William T. Tutte

Professor William “Bill” Tutte

English Canadian codebreaker and mathematician 

Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo

May 14, 1917 – May 2, 2002

A world-renowned codebreaker and mathematician, William “Bill” Tutte left an indelible mark on Waterloo’s mathematical community. Twenty years after his death, he still has a profound impact on students studying combinatorics at the University of Waterloo.

Born in 1917 in Newmarket, England, Tutte came from a modest background but would go on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was an active member of the Trinity Mathematical Society. “For him to make that rise is the stuff of storybooks,” said Dan Younger, Retired Professor Emeritus, Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, University of Waterloo, who was a Faculty colleague of Tutte.

Before Tutte made his way to Canada and helped shape the University of Waterloo into the institution it is today, he accepted an invitation to join a team of codebreakers working to decipher German codes in the Second World War. At Bletchley Park in 1941, Tutte was tasked with using samples of messages to uncover the structure of the machine generating German ciphers named “Fish”. Tutte successfully determined that structure without ever seeing the machine. Tutte then focused on developing an algorithm to decipher Fish codes, an algorithm that necessitated the creation of COLOSSUS, the world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer, which was built in 1943. COLOSSUS played an essential role in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Tutte’s codebreaking work was used to decipher Fish codes until the end of the war. It is believed that breaking those codes meant the war ended two years earlier, saving countless lives.

Tutte moved to Canada in 1948 and spent 14 years at the University of Toronto. He joined the University of Waterloo in 1962, just five years after the institution first opened its doors. He was part of a group who went on to found the Faculty of Mathematics in 1967 and was a founding member of the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization. 

Tutte played an integral role in building the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics. He helped establish the reputation of the school and attracted combinatorialists from around the world.

“He came when it wasn’t a fully developed university and it became a primary place for scholars in mathematics to come,” Younger said.

Throughout his time at the University of Waterloo, Tutte stayed quiet on his role as a codebreaker during World War II, as he was bound under the Official Secrets Act of Britain. Younger, who first met Tutte at a conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1963, said Tutte didn’t share much of his experience at Bletchley Park.

“He never did talk about what he did in the war,” Younger said. 

Younger joined the Faculty of Mathematics in its inaugural year and was promoted to Professor in 1975. He became good friends with Tutte outside of work, often on weekends hiking on trails in and around Waterloo Region. “It was just a nice relationship in which we really didn’t have to talk unless we had something to say,” Younger said. 

Tutte retired in 1985, but stayed on with the Faculty as Professor Emeritus. He acted as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Combinatorial Theory until he retired. Tutte died on May 2, 2002 at the age of 84. 

The University of Waterloo awards the William Tutte Centenary Undergraduate Scholarship every year, the highest scholarship given to a student interested in combinatorics. The scholarship, which is worth $1,500, is funded by donations from people inspired by Tutte’s work. The scholarship isn’t just a financial gift, though. It also comes with an homage to Tutte’s childhood in England.

“If one gets the scholarship, one gets a bicycle,” Younger said. The bicycle represents Tutte’s journey as a youngster to a high school in the town of Cambridge. He bicycled 18 miles to and from school every day starting at the age of 11.

William Tutte Way was named in Tutte’s honour at the University of Waterloo in 2017. The road connects the three Faculty of Mathematics buildings at the university.

Tutte was one of the foremost scholars in combinatorics. In addition to numerous awards throughout his career and into his retirement, Tutte was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2001. The Canadian government founded the Tutte Institute for Mathematics and Computing (TIMC) in 2009.

“He certainly was the man,” Younger said.

Tutte’s academic legacy includes many students, including prominent scholars Dr. Ron Mullin, Dr. Scott Vanstone and Dr. Alfred Menezes.

Four generations of Mathematicians/Cryptographers. From left to right: Ron Mullin, Bill Tutte, Scott Vanstone, Alfred Menezes.

You can view some of Tutte’s accomplishments in the images below:

Profound Impact academic ancestry graph for Bill Tutte.

William “Bill” Tutte had a long, impactful career as a professor, codebreaker and mathematician. A Profound Impact career trajectory visualization details some of his most significant accomplishments.

