Creating Community

Creating Community During a Pandemic

The second episode of Profound Insights, Realtime Pivot – Connecting the Dots for Multi-Faceted, Engaging Virtual Events at Scale presented a compelling case study on how the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo employed the Profound Impact platform to significantly increase interaction between the faculty and alumni, students and partners – all in the midst of a global pandemic.

The Faculty of Mathematics had developed key goals for engaging with alumni in 2020:
• Build a sense of community and connection amongst global alumni, faculty, students, and partners;
• Regain lost alumni;
• Build a community of support and encouragement among female-identifying alumni, current/future students, faculty and researchers.

Two strategic initiatives were planned to achieve those goals:

Waterloo Math Digital Community, with a planned launch date of September 14, 2020

WWIN – the Waterloo Women’s Impact Network, with a planned launch date of May 12, 2020.

In March, 2020, COVID-19 hit the world and the Faculty of Mathematics pivoted to achieve those goals by working with Profound Impact.

In the space of two weeks, the planned Waterloo-local launch activities scheduled for the May launch of WWIN was transformed to a day-long online event hosted on the beta version of the Waterloo Math Digital Community platform. This allowed for an expanded program to include speakers and attendees from around the world and hundreds of users engaging in a real-time trial of the platform.

Instead of attracting the anticipated 100 attendees for a locally-based, in-person WWIN event, use of the Waterloo Math Digital Community allowed over 400 alumni from around the world to participate in the day’s activities, with fewer than 1% experiencing technical issues with the platform.

This inaugural use of the Waterloo Math Digital Community allowed UW Math to understand how users were engaging and interacting with the system and provided feedback by 87% of respondents that they would be likely or very likely to use the platform over time to discover relationships and network with alumni, students, and faculty members.

The successful launch of WWIN in May inspired UW Math to employ the Waterloo Math Digital Community platform in June for a celebration of the Class of 2020. Adjustments were made and additional features were added based on the previous user experience. As a result, over 600 participants were able to safely celebrate their graduation in a year when all in-person convocations were cancelled.

UW Math has continued to successfully employ the Waterloo Math Digital Community to engage with alumni, faculty and partners with events on Profound Impact Day on September 14 and Black and Gold alumni day on September 26.

The community maintains engagement with global alumni through webinars and alumni events and has grown to include over 800 participants from around the world.

The Profound Impact platform has provided the Faculty of Mathematics with a branded hub for engagement with alumni from around the world, real time access to data and visualization maps, integration with YouTube/Twitter and Zoom, the ability to develop groups within the hub to build communities of interest and unparalleled privacy and security features. Most importantly, UW Math has created a global community of alumni who continue to engage with their alma mater and each other.

Impact Stories: Scott Vanstone

The Impact Stories series highlights individuals in our global community who are making, or who have made, a profound impact on inspiring collaborative solutions to the challenges faced by our world today.

Ron Mullin, William Tutte, Scott Vanstone, Alfred Menezes

Scott Vanstone — Pioneer, Visionary and Mentor

When Scott Vanstone first learned about Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) in 1985, he recognized it had the power to change the world. Today, ECC is one of the most powerful types of cryptography securing most of the devices we use every day. Its success is due in large part to Scott’s vision, research and perseverance and to those he mentored and trained during his career as a researcher, professor and entrepreneur.

Scott’s journey from PhD student to world-renowned researcher and company co-founder can be traced back to Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret facility set up in World War II and staffed with young mathematicians to break Nazi codes.

When the Department of Mathematics was founded in 1960 at the newly-established University of Waterloo, its chairman, Ralph Stanton, had the foresight to recruit influential faculty members — including William Tutte, the founder of graph theory and Bletchley Park alum.  In addition to teaching and research, Waterloo offered Tutte the opportunity to mentor graduate students in the emerging field of cryptography.  Ron Mullin was one of those students.

Ron Mullin arrived in Waterloo in 1959 to finish his graduate work and became first-ever UW graduate, receiving an MA in mathematics in 1960.  

Scott Vanstone graduated with his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo in 1974, working under Ron Mullin’s supervision.  Scott established his career as an assistant professor of Mathematics in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization (C&O) and, during the early part of his career, concentrated on pure mathematics. However, he quickly became intrigued with cryptography and its potential for real-world applications. 

In 1985, he co-founded Certicom Corp with Professors Ron Mullin and Gord Agnew to commercialize a new mathematical method and chip architecture the team had discovered. 

In addition to his work as a researcher and entrepreneur, Scott was also known for his ability to collaborate with others and bring out the best in his students. He had a unique ability to identify talent immediately and worked with his students to help them achieve their Masters or PhDs and encouraged them to push themselves.

Although Scott passed away in 2014, he continues to have an impact on the future of cryptography. 

Alfred Menezes, now a professor in the C&O Department at UW, was one of those students. Scott visited Menezes’ Brampton high school to encourage him to attend the University of Waterloo. Menezes went on to receive his PhD in 1992 and his thesis was published as the first book on ECC. Today, Menezes is recognized as a leading expert in cryptography. 

Michele Mosca, also a professor in the Waterloo C&O Department, is researching the new generation of cryptography that will be needed with the advancement in quantum computing. As Mosca works on advancing quantum computing and building a stronger cyber immune system, he has looked to Scott’s early work in building Certicom’s contribution to ECC as a playbook. 

Spanning more than 80 years, from breaking Nazi codes to building quantum computers, Scott Vanstone’s distinguished academic heritage and ground-breaking legacy are testament to the profound impact of connections and collaborations.

Scott Vanstone’s Academic Ancestry (click images for larger)