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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

  • Green questions for president and VPs
  • Hamdullahpur says 'differentiation' is certain
  • Arctic project brings $100,000 award
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Executives across a wide stage]
Green questions for president and VPs

The audience at yesterday's "town hall" meeting applauded pleasantly a few times for president Feridun Hamdullahpur and other officials, but the biggest burst of loud, spontaneous clapping came for the plant operations grounds crew, the people who keep the campus looking the way it does.

"I think this campus is a beautiful place," provost Geoff McBoyle said in the course of responding to a question about the physical environment and the university's master plan. The questioner added an observation about the main campus entrance, where Seagram Drive meets the ring road at South Campus Hall, asking whether it was one place that could do with a little improvement.

Some changes are planned, McBoyle said, and that would include a facelift for the SCH area based on the recent "i3" competition for student designs. "We're going to be adding new signage," the provost promised, "and the occasional tree." That drew chuckles from the audience, and a murmur or two about geese and beavers.

Another questioner pushed officials to say how much more green space the central campus will lose as a result of building projects. Dennis Huber, vice-president (finance and administration), said (above) that the campus master plan "talks about taking away green space, but it also talks about protecting green space." He added: "The next issue will be how parking relates to green space and buildings."

There was also a question about "green" or sustainable transportation. Vice-president (external relations) Tim Jackson observed that "it's an issue we have to deal with at an institutional level," and promised that top executives would confer about who is the right official or body to address it.

And one questioner asked whether it was true that officials have already decided to demolish the Graduate House, which dates from the 19th century when much of the present campus was the Schweitzer farm. McBoyle: "No." Will there be general consultation before a decision is made about the future of the house, which has some structural problems? "Yes." Starting immediately? That brought a longer answer: "We're planning on retaining that asset indefinitely," Huber said firmly, adding that the plant operations department is doing a "building assessment" in cooperation with the Graduate Student Association, the current tenant of the house, to see what work is necessary.

Yesterday's event drew 400-plus people to the theatre for the first such meeting that was pitched to students as well as to faculty and staff members. People from all three groups raised questions, and a number of other questions came in by e-mail during the 90-minute session. Among the issues raised:

  • What's being done about replacing vice-president (external relations) Meg Beckel, who left the university last spring? The answer came from president Feridun Hamdullahpur: the position "has been split into two", a VP for "advancement" (fund-raising and alumni affairs) and one for "external" (communications, marketing and government relations) and search committees for both positions are about to start work.
  • What is the university doing about "sustainable" or "ethical" use of its investment funds? "We have discussed this" in the relevant board of governors committees, Huber said, but so far the consensus has been to "invest in good companies" on the assumption that well-managed, profitable corporations are likely to be ones that do business in ethical ways.
  • Why is Waterloo's presence in Nanjing, China, so rarely mentioned when the talk turns to satellite campuses, and why is the planned Asian office being opened in Hong Kong rather than in mainland China? Waterloo doesn't actually have any of its students in Nanjing, McBoyle pointed out, and Hamdullahpur promised that once the Hong Kong office is operating, plans are to "build on that" for a Waterloo presence in China's big cities as well.
  • Will the "audit" on the doomed Waterloo Works program be made public? "Probably a summary of it will be," McBoyle said.

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Hamdullahpur says 'differentiation' is certain

President Feridun Hamdullahpur spoke for about 25 minutes at the beginning of yesterday's town hall meeting — standing or striding on the Humanities Theatre stage, working without notes or a lectern — and while he touched on everything from building projects to the quality of first-year students, the key word was "differentiation".

That's the term that's being used for a big looming change to the way universities in Ontario (and other jurisdictions) are organized. At present, with small exceptions, all universities teach both undergraduate and graduate students, in a wide variety of fields, and faculty are expected to do research as well as teach.

"We have some interesting times ahead," Hamdullahpur told his faculty, student and staff audience yesterday. "There will be pressures coming, from both the provincial side and the federal side, to bend the cost curve," in other words, to make room for more students at a significantly lower average cost.

In particular, grants from the provincial government, which provide a little less than half of the university's operating budget, are currently "based on an even spread", the same amount per student at every university, but "there will have to be some differentiation. The current system in Ontario is not sustainable."