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Ronald Cleveland Mullin

Ronald Cleveland Mullin

Dr. Ron Mullin

Distinguished Emeritus Professor, University of Waterloo 

Co-founder, Certicom 

A humble, dedicated professor and mathematician who is modest about his successes, Dr. Ron Mullin has made invaluable contributions to combinatorics, academia and cryptography. His career has spanned over 50 years with notable successes in both commercial and academic ventures. Along with Scott Vanstone and Gord Agnew, Ron Mullin co-founded Certicom, a leading cryptography company whose technology was licensed by the US National Security Agency (NSA), among many others, and later sold to Research In Motion (RIM), now known as  BlackBerry. Mullin was also Professor and Chair of Combinatorics and Optimization at the University of Waterloo and boasts one of the largest lineages in the Mathematics Genealogy project, with 20 PhD students and 180 descendants. 

“Teaching as a whole and getting good students and working with them, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Mullin. 

Even as a student, Mullin’s impact was profound. He was the first ever University of Waterloo graduate to receive an MA in mathematics in 1960. A bright and promising young mathematician and cryptology student, Mullin was recruited by the University of Waterloo to lecture while he completed his graduate studies. His skills were so impressive that the University’s head of mathematics used Mullin as bait to lure world class mathematician, who later was acknowledged as the World War II codebreaker and cryptography expert, William Tutte to the university with the intention of building out the department and recruiting top-tier talent. 

“It was quite an honour,” Mullin reflected, when asked about his role in attracting Tutte to the university. 

After completing his PhD under Tutte, Mullin went on to pursue a career as a professor at the University of Waterloo until 1996, rising the ranks from lecturer to distinguished professor emeritus and adjunct professor. Described by two of his former students as brilliant, encouraging and easy going, Mullin always left a lasting impression on those he taught, as well as his colleagues. 

“Ron taught my first computer science class,” said Alfred Menezes, one of Mullin’s academic grandchildren and professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization at the University of Waterloo. “To him, the little details didn’t matter. He thinks about the big stuff – the important stuff…he realized the value of ideas.” 

One of those ideas became the foundation for Mullin’s commercial venture – Certicom, a leading supplier of wireless security solutions. Mullin was heavily involved in the company’s patent program. Certicom’s signature product was Elliptic Curve Cryptography, which speeds up the encryption process, utilizing shorter encryption keys without loss of security. This technology played a crucial role in the advancement of smartphone and other mobile devices and accelerated the growth of a number of companies including RIM. 

“One good thing about it – it’s fast and secure for certain kinds of encryption processes. And these turned out to be the ones that are very helpful in smartphones,” said Hugh Williams, retired computer science professor and Mullin’s academic son. “So in a sense, Scott, Gord and Ron realized this was a coming thing and they were quite skillful in introducing this company.”

After retiring from the University of Waterloo as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and stepping away from his commercial ventures, Mullin went on to enjoy a second career at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He established a Cryptography Group at the university, a position he held until his “second retirement”, at the age of 75. Mullin also became the first recipient of the Stanton Medal, which is awarded by the Institute for Combinatorics and its Applications to honour significant lifetime contributions promoting the discipline of combinatorics through advocacy, outreach, service, teaching and/or mentoring. In addition, Mullin was awarded a doctor rerum naturalium honoris causa (Honorary Doctorate Degree) from the University of Rostock in Germany. 

While Mullin’s professional accomplishments are impressive, his legacy cannot be fully understood without including his mathematics genealogy. A number of graduate students that studied under Mullin became very prominent in cryptography and computer science including: Hugh Williams, who was instrumental in establishing one of Canada’s leading research centres in cryptography and information security; Scott Vanstone, world-renowned cryptography and co-founder of Certicom; Douglas Wiedemann, who designed an algorithm for linear systems of equations before joining the NSA; Bimal Roy, head of R C Bose Centre for Cryptology and Security in India; and Evi Nemeth, engineer, author and teacher who played a prominent role in the development of the Unix computer operating system.  

“He has had many students and ultimately, for an academic, that’s your impact – your students. What they end up doing and how they add to what it was that you did,” said Williams.

You can view some of Dr. Mullins’ accomplishments in the images below:

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Cindy Forbes

Cindy Forbes

Chair of the Board, University of Waterloo

A dedicated team builder with a passion for data and analytics, Cindy Forbes has cemented her legacy as an innovator and strategic thinker, challenging the status quo to facilitate growth in all facets of her professional life. Before retiring last year, Forbes was the first female Chief Actuary at Manulife Financial, tasked with leading a global actuarial team responsible for ensuring the financial stability of the company. She was also the company’s first female Chief Financial Officer for Manulife Asia, leading the finance, risk management and actuarial functions across 11 countries. 

