CEO Message

Welcome to the May edition of Profound Connections. 

In this issue’s Impact Story, you’ll meet Dr. Ronda Frueauff, a 2023 Impactful Action Award nominee whose 40-year career in education focussed on advancing the use of technology in schools, designing creative classroom environments to engage students in experiential learning, mentoring and coaching. Ronda’s love of learning continues in retirement as she conducts research on laughter and how it affects brain growth.

In our Researcher Spotlight, we profile Dr. Kelly Lyons from the University of Toronto. In addition to being recognized for her outstanding research, Kelly is known for her leadership as head of IBM’s Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) Toronto. At CAS Toronto, Kelly was responsible for applied collaborative research projects with universities across Canada as well as CASCON, Canada’s premier international general computer science conference.

Profound Impact is pleased to announce our strategic partnership with AI Partnerships (AIP) Corporation. Research Impact, our AI-driven platform, uses proprietary and patented AI-powered algorithms to match industry and academic researchers to grant funding in an automatic, targeted and timely manner. We’re excited to partner with AIP and look forward to providing opportunities for AIP’s affiliate network to engage with our platform and add their AI-based research projects to Research Impact’s database.

On May 1, Sherryl Petricevic, Profound Impact’s Director of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships, moderated the panel Unlock Innovation Dollars Through Academia, presented by Innovation Factory. Representatives from BDO Canada, McMaster University, Sheridan College and Mohawk College showcased real-world examples of successful projects and industry/academic partnerships and how companies can successfully access this source of innovation. Sherryl will also participate as a panelist in a discussion on Research Intelligence Solutions at the Canadian Conference on Research Administration, presented by CARA, in Calgary on May 12 – 15.  

The 2024 Oktoberfest Kitchener-Waterloo Women of the Year event will take place on May 23 and we are honoured to sponsor the STEM award for outstanding advancement to the field of Science, Technology, Engineering & Math. Profound Impact team member, Martha Breithaupt is nominated in that category and will also be a keynote speaker at the event. And the innovative Mentoring Circles program offered by the Waterloo Region Chapter of Women in Communications and Technology, an organization I am proud to have co-founded with Sherryl Petricevic, is nominated in the Group Achievement category.

Check out the recently released Lead Like a Woman podcast to hear my views on the importance of being risk-aware rather than risk-averse and how culture, inclusivity, and diversity shape leadership and success in start-ups.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that my late husband, Dr. Scott Vanstone, renowned mathematician, researcher and co-founder of Certicom Corporation, and I will be recognized by the 2024 Waterloo Region Entrepreneur Hall of Fame laureates at a gala ceremony in Kitchen for co-founding TrustPoint Innovation. 

Thank you for your support and we hope that you enjoy this month’s edition of Profound Connections!

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone

Ronda Frueauff

Dr. Ronda Frueauff

Dr. Ronda Frueauff’s outstanding career in education at all teaching and administration levels, elementary through college, would not have happened if she had pursued her original dream of studying journalism at Eastern Kentucky University. But after completing high school, she lacked the financial resources to attend university and instead studied to be a cosmetologist.

“I worked in a salon for 6 years and loved that job,” says Ronda. The owner of the salon and a fellow cosmetologist, both of whom had earned university degrees, encouraged her to start taking university classes. Ronda enrolled as a part-time student at Miami University in Ohio, focusing on courses in education, business, law and art while working full-time. “I declared my major in Elementary Education and Special Education,” says Ronda. “The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed into law in 1975 and I knew that teachers with expertise in special education would be in demand.”

Ronda’s first job in education was in Cincinnati, where she worked as a teacher for 6 years before shifting to Director of Curriculum. She earned her Master’s degree in Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders from Xavier University in Cincinnati in 1983 and a second Master’s degree in Educational Administration from the University of Akron in 1988.

Armed with impressive qualifications to work in designing and administering optimal learning environments for all students and a desire to live in a warm climate, Ronda moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she accepted a position as an Assistant Superintendent and Director for Curriculum and Instruction, beginning her 30-year career in education in Arizona.

Ronda received her Doctorate of Education in 1998 from Arizona State University with her dissertation on Organizational Health and the Influences that Enable and Constrain the Development of Healthy Schools. Much of her 40-year career in Ohio and Arizona focused on her thesis work, her personal research and her experience, both in the classroom and as a superintendent. “In 2010, I produced a concept paper on a model for experiential learning based on my years of experience in many school systems,” notes Ronda. “In order to engage students, you have to have an environment that is inviting and engaging. In order for students to learn, each must be the author of their own learning. Everything is part of learning – from the time a child gets off the school bus to the time they leave the school building.”

The concept of a student-centered, project-based STEM middle school outlined in her paper was brought to life in August 2012 when Colonel Smith Middle School (CSMS) opened for students on the Fort Huachuca (FH) Army Base in southern Arizona. Ronda pulled together a non-traditional architectural firm, a creative and talented construction manager and an extremely diverse design team to build this pioneering school. CSMS was the first net-zero school in Arizona, using an electronic dashboard and iPad to monitor all energy sources (solar panels, wind turbines and natural gas) and the water harvesting tanks.

Ronda has led the construction of several schools in addition to CSMS, including a dual language, multi-age primary school with two special centres for creative projects in science and technology; two project-based elementary schools; and six Kindergarten to 12 grade centralized campus schools. And her use of design techniques to engage and enrich educational environments has been implemented in military-impacted schools across the U.S. and around the world through her partnership with the U. S. Department of Defense and the Military Impacted Schools Association.

