Vice President, Research & International, University of Waterloo
A leading researcher in disease mapping innovation, Dr. Charmaine Dean uses spatial analysis to solve large, capacity-related problems.
“My research has all been in big files, big questions – firefighting, fire science, forest ecology,” Dr. Dean said. “I led a national network related to understanding fire on the landscape and how we should deal with it, given that it was such an important question for Canada and it still is.” Prior to researching fire science, Dean worked with the Ministry of Health in British Columbia to analyze a flareup in suicides in one region. “I wondered, ‘how bad is it compared to the rest of the province? Can you do some analysis to understand where we should pull resources from in order to put more resources into child suicide?’” she said. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, Dean is using analytics to predict hospital capacity concerns and monitor COVID-19 case counts and wastewater signals.
Dean, who is Vice President, Research and International at the University of Waterloo, is no stranger to the Waterloo Region. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Saskatchewan in 1980, she moved to the University of Waterloo for her graduate work, earning a masters degree in 1984 and a doctorate degree in 1988. “It was sort of a circle coming back here,” Dean said. She was drawn to the role at the University of Waterloo because the institution is working to develop an innovation ecosystem. “The whole region has grown tremendously in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation, especially the student ventures coming forward,” Dean said. “There’s a pulse of excitement related to that.”
Dean began her academic career at the University of Calgary before moving further west to join Simon Fraser University. In her time at Simon Fraser University, Dean had an integral role in establishing the Faculty of Health Sciences. “A lot of intentional and deliberate work was shaping this faculty,” she said. “We created three new programs that were completely oversubscribed.” Dean said the school expected to have 10 or 15 students in that first year, but ended up receiving 300 applications. “You can’t turn them away, because if you turn them away, you’re now telling them, don’t bother coming here.” Dean also helped dismantle a faculty at the school, which brought with it a different set of challenges. Dean said she focused on listening to peoples’ concerns throughout the dismantling process.
Dean returned to Ontario in 2011, serving as Dean of Science at Western University from 2011 to 2017. “That was such a privilege,” she said. “I was so honoured to be chosen for that role.”
Now, at the University of Waterloo, Dean meets with faculty and interest groups, along with focusing on strategic alliances and partnerships with other academic institutions and collaborating with government, business and industry. Dean will also add a new portfolio in the fall – commercialization and entrepreneurship. “That’s one of the exciting things about being a leader, being able to see what an organization like the University of Waterloo needs and, through processes of discussion and consultation, making it happen.”
A female leader in an often male-dominated field, Dean said it’s important for organizations to have diversity at their leadership tables. “Diverse leadership brings diverse perspectives,” she said. “It’s really important to have women in leadership positions so that others can see that they have somebody to turn to for advice or for career support.” She encouraged people at the beginning of their careers to speak up and express themselves whenever possible. “Have the confidence to be bold and take small steps and recognize yourself as a leader,” she said. However, she also acknowledged that work spaces are not always inclusive and women often face barriers and biases that may prevent them from being authentic, voicing their opinions, and fully expressing themselves. “It is crucial that we continue to identify and eliminate these barriers for women and members of other historically excluded groups, ” she said.
Dean said she wants to impact the lives of her colleagues on an individual level, whether that’s helping them win an award, setting up a centre, or attracting new students to a school. She also wants to leave a legacy of improving things at an institutional level, making sure students feel safe and supported. Dean led an anti-racism taskforce at the University of Waterloo, working to create an anti-racism framework for the institution. She will continue to focus on sustainability, encouraging people to come together to solve big problems.
The visualizations below depict Dean’s accomplishments both in her career and in building research communities.
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