/cm3 and the density of the gold brick 19.3 g/cm3, what is the total force acting on the gold brick? (a) 9800 N (b) 196 N (c) 19.3 N (d) 1.00 N (e) None of the above.


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Link of the day

Cinco de Mayo

When and where

Return-to-campus interviews for co-op students, final day, Tatham Centre.

Campus recreation registration for intramural sports, through Friday, Physical Activities Complex. Details.

Music Is for Life symposium, Wilfrid Laurier University, through Saturday. Details.

Term loan books due back to UW libraries today, or renew online.

International student orientation 12:00 to 3:00, Needles Hall room 1101, lunch provided. Details.

Biochemistry and molecular biology seminar: Lukas Schreiber, University of Bonn, Germany, “Suberin in Roots” 3:30, Chemistry II room 361.

Centre for International Governance Innovation panel discussion on Canada’s position in the world, book launch for Canada Among Nations 2009-2010, 6:00, 57 Erb Street West.

Perimeter Institute lecture: Renate Loll, Utrecht University, “Searching for the Quantum Origins of Space and Time” 7:00, Waterloo Collegiate Institute. Details.

Innovators in Action speaker series sponsored by Social Innovation Generation: Ric Young, social activist, 7:00, The Museum, 10 King Street West, Kitchener.

Observatory night with brief talk on astronomy, tour of UW observatory and chance to look through telescope, 9:00, Physics room 308.

Weight Watchers at Work spring series begins Thursday 12:00, Humanities room 373; call ext. 32218 to register.

K-W Musical Productions presents the romantic comedy “I Love You Because” May 6-8 and 12-15, 8 p.m., Theatre of the Arts, tickets $30 (students $20) 519-578-1570. Details.

Science Rendezvous outreach event at locations across Ontario, Saturday. Details.

Mothers’ Day brunch at University Club, Sunday 11:00 to 1:30, $24.95 plus tax and gratuity, reservations ext. 33801.

Canada 3.0 digital media conference sponsored by Stratford Institute and Canadian Digital Media Network, May 10-11, Stratford. Details.

UW Blooms Monday 10:00 to 4:00, multipurpose room, Student Life Centre: donate, pick up or exchange plants, seeds, pots, gardening material.

Work reports to be marked by coordinators are due Monday 4:00 p.m., Tatham Centre.

Alumni reception in Calgary during Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists conference, Tuesday 6:00, BMO Centre. Details.

Book launch: Richard Payette, The Amulet of Apollo, print-on-demand novel, Tuesday 7:00 p.m., bookstore, South Campus Hall.

Open class enrolment for spring term courses ends May 14 (online courses, May 7).

President David Johnston Run for Mental Health May 18. Details.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department:

• Psychometrist, health services, USG 11
• Financial assistant, research and contracts, civil and environmental engineering, USG 6
• Clinical psychologist, assessment, health services, USG 10-12, 12-month secondment or contract
• International recruitment specialist, marketing and undergraduate recruitment, registrar's office, USG 9, 12-month secondment or contract

PhD oral defences

Electrical and computer engineering. Shahab Oveis Gharan, “Diversity Multiplexing Trade-Off and Capacity Results in Relayed Wireless Networks.” Supervisor, Amir Khandani. On display in the faculty of engineering, PHY 3004. Oral defence Monday, May 10, 9:00 a.m., CEIT building room 3142.

Biology. Megan K. Otu, “The Origin, Transformation and Deposition of Sediments in Lake Bosomtwe/Bosumtwi (Ghana, West Africa).” Supervisors, Roland I. Hall and Robert E. Hecky. On display in the faculty of science, ESC 254A. Oral defence Monday, May 10, 1:00 p.m., Biology I room 266.

Planning. Laura Schatz, “What Helps or Hinders the Adoption of ‘Good Planning’ Principles in Shrinking Cities? A Comparison of Recent Planning Exercises in Sudbury, Ontario and Youngstown, Ohio.” Supervisor, Laura Johnson. On display in the faculty of environment, EV1 335. Oral defence Monday, May 10, 1:00 p.m., Environment 2 room 1001.

Psychology. Jennifer Peach, “Recognizing Discrimination Explicitly While Denying It Implicitly: Implicit Social Identity Protection.” Supervisor, Steve Spencer. On display in the faculty of arts, PAS 2434. Oral defence Monday, May 10, 3:00 p.m., PAS building room 3026.

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