Ronda’s passion for her work and her academic and career success are a natural result of her love of learning. “I always loved school and spent a lot of time in the library, reading biographies to learn about how successful people had made use of the options available to them. My parents were very focused on education and my mother, in particular, wanted her daughters to have options open to them and not be dependent on a husband for a good life.”

Ronda has continued to serve the education community since her retirement as Superintendent for the Ft. Huachuca Accommodation School District in Arizona in 2013. She served as Executive Director of Arizona ACSD, the premier professional focused on mentoring and coaching teachers and school administrators from 2018 – 2020.
From 2015 to 2018, Ronda worked with the Arizona Science Center as the project manager for the Rural Activation and Innovation Network (RAIN), which connected STEM Resources in rural Arizona by establishing local projects and experiences, and STEM professional development for community leaders to stimulate dialogue, interest, and engagement of children, families, and organizations in the STEM disciplines, their real-world applications, associated career opportunities, and impact on the local economies.

From 2012 – 2020, Ronda worked with the Center for School Reform, which collaborated with the Gates Foundation to assist schools in implementing school reform efforts such as creative scheduling for professional development time and high school reform. She also facilitated a 3-year Active Research Study of Instruction in Mathematics with Math Educators for all levels P-20 at Cochise Community College in Arizona.

Ronda’s current focus is on research on laughter, its impact on five different regions of the brain and how it causes dramatic brain cell growth. “I’ve always studied psychology as part of my undergraduate and graduate work and I’m especially interested in cognition, brain theory and brain development. My plan is to write a book on the subject, using everyday stories from my experience and those of my colleagues and mentees to illustrate the research,” she adds.

Ronda Frueauff has devoted decades to advancing the use of technology in schools, creative work in curricular areas, with a focus on STEM, designing creative learning environments, facilitating governance and operations efficiency, consulting, mentoring and coaching. And her long career in education hasn’t diminished her love of learning. “Always be a continuous learner,” she advises. “Take the risk of learning something you don’t know.”

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Kelly Lyons

Dr. Kelly Lyons
Professor, Faculty of Information, Cross-Appointed the the Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto
Interim Director, Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society

Kelly Lyons has always loved solving tricky puzzles and enjoyed math and science in high school. “Physics was my favourite,” she says.  But when Mr. Lowe, her physics teacher asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated, she told him she hadn’t decided. He had a suggestion: “You should try Computer Science. My daughter is a computer scientist. She loves math and she loves physics and now she makes a ton of money and travels all over the world.”

Kelly was born and raised in Fort Frances, Ontario, an isolated town of 8,000 people located between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. “I went across the border to International Falls, Minnesota, to movies, dances and even for my piano lessons.” While many of her friends got jobs after high school, Kelly wanted to go to University. “I loved everything about school. I loved studying.  Weirdly, I even loved exams.” She took Mr. Lowe’s advice and traveled east to Queen’s University to study computer science.

After completing her undergraduate degree, she applied for, and was awarded, an NSERC postgraduate scholarship to attend graduate school. “At the time, many of my university classmates were applying for jobs, so I submitted my resume to Bell Northern Research, Nortel and IBM, all of whom were interviewing on campus.”

The manager from IBM was very enthusiastic during the interview. “I’ve already decided that I’m going to hire you,” announced the interviewer from IBM. “I just haven’t decided yet which team I’m going to put you on.”

Kelly deferred her NSERC scholarship for two years to take the job at IBM, where she worked on the testing team for Fortran compilers. “When I arrived at IBM, I told my manager that I would only be in the position for two years before returning to Queen’s for graduate school. He told me that he was going to pretend he didn’t hear that because if he did, I wouldn’t be offered the opportunities I deserved. And I might change my mind about grad school.”

At the end of those two years, newly married and ready to move back to Kingston for graduate school, Kelly let her manager know that she was leaving and asked for advice on how to resign. He suggested, and she agreed, to take a leave of absence instead so that she could, if she wished, return to IBM after completing her graduate work.

After earning her master’s degree, she applied to and was accepted into the PhD program at Queen’s. “When I told my manager that now I was definitely quitting, he said something I’ve never forgotten: ‘Never say never. The world could change. You could change. IBM could change.’  So, instead of quitting, I took an extended leave of absence.”

IBM launched CAS, the Centre for Advanced Studies, in Toronto as Kelly was approaching the completion of her PhD. When an IBM representative visited the Queen’s campus to talk about CAS, she met him for lunch and learned more about the centre. “This sounded like a great place,” says Kelly. “I then met with Jacob Slonim, the head of CAS Toronto, who was enthusiastic about having me join.”

Kelly’s first role at IBM was as a software developer. Nineteen years later, in 2004, she was appointed as the Head of CAS Toronto, where she was responsible for approximately 60 applied collaborative research projects with universities, approximately 100 visiting university researchers, and CASCON, Canada’s premier international general computer science conference which hosted over 1,500 attendees annually.  