“I always want to make a positive impact, meaning that I want to leave the department or the organization better than I found it,” she said.

From digitization to integration of data and analytics into Manulife’s operations, Forbes was an invaluable asset to the modernization of Canada’s largest insurance company. She initiated a project to move the company’s valuation into the cloud – a first among insurance companies in Canada. The same project rewrote Manulife’s liability valuation systems to reduce the amount of manual work required by actuaries, significantly improving quality control over the valuation of the companies liabilities, which at the time were close to $300-billion. Forbes also built the company’s global artificial intelligence and advanced analytics function from the ground up. Within four years, that “function” has become a global organization of over 200 people responsible for building and embedding advanced analytics models into the business, delivering insights and driving financial impact. 

Forbes’ motivation for her work stems from a number of factors, including her desire for continuous improvement, as well as her commitment to mentorship for young professionals. 

“I like to help young professionals achieve their potential, be a positive role model, coach them, remove obstacles, show them how to get things done,” she said. “Largely it’s about creating a high performance team – a team that pulls together, that’s based on trust, and can make the very difficult look quite easy.”

Many of the talented team members she has hired have been students from the University of Waterloo, where Forbes obtained her Math degree, specializing in actuarial science.  Forbes was in the co-op program, which allows students to gain paid work experience, completing six work terms during her five years at Waterloo. She credits the program for providing the necessary professional experience to help her find a job in the field post-graduation and to make more intelligent, informed career decisions.

“It really sets you up for success in terms of learning about the workplace and putting into focus what you were learning at school,” she said. 

Forbes remains a fervent supporter of the University of Waterloo, having served as Chair of the Board since May 2017. In her role as board chair, Forbes successfully led the recruitment of a new President for the University, engaging a large group of external governors, faculty, staff and students. She is currently leading a review of the university’s governance framework, identifying opportunities for the board to be more effective and have greater impact and oversight of the university’s strategic planning. 

In addition to her role as board chair at the University of Waterloo, Forbes also serves on the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board. She additionally held the role of Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario from February to January 2022, providing advice and guidance on creating more digital, responsive and flexible public services. This includes the digitization of court proceedings and enabling on-line renewal of drivers licenses and health cards. 

A natural innovator and life-long learner, Forbes remains highly attuned to global, economic and technological trends that will impact businesses and corporations worldwide. The pandemic accelerated trends that were already in place in terms of digitization, use of data to customize experiences and growing concerns about the implications of the same.  Her prediction is that the acceleration of these trends will continue against a backdrop of growing geo-political tensions.

“It is going to be interesting to see how this all plays out and how global corporations navigate the changes ahead,” she said. 

You can view some of Forbes’ accomplishments in the images below:

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Ivan Yuen

Ivan Yuan

Co-Founder, Wattpad

An accomplished entrepreneur, respected mentor and ambassador for the University of Waterloo, Ivan Yuen has cemented his legacy in the software development industry. Yuen is the co-founder of Wattpad, an e-reading and storytelling platform that has amassed millions of users worldwide. Founded in 2006 with a friend and former co-worker Allen Lau, Wattpad has quickly become a global entertainment company, with over 90 million readers, writers and filmmakers connected through the power of story. While Wattpad’s success is in large part due to the commitment and perseverance of Yuen and Lau, Yuen credits the University of Waterloo’s co-op program for giving him the tools and resources needed to discover his niche in the tech sector. 

Yuen enrolled in the University’s computer engineering co-op program in order to gain real-world industry experience and make professional connections. He spent the first portion of his co-op working in hardware design at some of North America’s top firms including IBM and AMD. While these work placements helped Yuen to further develop his professional experience, it wasn’t until he switched to a role in software engineering at a startup company that Yuen found his true passion. The smaller teams, quick turnaround times and ability to see the impacts of his work instantly were the most gratifying elements of software engineering in a startup environment. “Hooked from that point on,” Yuen would take these valuable work experiences and chart his own path in software development, ensuring that training and mentorship were paramount in his endeavours. 

Now the Chief Strategy Officer of Wattpad, Yuen is passionate about providing leadership and guidance to those he recruits for various positions within the company. He “demystifies ideas about software startups” and offers honest, first-hand accounts of his successes, failures and opportunities for the future. While hiring and retaining the right talent is important to the success of his company, Yuen is incredibly inspired when Wattpad employees transition from their roles to start their own venture. He believes that giving emerging tech talent the training and confidence to pursue their own interests has a powerful multiplier effect and is essential for facilitating the growth of the tech ecosystem across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. 