Waterloo will be recognized as a research university, he said firmly (it's currently "the most research-intensive" institution around), while some other universities will be expected to concentrate on undergraduate teaching, and their faculty members will spend more time in the classroom. Not all university leaders support the idea, he said, but "whether we want it or not, this is going to happen."

During the question period, someone asked how such a change will affect students at Waterloo. Hamdullahpur's response: teaching will be more closely integrated with research opportunities and "experiential learning" such as internships and co-op, and students "will be taught more by research faculty" and have "an opportunity to interact more with their professors".

The top priority for Waterloo, Hamdullahpur said over and over again in his remarks and his answers to questions, is "how to make this place even more successful for our students." In the current "mid-cycle review" consultation exercise, he said, he's hearing that students are very satisfied with the university's academic quality already, and what they're looking for is an opportunity for more "engagement" with professors, the university and each other.

He said he didn't want to say too much about what he's hearing in the mid-cycle review, because there are at least another dozen open meetings coming up, but did reveal that a lot is being said about the need to improve communications on campus, as well as information technology infrastructure.

The open meetings and online survey are bringing in views from students as well as staff and faculty, he said. "Students are engaging very much — they're very committed to the future of their university." He mentioned how proud he had been to take part in last Friday's official opening of the new student success office.

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Arctic project brings $100,000 award

A project created partly at Waterloo’s architecture school has been honoured with a $100,000 prize for its “stunning solution” to problems of transportation and food distribution in the Canadian Arctic.

[White, Sheppard]The 2011 Holcim Gold Award was presented in Washington, D.C., to a project entitled “Regional food-gathering nodes and logistics network, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada”. It’s credited to “Lateral Office/Infranet Lab”, led by Mason White of the University of Toronto and Lola Sheppard of the Waterloo school of architecture (left)

It was the only gold award this year from the Holcim program, which honours “sustainable construction projects and visions” from North America. 

A total of USD $300,000 was presented to ten projects which, the organizers say, “show how greater levels of sustainability can be reached in building and construction through people-focused designs that include simple adaptation, innovative materials, and clever architecture.” The Swiss-based Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction conducts the competition in five regions across the world.

The gold-winning project is a proposal for creation of an Arctic Food Network that “secures mobility between the scattered Inuit communities, allows a better distribution of local foods, and serves as a series of bases for the reinforcement of traditional hunting. The infrastructure project also establishes new foundations for a sustainable, more independent economy.”

The creators of the project say they were working “to overcome the dependence of the Inuit community on expensive processed food products imported from the south. These foods have compromised the traditional diet centred on hunting and gathering of food provided by nature across a yearly cycle.

“The project responds to thorough research on the poor living conditions and health of the Inuit, and on the calendars, regional ecologies and transportation networks that are highly influenced by nature and tradition in these specific and extreme climatic and geographical conditions. The project intends to secure mobility between the scattered Inuit communities, allow a better distribution of local foods and serve as a series of bases for the reinforcement of traditional hunting – while also establishing new foundations for a sustainable, more independent economy.

“Snowmobiles using their pre-existing trails provide the only feasible form of ground connection. To accomplish this network, a series of small hub facilities is introduced along the tracks, acknowledging the Inuit tradition of temporary enclosure in a cold climate. These multi-functional structures provide shelter but also act as data transmission centres, ecological management stations, and cultural centres which help to integrate the Inuit community internally and externally. The modest structures respond to local conditions, whether the site is on land, water/ice or the tidal fringe. Construction is based upon easy-to-assemble modules that also utilize abundant materials on site: rock aggregate and snow/ice.”

The Holcim jury praised the project for “bringing an overlooked issue to the table, and providing a stunning solution with an impressive value-added return on the resources invested.”

It added: “The entire strategy up to the design responds to the landscape, climatic and site conditions, and includes purposeful interventions which are integrated without any grand gestures or expensive structures. Instead they bridge between the traditions of the Inuit and the expectations of the young generation, thereby providing an opportunity to create an improved future. The project is also highly transferable to other arctic regions, and its basis in terms of overall attitude and mood has even broader applicability.