Kelly loved her work at CAS, where, in addition to heading the Centre, she co-supervised students and wrote research papers with them in her role as Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Dalhousie University and York University. “One of my proudest moments as the Head of CAS Toronto was when the CAS Toronto partnerships won the NSERC Synergy Award for Innovation in the Leo Derikx category for ‘an established innovative model of long-standing university-industry partnership in pre-competitive R&D that has improved the general well-being of an industry.’ Another proud moment was in 2005 when CAS Toronto celebrated incredible people and their inspiring stories via the Computing Pioneers of Canada.”

Kelly’s tenure at IBM was meant to be short-term. “I always knew I wanted to be a professor”, she says. The next logical career move at IBM would have been much more administratively heavy than her role heading CAS, leaving very little time to conduct research or work with students. It was time to pursue her dream of being a professor.

“I have been very lucky to work with outstanding researchers and leaders from across Canada while at CAS,” notes Kelly. She consulted with some of those researchers and was encouraged to apply for an open position within the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. She joined the faculty as Associate Professor in 2007 and is currently a Professor there with a cross-appointment to the Department of Computer Science.

Kelly’s experience in industry and as an active researcher has led her to work in a range of leadership roles at the University of Toronto.  From 2015 to 2020, she was Associate Dean, Academic in the Faculty of Information, and from 2020 to 2021, she served as the Dean’s Advisor on Pandemic Planning and Response. She served as Acting Vice Dean, Research and Program Innovation, in the School of Graduate Studies from January to June 2023.

In January, 2024, Kelly was appointed Interim Director of the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society (SRI) at the University of Toronto after serving both as a faculty affiliate and one of the institute’s three associate directors. SRI’s focus on multi-disciplinary research on how technology, systems and society interact is a good fit for Kelly’s research on service science, knowledge mobilization, data science, social media, collaborative work and software engineering. “What defines a service system is value co-creation. It takes at least two entities to come together to co-create a service – it can’t be created without a client in mind. I conduct research on how social media can play the role of technological intermediary between and among service systems,” says Kelly.

Kelly has served the computer science community through her role on the Board of Directors of CS-Can|Info-Can from 2020 – 2023 and as a Member‐at‐Large of the ACM Council from 2008 to 2012. She has supported, advocated, and celebrated women in computing as a member of the Executive Council of ACMW and by her contribution to the book Rendering History: The Women of ACM-W. Kelly was one of nine influential women who expressed their views on representation within the technical and AI communities for a recent article in Forbes magazine. In the article by Hessie Jones, titled A Call For A Systemic Dismantling: These Women Refuse To Be Hidden Figures In The Development Of AI, she is quoted as saying, “I have been fortunate to be part of a strong network of very smart, technical women in industry and academia. We may be smaller in proportion within the technical community, but we are large in our voices, our contributions, and our support for one another. The need for initiatives increasing diversity in tech—and especially in the world of artificial intelligence—is vital. We must ensure that the people working on AI systems reflect the concerns, experiences, and identities of the populations affected by these systems. Advocating for women in the AI sector requires a strong, united voice.”

As she begins to plan for the next phase of her career, including plans for retirement, Kelly is focusing an increasing amount of her time on mentoring. “My plan is to retire from teaching and administration and to continue research as a Professor Emerita,” says Kelly. “I decided that I need a way to decide which of the opportunities presented to me to pursue. I am choosing those in which I can collaborate with and support women and others at the margins in Computer Science.” 

Kelly’s career has included management and collaborative research roles at IBM, internationally-recognized research on developing technology with a human-centric approach, administrative leadership at the University of Toronto and service to the computer science community. And her success in her dream job as professor is best expressed by one of her students: “Kelly is a really good professor. She is compassionate and kind. She lights up the classroom with her passion about the subject matter.”

CEO Message

March was a busy month for showcasing Profound Impact, our focus on AI, and how our Research Impact platform uses AI and machine learning to disrupt the research funding industry.

I am pleased to have joined the Advisory Board of AI Partnerships Corporation, whose mission is to make AI more accessible and affordable to businesses of all sizes in order to further the mass adoption of enterprise AI. I look forward to working as a member of the Advisory Board to leverage the technology and expertise of the organization’s Affiliate Network of more than 120 AI solutions providers.

On March 21, I joined the Ivey Alumni Network at the sold-out AI Open House themed Insights from the Leading Edge of AI Adoption in Canada. This successful event, hosted by Deloitte and curated by and for Ivey Alumni, provided insight into the world of AI while helping demystify it. It was an honour to participate as a panelist, alongside others shaping Canada’s AI landscape, to share my insights on how we need to adopt a spirit of inclusion and lifelong learning related to how people affect AI.

To hear my thoughts on the need for companies to consider AI’s potential in automating their processes and the significance of staying informed about AI developments, check out Business Challenges Female Entrepreneurs Face In The Modern Economy, the newest episode of The Business of Intuition podcast I recorded with host Dean Newlund last month. You’ll also learn about Profound Impact’s mission of using AI technology to connect great people to do great things by matching researchers and corporations with relevant grants and funding options.

Looking forward to April, a report on why I joined forces with Deborah Rosati, Profound Impact board chair and founder and CEO of Women Get On Board, and Lara Zink, VP of Client Service and Development at Delaney Capital Management to create Women Funding Women (WFW) is featured in the April issue of the I Am Unbreakable magazine. Click on the link to learn about my entrepreneurial journey and how the WFW network is working to address the persistent funding gap faced by women entrepreneurs in North America.