In addition to employee mentorship and promoting expansion of the region’s tech industry, Yuen’s platform, Wattpad, has been tremendously important to the advancement of writers, storytellers, filmmakers and many more creative professionals whose voices may never have been discovered. Before Wattpad existed, traditional publishing companies were essentially gatekeepers, determining what authors or stories had enough merit to move through the system and onto store shelves. Only those with access and opportunity had any chance of finding success as an author or storyteller—often leaving racial, ethnic and other minority groups without a platform to share their unique experiences. Wattpad challenged and changed this established industry dynamic. The platform empowered those who were otherwise excluded from traditional publishing avenues, enabling those in marginalized communities and young aspiring writers to share their perspectives with a limitless audience. It enabled authors to mix different story genres with important themes of gender, sexuality and race without judgement. It has fundamentally changed the course of modern publishing and given prominence to a diversity of voices, stories and issues that have historically been ignored. 

Wattpad’s success has quickly expanded into the entertainment industry, with movie and TV producers constantly discovering new writers who have published their work on the platform. Recent examples of stories that have been made into movies or TV shows include After, a romantic drama written by Wattpad author Anna Todd and acquired by Paramount Pictures for film adaptation. The Netflix hit The Kissing Booth also started as a novel published on Wattpad by Beth Reekles, who was only 15 years old when she was discovered. Its commercial success has led to the production of a trilogy of films. With over 100 stories currently in different stages of film or TV show development, Yuen is hopeful that many Wattpad authors will have their works showcased at movie theatres or on major streaming platforms in the future.

Looking ahead, Yuen and the Wattpad team will continue to leverage the power of new technology including blockchain to give writers and content creators greater control over access to their work. Readers will also have the opportunity to contribute to their favourite authors, garnering rewards along the way. As the company further expands into new territory, Yuen will continue to mentor and inspire young tech talent to promote innovation and entrepreneurship across the region. 

You can view some of Yuen’s accomplishments in the image below:

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Jean Becker

Jean Becker

Senior Director, Indigenous Initiatives
Interim Associate Vice-President, Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion, University of Waterloo

Dedicated to enhancing indigenous education and programming at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions, Jean Becker has made tremendous strides in advancing our understanding of indigenous affairs. Serving as the Senior Director of Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Waterloo, Jean provides strategic leadership in identifying opportunities for systemic change while creating a long-term vision for the university. By building strong relationships between Canada’s indigenous communities and post-secondary institutions, Jean is playing an integral role in the evolution of higher education. Her work has been pivotal in addressing historic misconceptions of indigenous culture, while promoting a deeper understanding of the role that indigenous communities have played in shaping our nation’s past, present and future. 

Jean’s inspiration for advancing indigenous education and awareness in post-secondary institutions comes from her own personal post-secondary school experiences. While attaining her undergraduate degrees in sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph, Jean took a course in women’s history, where the course material centred around the oppression of European women. Having grown up Inuk, as a member of the Nunatsiavut Territory of Labrador, Jean could not relate to these stories of oppression in the Western world. Women in indigenous culture are highly regarded and are often the centre of the communities. Realizing that only one narrative of women’s history was being taught to hundreds of thousands of students across Canada, Jean committed herself to ensuring indigenous education became a bigger component of post-secondary curriculum.

Prior to her role at the University of Waterloo, Jean served as Senior Advisor of Indigenous  Initiatives at Wilfrid Laurier University. During her time at Laurier, Jean oversaw indigenous student enrollment increase from 99 students to 600. She also helped implement crucial curriculum and programming changes and brought on a number of indigenous staff members, which she credits as the reason for the increased enrolment numbers. 

At the University of Waterloo, Jean has also made significant contributions to the advancement of indigenous education. The university recently announced a cluster hire of 10 indigenous scholars that will be tasked with making curriculum changes across a variety of faculties. It is also in the process of hiring indigenous staff in other critical positions, including in the Office of Research, Recruitment and Admissions, as well as the Student Success Office. Jean is extremely optimistic that once the right people are in place, systemic changes to post-secondary education will follow. 