The Holcim Awards ceremony in Washington follows the presentation of winners in Milan, Casablanca and Buenos Aires. This month, the series of events will conclude in Singapore. The projects that receive Holcim Awards Gold, Silver and Bronze in each region automatically qualify for the Global Holcim Awards next year. The competition is run in cooperation with partner universities in eight countries on five continents. Holcim Ltd. is a world-wide supplier of cement and aggregates (crushed stone, gravel and sand) and related services.


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Link of the day

150 years ago today

When and where

Summit Centre for the Environment, Huntsville, community open house 9:30 to 12:30 (also December 7).

‘We’ve Got You Covered’ sale of used winter coats and jackets, Wednesday-Thursday 11:00 to 2:00, Student Life Centre multipurpose room; proceeds to United Way; donations call ext. 36574.

Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy presents Erin Woodrow, Suncor Energy, “Energy Moves Me” 12:30, Doug Wright Engineering room 1501.

Library workshop: “Introduction to RefWorks” 2:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Chemistry seminar: Rebecca Jockusch, University of Toronto, “Intrinsic Properties of Biomolecules Revealed by Fluorescence” 2:30, Chemistry 2 room 361.

Career workshop: “Interview Skills, Preparing for Questions” 2:30, Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Library workshop: “Extreme Google” Thursday 10:00, Davis Centre room 1568. Details.

Library workshop: “Advanced RefWorks” Thursday 12:00, Davis Centre room 1568. Details.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ production for high school audiences by Classical Theatre Project , Thursday 2:00, Humanities Theatre.

Career workshops Thursday: “Interview Skills, Selling Your Skills” 3:30, Tatham Centre room 1208; “All About the GMAT” 4:30, Tatham room 2218; “Thinking About an MBA?” 5:30, Tatham 2218. Details.

Chemical engineering seminar: Muhammad Yousaf, York University, “Rewiring Cell Surfaces” Thursday 3:30, Doug Wright Engineering room 2529.

myHRinfo system unavailable from Thursday, 4:30 p.m., to November 9, for upgrade.

Bridges Lecture: David Seljak (religion) and Benoit Charbonneau (mathematics), “Dimensions of Transcendence” Thursday 7:30 p.m., Siegfried Hall, St. Jerome’s University.

Information systems and technology professional development seminar: Heather Wey and Natasha Jennings, “Waterloo Content Management System Training Plan” Friday 9:00, IST seminar room.

Emergency notification system test Friday 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.; look for announcements through text message, voicemail, desktops.

The Waterboys a cappella group open for The Essentials in live concert at Princess Cinema, Friday 7:30 p.m., tickets $25 (519-880-9595).

Fall open house for potential students, Saturday 10:00 to 4:00. Details.

‘Entrepreneurship: The Path to Success’ by “serial entrepreneur” Ryan Blair, hosted by student success office, Monday 8 p.m., Student Life Centre, reception follows.

Master’s programs and diplomas for working professionals, information session offered by Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, Tuesday 5:00 to 6:30, Kitchener city hall. Details.

Stratford campus meet-and-greet session with new executive director Ginny Dybenko, and preview of new building under construction, November 10, 5:30 to 7 p.m., 6 Wellington Street, Stratford. RSVP.

Sustainable development event tomorrow

The future of global sustainable development will be the topic of a special event tomorrow morning in Federation Hall, under the title “Sustainable Development: Possibility or Pipe Dream?”. The session runs from 9:00 to 12:30. Organized by the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, it features Elizabeth Thompson, executive co-ordinator for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and UN assistant secretary-general. She will give an overview of progress made by the global community on sustainable development since 1992 and what's needed for a sustainable future. Thompson’s talk will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by SEED faculty member Blair Feltmate; speakers will include Frances Westley, the university’s J. W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation. Registration for the morning event is online.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department, viewable through myHRinfo:

• Manager, design services, plant operations, USG 12
• Senior mechanical technologist, plant operations, USG 8
• Research finance training and compliance officer, office of research, USG 8
• Research finance training and compliance manager, office of research, USG 11
• Administrative coordinator, undergraduate studies, pure mathematics, SUG 4
• University records manager, secretariat, USG 13/14

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