In this month’s Impact Story, you’ll meet Jennifer Lee, Vice-Chair at Deloitte Canada. A bold, inspiring leader, Jennifer creates global transformation for her clients at Deloitte through her extensive expertise in a wide range of areas. You’ll also learn about her incredible passion for driving local and global impact through her international volunteerism and board work.

You’ll also meet Tomasz Bednarz, Director of Strategic Researcher Engagement at NVIDIA, and the subject of this month’s Researcher Spotlight. Tomasz’s rich background as a researcher, lab director and active volunteer in the computer graphics community provides him with the technical and managerial skills to lead a team that is discovering the new research superstars and helping those researchers to take their innovations to the next level by using NVIDIA-developed technology, tools and hardware.

Profound Impact’s mission is to revolutionize the way researchers work by simplifying grant applications and fostering industry collaborations. For a limited time, we are offering a free evaluation of Research Impact to individual researchers, colleges and universities. Sign up for an evaluation or join us for a Research Impact Demo Day, where we demonstrate the matchmaking features of Research Impact.

Finally, are you curious about this month’s solar eclipse on April 8? I have had the honour of being affiliated with Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics for many years and am pleased to share an article on the eclipse from their monthly newsletter.

Thank you for your support and we hope that you enjoy this month’s edition of Profound Connections!

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone

Tomasz Bednarz

Tomasz Bednarz
Director of Strategic Researcher Engagement
NVIDIA
Photography by Quentin Jones.

Tomasz Bednarz is passionate about connecting dots – whether between scientific concepts, across academic disciplines or to develop collaborations that bring people together to conduct ground-breaking research. “My team at NVIDIA actively engages with top researchers and premier research institutions that do compelling, computationally intense work to solve some of the world’s most challenging scientific problems,” says Tomasz. 

Tomasz grew up in Bukowno, near Krakow in Poland, where he was enthusiastic about low-level mathematics and how computers worked. “My family wasn’t rich but did everything to support me in my education. It was very hard for them to get my first computer, a wonderful 8-bit Commodore C64. Very quickly, I started to be very interested in demos, graphics and how they were produced.” Tomasz became fascinated by the monthly Commodore 64 magazine C64+4 and the pages of hexadecimal numbers it contained and was wowed when he realized that he could enter those numbers into his computer to produce music or visuals.

When he was in his mid-teens, Tomasz’s parents replaced the Commodore 64 with an IBM PC XT 12MHz – which came without fancy software or graphics. “Then, I wanted to learn from the bottom up how the processor worked and how to use Assembly x86 to program it. I was very lucky to get a reference book on Assembly x86 from the local high school and thought the best way I could learn would be to write computer viruses.” He developed three viruses that spread across the globe, but all were harmless by design. “After 6 months, I really wanted to find something other than writing viruses to drive my further learning,” he says.

Tomasz (AKA Warlock of Amnesty / Absence) counts himself lucky to have been living in Europe at that time, where Demoscene, an international underground computer subculture focused on producing demos that are the product of extreme programming and self-expression, was being developed and used by coders and musicians. “Demoscene is now accepted by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage in several countries. At the time, in the early 1990’s, we were pushing the limits of creativity, using very, very slow computers to make inspiring visualizations synchronized with tracked music.  All from scratch, with no books or internet to consult. By experimenting, I learned how to use lots of coding tricks to express myself visually – it was my very first school of life in aesthetics. I also learned how to build a Virtual Reality engine from scratch.” A few examples of Tomasz’s Demoscene award-winning coding works are Revolt from 1995, Voodka from 1996, Nie! from 1998, Syndrom-X from 1998 and his ACM SIGGRAPH blog post on Demoscene.

At the time, Demoscene participants used floppy disks to record code to exchange with fellow users across Europe. “At one point, I got into trouble with the post office when I started receiving 20 fat envelopes every day, each containing floppy disks. They wondered what I was up to!”

Tomasz studied physics in university, at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, because he wanted to do something different than just basic computer science, and outside of his comfort zone. He had co-founded a software engineering company and was completing his Master’s degree when he received a call from his academic supervisor who was visiting Kyushu University in Japan, encouraging him to apply for entry to the PhD program there. “The only thing I knew about Japan was what I had learned about samurai from movies. But I decided to go outside of my comfort zone, completed the application, and was accepted,” Tomasz says.

Part of the application process was writing a proposal on what would be his PhD topic – magnetic hydrodynamics and using magnetic fields to play with gravity. “I knew almost nothing about this new topic but was very curious. I submitted the proposal and was accepted to the program with a scholarship. The call from my professor came in May and I was in Japan by September of that year,” he adds.

Tomasz believes that experimentation is an essential part of innovation. “Experiment to find your passion – it can transform your life,” he says. His academic and professional career paths reflect this view. He took a chance on moving to a country he knew little about to complete a PhD he hadn’t intended to pursue and followed up with an MBA in order to learn about leadership, strategy and how to manage people and organizations. Tomasz’s professional path has included working on the Nintendo NDS platform to develop low-level graphics code for a car racer game, leading a Visual/Hybrid Analytics Team at CSIRO’s Data61, and setting up and serving as Director and Head of Visualization at the Expanded Perception and Interaction Centre (EPICentre), a pioneering high-performance visualisation facility that boasted the highest resolution VR system in the world at ~120 Million pixels in 3D.