Despite Jean’s professional accomplishments, she attributes her greatest impact to the relationships she has forged. Whether with students, faculty or indigenous communities as a whole, Jean is incredibly proud of the lasting impacts she has made on others around the world. She has inspired students to pursue careers helping people in indigenous communities across Canada. She has also made it her mission to use these relationships to learn, understand and honour the traditions and lifestyles of indigenous peoples. 

Recognizing the roles that universities and colleges have played in the false depiction of indigenous communities, Jean is committing to ensuring that no student graduates from post-secondary school without a solid understanding about indigenous people and their history. She is confident that the University of Waterloo is well-positioned to accomplish this feat. From its executive leadership to the rank-and-file, the university is extremely supportive of indigenization. Jean believes this is an important stepping stone to broader societal change, where indigenous communities are called upon to find solutions to addressing inequality and historical wrongdoing. 

Jean Becker has had a long and accomplished career in advancing our knowledge and understanding of indigenous people and implementing systemic changes at post-secondary institutions. She has published essential literature on the plight of indigenous peoples across Canada, including a chapter on violence against Aboriginal women in a 2006 book, Remembering Women Murdered By Men: Memorials Across Canada. She also published a Native Studies course on contemporary native communities of Canada for the University of Waterloo and co-authored the Aboriginal Head Start initiative for Health Canada, an early intervention program focused on early childhood development. 

In addition to her published works, Jean has been a vocal advocate for indigenous rights and education through public speaking engagements across the country. She has participated in cultural sensitivity workshops on residential schools, as well as equity and human rights panels tackling sexual harassment, the child welfare system and discrimination against indigenous peoples in the justice system. She has also provided counselling for indigenous men in correctional institutes, youths living in group homes and households in crisis that are navigating Family and Children Service agencies.

Jean’s contributions to advancing our understanding of indigenous culture and history have been unparalleled and her continued focus on institutional change will live on for generations to come. You can view some of her accomplishments in the images below:

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Celebrating Profound Impact Day

Celebrating Profound Impact Day 2021 – September 14, 2021

Profound Impact Day 2021 featured special guest speaker Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur, former president at the University of Waterloo. A self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Feridun Hamdullahpur has been a powerful force in building the University of Waterloo’s reputation as a leader in innovation and academic excellence.

CEO Message

Message from the CEO

Welcome to the September edition of Profound Connections. As autumn arrives in our part of the world and summer draws to a close, many of us are gearing up for a time of significant change. For some, it’s back to school — others, a career shift. Whatever this season looks like for you, I wish you continued learning, growth and success.

September is special for us at Profound Impact™ as we celebrate the second annual Profound Impact Day on September 14. 

On September 14, 2020, the inaugural Profound Impact Day was celebrated to recognize the global impact of the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo and its role as an international centre of research and development in cybersecurity. Presented by Profound Impact™, the Day was inspired by the late Professor Scott A. Vanstone and the impact that his mentorship and guidance continue to have in the world of mathematics and across various fields.

Reflecting on this Day over the last year, the impact and scale at which we could tell these stories of collective impact and legacy was realized. We set out to develop a community that provides the opportunity for connection and collaboration that all current and future leaders need to meet their potential. We spotlighted those who are contributing to the greater good through their stories of impact. We celebrated the extraordinary accomplishments of those making a difference, right here in Waterloo Region and beyond. 

This month’s Impact Story shines light on Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur, former President & Vice Chancellor (2010-2021) and Professor of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, University of Waterloo, engineer, educator and leader. We are thrilled to also welcome Feridun to join us this Profound Impact Day for a fireside chat to discuss his involvement with the United Nations’ HeForShe initiative as a 10x10x10 Impact Champion. 

I’d like to extend a warm invitation to you and hope you will join us for this special event on September 14. Registration details and more information can be found below.

Thank you for your continuous engagement and support.

Feridun Hamdullahpur

Feridun Hamdullahpur
Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur

Former President & Vice Chancellor and Professor of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, University of Waterloo

Career summary and major highlights

A self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur has been a powerful force in building the University of Waterloo’s reputation as a leader in innovation and academic excellence. Striving for better his entire career, Feridun made significant contributions to education through his role as the University of Waterloo’s sixth President and Vice-Chancellor. Although his leadership trajectory took him from professorship into administration, he remains an active researcher and engaged professor. An advocate of research, connection and innovation, his drive to maximize the impact of higher education on society built a community working together to do better and change the world.  

As a young professor busy with research, an early influential interaction with his department chair at TUNS (then the Technical University of Nova Scotia now Dalhousie University) would begin to shape his future. In a conversation with Les, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Feridun spoke of his dissatisfaction with how the graduate applications were being handled. Les told him there are two types of people in this world: those who complain and leave the work up to others and those who get things done, and asked him, “Which one are you?” Feridun accepted the challenge to get things done and moved into an administrative assignment to improve the program and set the course of his entire career. From this first position to Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and later Dean, Feridun became an influential administrator who constantly recognized opportunities to solve problems and make a difference in higher education. 

Viewing mentorship as incredibly important to inspiration, learning and growth, Feridun attributes being able to make the kind of difference he is proud of to working with wonderful people over the course of his career. An early mentor in Turkey taught him to understand the nature of research, and more importantly, the importance of failure and perseverance. Later, after Feridun came to Canada, he and Dr. David McKay would discuss finding meaning in their work. McKay also encouraged Feridun to share learning experiences with his own students, leading him on the path of constant learning. 

After a question at a University of Waterloo town hall brought the concerningly low number of female faculty to the forefront, Feridun was inspired to take action on gender inequality. Recognizing the human-made obstacles that stood in the way of gender equity, Feridun resolved to use his position to create an environment that takes action for a more equitable future while remaining committed to the highest degree of academic excellence. This led to his involvement in the United Nations’ HeForShe initiative, a program that seemed tailor-made to help set attainable targets that would shift attitudes and improve accessibility for female scholars. This initiative increased participation from female students and reached a higher number of female faculty members well before target deadlines, maintaining high standards for education while making space for female voices.  


Feridun Hamdullahpur speaks at the United Nations HeForShe IMPACT Summit in September 2018. 

Despite not being in a classroom for over 20 years, Feridun never stopped being a professor. Reflecting on his own experience, he does not see a future where he is not involved in teaching in some way. He kept up with research, graduate supervision and publishing while remaining committed to improving the student experience, doing as much as possible outside the classroom to enrich and expand their horizons. With continued involvement with the United Nations’ HeForShe initiative as a 10x10x10 Impact Champion and on several university boards and committees in an advisory capacity, Feridun remains involved in shaping the future of education.  

After 11 years, Feridun stepped down from the Office of the President, leaving a legacy of lasting change. Four of the six deans at the institution are women and during his tenure Feridun hired four women Vice Presidents and one University Secretary all of whom reported to him, a direct result of building a place of respect that made it accessible for the right people to come forward. There is still room to grow, but Feridun is confident the growth will be organic and a foundation for the exciting changes yet to come.  

Feridun has a long history of entrepreneurial and academic success. You can view some of his most significant accomplishments outlined in the images below. 

Here’s a link to a live graph on the Profound Impact platform showing Dr. Hamdullahpur’s academic ancestry.

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

James Wesley (Wes) Graham

James Wesley (Wes) Graham

“Father of Computing” at the University of Waterloo

With exceptional leadership in the field of computer science and his dedication to making computers accessible to a wider audience, James Wesley (Wes) Graham (1932-1999) was known as the “Father of Computing” at the University of Waterloo. Serving as early director of the University of Waterloo’s Computing Centre, Wes had an active role in shaping computer science education worldwide. His experience teaching at the University inspired the creation of software to support education, particularly in programming and access to computers. Many of the software systems that would further enhance Waterloo’s international reputation were created under his leadership. 

After starting his career as a systems engineer at IBM Canada, Wes joined the University of Waterloo in 1959 to teach statistics, where he quickly became one of the first professors offering courses in computer science. The move into this field brought exciting change and challenges for the University, leading to significant impact on Canadian and international computer science education and software development practices. Wes and other early professors were instrumental in establishing the department of computer science and in  realizing the importance of computers to a wide range of applications providing opportunities for future generations. 

Wes thoroughly enjoyed teaching and mentoring students and recent graduates throughout his career. Receiving the Distinguished Teacher Award from the University of Waterloo in 1978 was one of his proudest accomplishments. His professorship at the University and engagement with this burgeoning field of computer science allowed him to provide leadership and momentum in the growth of this new area that would establish a direction for others. Believing that computers should be available to the widest audience possible, Wes orchestrated the University of Waterloo’s investment in an IBM 360/75 computer in the mid 1960s, the most powerful computer in Canada at the time. He was influential in the development of the computer studies programs, along with hardware and software, for both university and high school students.  