Tomasz has for many years served the international computer graphics community through his active participation as a volunteer with ACM SIGGRAPH, a global non-profit organization serving the evolution of computer graphics and interactive techniques. ACM SIGGRAPH, among other professional activities, produces two annual conferences that are world’s largest, most influential annual meetings and exhibitions in computer graphics and interactive techniques. Tomasz was ACM SIGGRAPH Asia 2019 Conference Chair when the conference was held for the very first time in Brisbane, Australia and attracted 5,120 participants from around the world.  He currently serves as a SIGGRAPH Asia Conference Advisory Group (SACAG) Chair, contributing to the future of SIGGRAPH Asia conferences and connecting the global research community, and is a voting director of the ACM SIGGRAPH Executive Committee. Over the last ten years, his volunteer roles within the organization have included Computer Animation Festival Jury member, Courses Chair, Virtual Augmented and Mixed Reality Jury, Frontiers Chair, reviewer, and conference panelist and presenter.

“I am very passionate about the role I’m in now. I love working at NVIDIA which is known to drive the graphics industry, AI, and many innovative research and applications,” says Tomasz.  His role in building a team of researcher DevRels from a range of disciplines to work with top researchers around the world connects all the dots of his academic career and team-building experience. “Our team has deep conversations about science with researchers to learn about what they’re working on and about long-term trends.  We want research labs to be successful and we can contribute to their success by mentoring graduate students and post-docs and helping researchers to take their research to the next level by using NVIDIA-developed technology, tools, and hardware,” he adds.

“My academic focus and my career have been all about connecting dots that were not previously connected,” says Tomasz. His work at NVIDIA, working with people from around the world with expertise in a range of disciplines, is helping to discover the new research superstars, the innovations they are building, and is developing a network of networks that will truly drive innovation to the next level.

Jennifer T. Lee

Jennifer T. Lee
Vice-Chairwoman, Deloitte
Board Member, University Lecturer and Executive in Residence at Rotman School of Business

Jennifer Lee recently participated in an International Women’s Day panel at her alma mater, the University of Waterloo, where she spoke on Three Life Lessons on Inclusivity, which capture her perspective on work, community and life:

  • Accept your identity. Own your heritage.
  • Tell your story. People want to hear your journey.
  • Have a mindset of abundance. Pay it forward and shine a spotlight on others.

Jennifer’s world view is largely shaped by her heritage. Her father was born in China, and at age five was instructed by his parents to find a way to Hong Kong to earn money to feed the family. Like many others escaping poverty, he ended up swimming to Hong Kong on a tire despite the inherent dangers of crossing a vast body of water. “My father was the oldest child – he had no choice but to go,” says Jennifer. “He worked in a bakery from age 5 to age 10 before joining another family on a boat to Fiji, where he eventually met my mother, and they found their way to Canada.”

Jennifer’s parents emigrated to Canada and settled in Belleville, Ontario. “I was born in Canada, but am acutely aware that I come from an immigrant background. I have an allergic reaction to privilege and entitlement. When you come from humble immigrant beginnings, you don’t have the luxury of being entitled. All you are taught is resilience,” she says.

Jennifer grew up in Belleville, where she earned a bursary to study at an independent high school and became very involved in martial arts. “From age 14 to 18, I was the captain of the Canadian Martial Arts team and travelled around the world in that role. That experience taught me that I wanted a global life and career which involved solving big problems for the world or business.”

Queen’s University offered Jennifer a modest scholarship, but her final choice of university was determined thanks to information provided by her mother. “She knew nothing about Canadian universities, but opened a book one day, read about the University of Waterloo’s Applied Studies and International Trade specialization and pointed it out to me. I didn’t know about UW or its reputation – but decided that this was the right program for me because it had the world ‘International’ in it. I felt like I belonged there.”

The Bachelor of Arts with International Trade Specialization was a very competitive program where students were accepted in second year. “I worked really hard in my first year to get into the program. In a world where I was always achieving, going to Waterloo was eye-opening because of the calibre of students and competitive internship programs. And my Chinese parents made it clear that failure was not an option!”

Jennifer was successful and, as a second-year intern, was recruited by AT&T in Hong Kong where she worked for a year in Mergers and Acquisitions to build the telecom network in India. While in Hong Kong, she worked incredible hours, met her extended family in China for the first time, and celebrated her 19th birthday.

Her next internship took her to Stuttgart, Germany to work for Hewlett-Packard for a year. Germany became her home base for another two years while she finished her degree. She and her German boyfriend (now husband) met when she was 17 years old in an airport, and had started dating long distance. They lived in Germany together before she moved back to Canada, continuing their long-distance relationship. 

Jennifer’s career at Deloitte started with a position, based largely in New York, in corporate strategy. She left Deloitte after 4 years to move to Universal Studios for a short time before realizing that the position as a national marketing manager for blockbuster movie releases wasn’t right for her. She decided to apply to the Executive MBA program at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, but was initially rejected as being deemed too young.  After challenging the decision, she was accepted as the youngest student to be admitted to the Executive MBA program.

While completing the Executive MBA, Jennifer joined Bell Canada in a number of management roles at the company. An opportunity to expand her international business experience to Asia presented itself when she was contacted by a former classmate who was serving as head of USAID in Central Asia. He invited her to apply for a position to restructure microfinance in Azerbaijan and, although she had no experience in the area and was certain that there was no possibility that she would be hired, she submitted a 10-page proposal on how to restructure the banks. She was offered the job, only to learn that it was a non-paid position. She accepted it for a four-month term, with Bell Canada giving her the opportunity to take a leave of absence. “I moved to Azerbaijan and worked on stabilizing 27 microfinance banks and their plan for non-restricted revenue generation. As a result, I became very interested in microfinance,” she adds.

“After Bell Canada, I returned to Deloitte and became a partner. Deloitte allowed me to take short breaks each year to return to work with the Azerbaijani microfinance banks,” she says. Jennifer’s deep interest in microfinance and the impact of empowering women expanded her work with the Asian Credit Fund in Kazakhstan. Her passion for elevating women out of poverty became a core tenant of her personal growth. Her focus on microfinance continues as Jennifer serves as a member of the board of directors of Windmill Microlending, the only national charity that provides affordable loans to skilled immigrants and refugees so that they are able to leverage their skills in order to work in Canada.

At Deloitte, Jennifer led the Global Financial Advisory clients and markets and orchestrated the company’s Global’s NextGen Program, establishing a global pipeline of successful female executives to take on global leadership roles in her business unit. She also led Deloitte Global’s pandemic response and has been recognized for her impact as one of the top Global Future Leaders in Consulting by Consulting Magazine and as the Manulife Mentor of the Year by Ascend Canada. 

Jennifer serves as Executive in Residence and on the faculty at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management, where she works with the next generation of executives by teaching “Management Consulting in an Uncertain World” to second-year MBA students.

“There are real problems to be solved in the world,” says Jennifer. She has realized her capacity to work, and wants to balance that with making an impact in the community, both locally and internationally. In addition to her work in microfinance, in Canada through Windmill Microlending, and in Asia through her work in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, Jennifer recently joined the board of directors of Trillium Health Partners. She co-leads the investment committee for the GROW Giving Ring of Women, a giving circle dedicated to Canadian charities focused on women, children and poverty reduction.

“Mentoring is huge for me,” says Jennifer. “I benefited from mentorship and sponsorship throughout my career, and I feel it is time to pay it forward by elevating women and minorities at Deloitte and in our communities.” She counts Margaret Finney, her high school English teacher, who taught her about literature, how to speak in public and introduced her to ways of thinking, as an important personal mentor. “I credit everything that I accomplished to my martial arts career and Miss Finney. My high school teacher really ‘saw’ me. Through her, I know what it feels like to be included, seen, heard and appreciated.”

Jennifer’s passion for working and contributing internationally is also reflected in her family’s priorities. “I care that my two sons are good people and that they make an impact in the world.” Her family is global and adventurous – she has traveled all over the world with her husband and sons. “I’ve lived in five countries and plan on living in five more!” she adds.

A bold, inspiring leader, Jennifer creates global transformation for her clients at Deloitte and brings her considerable expertise and passion for driving local and global impact through her volunteerism and board work. “There has been a big shift at this stage of my life,” she notes. “I am learning to be careful about how I spend my time so that what I do reflects my values and where I want to make an impact.”

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

CEO Message

March is Women’s History Month, an annual celebration of the vital role and contributions of women to society. Profound Impact is proud to celebrate women through the stories you’ll read in this month’s issue of Profound Connections, as well as activities we’re sponsoring throughout the month.

This month’s Impact Story profiles Zainab Azim, a young woman whose passion for space, education, neuroscience and public policy has inspired her to found an organization that works towards providing access to quality education, serve as a mentor in the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs Space4Women program and present her research to audiences around the world – all before completing her undergraduate degree!  Read about Zainab and her plans for expanding her work in mentoring and in the policy space to empower young girls and women interested in pursuing space and STEM fields.

In this month’s Researcher Spotlight we feature Julita Vassileva, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan. You’ll learn about Julita’s passion for promoting the status of women in computer science and in all areas of science and engineering where women are underrepresented. You can also learn about her ground-breaking research on applying AI to solve educational and social problems.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 each year and the theme for IWD 2024 is Inspire Inclusion. Profound Impact is proud to be a sponsor of IWD 2024 events presented by WCT-WR, the Waterloo Region Chapter of Women in Communications and Technology. WCT-WR will host two live events on March 8 and March 27 that will include conversations featuring trailblazing professionals in the arts and culture sector, entertainment, and musical interludes.  Full information about those events and registration information is available here.

In last month’s newsletter, we announced the launch of Women Funding Women (WFW).  Founded by myself, Profound Impact board chair Deborah Rosati and Lara Zink, VP of Client Service and Development at Delaney Capital Management, WFW is a collective working to address the funding gap faced by women-led ventures.

We’re excited about the incredible energy generated by WFW’s two-day launch event on February 7 and 8. Our keynote speaker was Joanna Griffiths, founder and President at Knix, who shared her story with our collective.  

You can also tune into the From Fear to Fire podcast, where I speak with Heather Hansen O’Neill about how WFW is leading the charge to challenge established norms within the venture capital sphere, redefining the landscape for women founders and funders.

Are you a researcher looking for the perfect funding match? For a limited time, Profound Impact is offering a free evaluation of our AI-powered tool, Research Impact, to individual researchers, colleges and universities. You can view a video here or sign up for a live demonstration during one of our Demo Days.

Thank you for your support and we hope that you enjoy this month’s edition of Profound Connections!