Wes Graham at the University of Waterloo beside the IBM 360 Model 75. 

Wes was a champion of ‘ease of use’ for computers, long before ‘ease of use’ became central to the software industry. Recognizing that the available software was not designed for teaching purposes, Wes led a team in building a solution to facilitate learning. With four students and a junior faculty member, WATFOR (Waterloo Fortran Compiler) was built to solve speed of processing and obscure error reporting. Attracting worldwide attention, this compiler was eventually used in thousands of colleges and universities around the world as well as businesses and governments and led to the development of many other educational software systems at Waterloo. 

With the intent of influencing software so that it could be better applied in education, Wes would often use the software to build his own programming examples for instructional books, providing candid feedback to the developers about his experience. If he felt software was confusing or had inappropriate error messages, he insisted it be improved. His determination was instrumental in the transformation of computing to make it accessible to more people. His approach and influence in the early WATFOR project helped make early Waterloo compilers successful—not just because of speed and efficiency, but because they were easier to use. 

Wes’ hands-on approach to teaching was a reflection of his desire to provide leadership and guidance to others while exploring the many possible uses of computers. Many of the expectations Wes had for software and computing can be recognized in today’s systems and in the ongoing work of those who he mentored. In recognition of his many accomplishments Wes Graham was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1999. 

Click on the image below to go to the Profound Impact™ academic ancestry graph connecting Wes Graham all the way back to Friedrich Leibniz!

Wes Graham had a long, impactful career as a professor, innovator and entrepreneur. You can view some of his most significant accomplishments listed in the image 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! 

Dr. Donald Cowan

Donald Douglas Cowan

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo 

With a rich and expansive career in mathematics and computer science, Dr. Don Cowan can be regarded as one of the earliest pioneers of computer science at the University of Waterloo. From experiencing the formative years of the University of Waterloo to participating in one of the earliest iterations of Silicon Valley, he has always had direct involvement in exciting advances in mathematics and computing. He was also an early entrepreneur and active participant in WATCOM and LivePage, two successful University of Waterloo spinoff companies that developed out of the exciting advances occurring in the field. 

After starting his career teaching in the 1960s, Don began working on computers in a significant way and saw both the University of Waterloo campus and his field grow. Appointed as Founding Chair of the computer science department at a relatively young age, he faced the challenge of finding the people to work in a field that was still in its own youth. At the time, so few people worked in computer science in industry and academia, it was difficult to attract them to the University of Waterloo campus. However, with his passion and expertise and much help from his colleagues, the department grew from 3 to 35 members in five years and soon ranked as one of the top in the world. 

As part of the team that developed and distributed software and hardware that supported computer science education, Don helped put the University of Waterloo on the map. These early projects contributed to many of the ideas behind the software systems that support  computer-based learning for the students of today. In the 1960s, he ran computer science days, an event that annually brought thousands of high school students to the University of Waterloo and exposed them to computers and programming with a view that these young minds might embrace this exciting technology of the future. Continuing his work at the University of Waterloo, Don was principal investigator on major research projects and supervisor of graduate students. He also presided as chair of the board of five different corporations, including startups and not-for-profit organizations. 

Mentorship played a major role in the trajectory of Don’s career, and Don is a vocal advocate for sharing knowledge and experience in these relationships. He recognizes his life has been significantly influenced by his many mentors, including his parents, his uncle Donald, Ralph Stanton and Wes Graham. Over his own tenure, Don has also supervised over 120 graduate students. Don feels privileged to have mentored these young people and see them continue to push boundaries and make the impossible possible.

Despite retiring 26 years ago, Don is still quite active in research and is excited to see what the future holds for the next generation. Programming may no longer be part of his day-to-day life, but he continues to work with several companies developing new and emerging  technologies that push the boundaries of what’s possible. Don collaborates with exceptional minds that work together to provide software that augments community efforts by using artificial intelligence and mobile devices to learn about and present data at the municipal level. He remains an active researcher in computer science — staying right in the middle of progress. 

Looking back at his career, there isn’t much that Don would change. Exciting things happened because people worked together, and Don will continue to look for these connections in his ongoing research and partnerships. 

Click on the image below to go to the Profound Impact academic ancestry graph connecting Don Cowan all the way back to Issac Newton!

Dr. Cowan has a long history of entrepreneurial success. You can see some of the companies he has founded or been associated with listed in the image below. A Profound Impact indeed!

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