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone

Julita Vassileva

Professor of Computer Science
University of Saskatchewan

Julita Vassileva has been acclaimed both for the excellence of her research in Artificial Intelligence and Education, User Modelling and User-Adaptive Systems, Multi-Agent Systems, Trust and Reputation Mechanisms, Incentive Mechanisms, Online Communities and Social Computing, and her passion for promoting the status of women in computer science and in all areas of science and engineering where women are underrepresented.

Born and educated in Sofia, Bulgaria, Julita wanted to be a poet and writer as a teenager. But Bulgaria was a socialist country, freedom of speech was severely constrained, and only those whose creativity flew in the permitted channels could make a living as poets or writers. How did she choose a career in science? “I come from a family of scientists,” she says. “My grandfather was a professor in biochemistry.  My mother was an associate professor of chemistry and my father – of physics.”

She continues, “I hated math in primary school and wasn’t very good at it until we started learning geometry in grade 5. Suddenly I was captured by the simplicity of images and elegance of geometry as compared to the formal rules to be followed in algebra.”

Julita competed to be accepted to the Sofia Mathematics Gymnasium high school and she credits one great teacher, who taught her class for only three months in grade 9, for her enthusiasm for math. “The teacher creates the vocation,” says Julita. “He taught math in a completely different way. He didn’t follow the textbook but taught us as though we were university students, starting with complex numbers instead of teaching how to solve quadratic equations by ‘Just remember this formula’.” We saw the problem stretched on the plane with an imaginary axis and a real one instead of squeezed on a linear axis and suddenly the solution – the Viet formula – made perfect sense. I saw the link between algebra and geometry.  The whole class was hooked. He was also an opera singer. When a student solved a problem well at the blackboard, he would sing an aria!”

Julita studied mathematics and mechanics at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski and, after completing her Ph.D. in mathematics and computer science, she accepted a position as a Research Associate at the Federal Armed Forces University in Munich. “This was after the fall of the Iron Curtain and it was now possible to travel from Bulgaria to the West,” says Julita. 

Although she enjoyed her time in Germany and wanted to pursue a career in research and academia, the position was limited to a five-year term. Julita’s home country was in deep economic turmoil, so returning to Bulgaria was not an option. She decided to make the move to Canada after receiving an offer from the University of Saskatchewan, where she would work in one of the five leading groups in the world conducting research in Applied AI, AI in Education and building good systems for teaching.

Julita’s ground-breaking research is focused on applying AI to solve education and social problems and includes intelligent tutoring that incorporates personalization and user modeling, multi-agent systems that build trust to ensure technology is seen as beneficial, designing incentive mechanisms that encourage participation in online communities and persuasive technology that facilitates behaviour changes to benefit users and their communities.

“Since people are motivated by different things, I am particularly interested in personalization approaches that tailor incentives for users depending on their personal features and the features of their groups and communities,” she says about her focus on building successful online communities and social computing applications.

Julita is passionate about science outreach and promoting the advancement of women and minorities in Computer Science. As the NSERC Cameco Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (WISE)/Prairies from 2005-2011, she developed the Science Ambassadors outreach program, which enriches classroom science learning in remote Indigenous communities. “Indigenous people are extremely underrepresented in Science and Engineering. What if we could encourage more women from Indigenous communities to enter these fields through a program that brings science students to the north to help the teachers teach science in interesting ways and to serve as role models?”

Julita credits colleagues Chary Rangacharyulu from the Department of Physics and Lee Wilson from the Department of Chemistry for the idea of Science Ambassadors. As Chair, she had the budget to make it happen by paying a summer job honorarium for University students to work with teachers and students in remote communities for one month. The program, which reaches over 2,000 children annually in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, covers the cost of flying university students to northern communities that have trouble attracting teachers. These students consult in advance with teachers to understand how they can help, and then develop and help deliver material based on those discussions.

The Science Ambassadors program has been active for 16 years and continues to be operated by the College of Arts and Science after Julita’s term as NSERC WISE Chair ended. “I am very proud of the program and the impact it has had on bringing a larger cohort of Indigenous students to the University of Saskatchewan,” she says.

In addition to the prestigious NSERC WISE Chair, Julita’s research and outreach work has been recognized with the University of Saskatchewan College of Arts and Science Distinguished Scientist Award in 2021 and with a Saskatoon YWCA’s Women of Distinction Award for Science and Technology in 2015. She has received appreciation letters from the Hon. Senator Lillian Dyck, and from the professional societies ACM and IEEE for her work on promoting women in science and engineering. She is proud of the many “Best Paper” and especially the “Best Student Paper” award certificates for her students that decorate a wall in her office.

Julita is enthusiastic about Saskatchewan and her work. “I felt as though I could finally breathe freely when I moved to Saskatchewan. I love the climate, the blue skies and the clean, white snow. And I love my research and working with my students. My happiest moments are when we hit “Submit” just before midnight after collaborating on a paper in the cloud for many hours with my students to meet a publication deadline!”

You can see more about Julita’s career and impact in the visualization below.

Zainab Azim

Zainab Azim
Founder, GIVE

Zainab Azim’s interest in and passion for space was sparked at the age of 12. “Some parents read bedtime stories to their children. My father showed us documentaries about space.” 

Currently in the final semester of her Bachelor of Science undergraduate program at the University of Toronto, Zainab designed her studies to focus on a mix of the interests she is passionate about, including neuroscience, astrophysics, public policy, education and society.

“When I was younger, space was everything to me. When I reflected on why I cared about space, it wasn’t just about discovery and exploration. It was about the connection between people, the community and how we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.”

Zainab has made it her goal to inspire girls to study STEM subjects. In 2023, she presented the research she had conducted during high school and in university at the World Space Forum 2023 in Vienna. “This was the first world space forum and not a lot of people were talking about the educational aspect of space. I didn’t meet all of the stated requirements for presenting my research, but decided to apply anyway. They thought my work was interesting and they took a chance on me.”

While in Vienna, Zainab met with representatives from UNOOSA, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, to talk about how to engage young people in space studies. As a result of those discussions, she now serves as a mentor in the UNOOSA Space4Women, a program dedicated to empowering young girls and women interested in pursuing space and STEM fields. The Space4Women program selected Zainab as the Youngest Role Model for Gender Equality and STEM.

“My dream is to help other people’s dreams come true and education is the way to do that,” says Zainab. Education has been a huge part of her life. She attended a Montessori school that was led by Pakistani-Canadian women – people who looked like her. “That experience was foundational in helping me explore my interests”, she says.

High school was a very different experience. Although she participated in an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, much of her love for learning came from outside of the classroom. “In my later years of high school, I knew that education was something I wanted to focus on. I wanted to explore how to use neuroscience to develop better ways of delivering education and how to make those opportunities available to everyone.”

To help meet that goal, Zainab founded GIVE (Global Initiative and Vision for Education), an organization that works towards providing access to quality education. GIVE also aims to develop a holistic 21st-century educational model based on neuroscience and psychology research to foster the creativity, curiosity, character, and innovation needed for solving the issues facing our planet.

Zainab works to inspire and mobilize the global community as a speaker at international forums, including the inaugural Space Girls Space Women Exhibition in Paris, the 27th Workshop on Space Technology for Socio-Economic Benefits in Washington, DC and the Campionaria Generale Internazionale in Bari, Italy. In May 2023, she participated in the inaugural Emmy Noether National Virtual Forum as a panelist in Women in Conversation with The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario on The Power of WHY?  Zainab emphasized collaboration, urging Canadian educators and policy-makers to foster belonging, purpose, and excitement in students. “We need pedagogies that connect content to context. We need purpose-based, community-based, collaborative opportunities for learning. When students feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves…we see that that makes a big difference in their motivation, their sense of belonging, and their interest in pursuing STEM,” she says.

While completing her undergraduate degree, Zainab works at NEPC, the National Education Policy Centre, in the US. NEPC provides high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. Her work there contributes to learning how public education can be strengthened centrally in the US and to see if those learnings can be applied elsewhere.

Zainab is looking forward to pursuing her Master’s degree and has applied to graduate schools in the US, Canada and the UK with the goal of conducting research on education policy with a concentration on neuro-education, STEM and space studies.

“I’m most excited to find new ways to continue to expand the work I’ve been doing in mentoring and in the policy space. I have a lot to learn from grad school and the other work that I’m doing with NEPC and UNOOSA,” she says.

“I see myself as giving forward. My driving force in continuing to volunteer as a mentor with UNOOSA to advance the mission of creating greater accessibility to space and STEM for more people, while also working at GIVE to ensure that the systemic changes needed in our education system are developed and implemented allowing not only girls, but all children the opportunity to thrive and have access to their future.”

You can see more about Zainab’s education and impact in the visualization below.

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

CEO Message

The first few weeks of 2024 have been busy as the Profound Impact team continues to work with universities and colleges and industry partners across Canada to deploy our AI-powered Research Impact tool, which matches researchers with the best research funding opportunities in their field and helps find industry partners to support successful grant applications. Through our innovative new partnership with CS-Can|Info-Can, the first of a series of collaborations with researchers across Canada, Profound Impact is providing CS-Can|Info-Can member Computer Science departments and researchers with free evaluations of Research Impact. Interested in learning more about Research Impact? You can view a video here or sign up for a live demonstration during one of the bi-weekly Demo Days that the Profound Impact team will be presenting throughout 2024.

I was pleased to share my insights on building Profound Impact’s team and our successful and healthy small business culture in the Grow a Small Business podcast. Profound Impact and my work were also featured in an edition of Women’s Biz podcast, where I talked about my journey in information security, my role in commercializing Elliptic Curve Cryptography, and the inspiration behind founding Profound Impact.

In August of 2023, Profound Impact announced the successful close of a $3.125 million pre-seed funding round of nearly all female investors, including many first-time angel investors. Inspired by this achievement, I joined forces with Profound Impact board chair Deborah Rosati and Lara Zink, VP of Client Service and Development at Delaney Capital Management, to create Women Funding Women Inc. (WFW). This collective, which challenges the status quo in the venture capital world and with first-time female angel investors by breaking barriers and building bridges for a more inclusive investment community, will launch in Toronto on February 7. You can read more about how WFW plans to change the VC landscape in Disruption Magazine’s recent article.

In this month’s Impact Story, you’ll meet WFW co-founder Lara Zink and learn more about her journey from working as a political aide to a successful career in finance. In our Researcher Spotlight, we profile Dr. Luigi Benedicenti, Professional Engineer, researcher and Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick, whose career took him from Genoa, Italy to Regina, Saskatchewan to Atlantic Canada.

We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Profound Connections!

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone