CEO Message

This month, I’d like to acknowledge all of the hard work that went into the Profound Impact activities in January 2021. During what always feels to be the longest month of the year, our team at Profound Impact kept ourselves extremely busy planning for an exciting year ahead. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the original registrants for our January 23rd webinar and for their understanding and patience with the rescheduling of that webinar.  We were thrilled to host this webinar titled “Realtime Pivot and Connecting the Dots for Multifaceted, Engaging Virtual Events at Scale: A University of Waterloo Faculty of Mathematics Case Study” on February 16th with the largest number of registrants to date. We hope you enjoyed Candace Harrington’s sentiments on how the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo is using their Waterloo Digital Math Community (hosted on the Profound Impact platform) to further engage their stakeholders by strategically pivoting from hosting in-person events to offering meaningful online experiences.

If you have people in your network interested in Profound Insights, please invite them to our March 23rd webinar titled “The Non-Linear Future of Work: Making Connections with Digital Communities”. Registrants will be invited to complete a free self-assessment tool on stakeholder engagement strategy.  Each organization that registers for the March webinar and/or submits the assessment will also be entered into a draw to receive up to four hours of consulting, at no charge, with Barney Ellis-Perry, Profound Impact’s engagement strategist. 

Thank you for your ongoing support. We look forward to seeing you on March 23rd.  Additionally, our team is collaborating with WCT Waterloo Region chapter and  other Waterloo Region organizations including Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Waterloo, Rotary Clubs , BMO, RBC, Durrell Communications, Vidyard, Perimeter Institute and OpenText for a full day program on March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021. This year’s theme is Choose to challenge. We hope you will join us for this free event.

Warmest regards, 

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone 

Hugh Williams

Cryptography Research Pioneer, Professor and Mentor

(A version of this article was originally published on https://cscan-infocan.ca in honour of Professor Williams’ CS-Can|Info-Can Lifetime Achievement Award)

Hugh Williams
Hugh Williams

As Hugh Williams looks back on his career, he recognizes that there have been many people and conversations that have set and sometimes changed the direction of his career.

“There are a lot of people who influence you in different ways,” says Williams. “You don’t even think of it at the time, but they all make a difference in your life.”

Williams became fascinated with number theory as a teenager and set his sights on pursuing a math degree at nearby McMaster University. When a former math teacher, Mr. Watts, offered to take him on a tour of the University of Waterloo, he realized it was a better fit.

“I got an interview with the great Ralph Stanton. He and I had a lengthy chat. He was impressed enough that he provided me with a scholarship that would pay for my first year,” says Williams. “I liked Waterloo. I liked the newness of the place.”

In 1967, Waterloo converted their math department into a mathematics faculty and created five separate departments, one of which was called Applied Analysis and Computer Science.  Don Cowan suggested that Williams pursue his PhD degree in computer science. This move set his career in motion.

“Computer science interested me because I wanted to understand how you can solve problems that arise in number theory,” says Williams. He completed his PhD under the supervision of Ron Mullin, and by doing so is an academic brother of noted researchers Scott Vanstone, Doug Stinson, Jerry Lawless and Paul Schellenberg. Williams is also the academic grandson of William Tutte, a founder of graph theory and an alumnus of Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret facility set up in World War II and staffed with young mathematicians with the purpose of breaking Nazi codes.  Hugh Williams’ Academic Family Tree, developed for the Profound Impact platform, shows his full academic ancestry.

After completing his PhD, Williams accepted a faculty position at the University of Manitoba where Ralph Stanton was building a new department of Computer Science. His research continued to focus on computational number theory, but things changed again in 1976 with the publication of the Diffie-Hellman paper, New Directions in Cryptography.

“At that time, cryptography was practised as a dark art not as an academic subject,” says Williams. “But grant money was readily available. I was right there when all this stuff started to happen around me. There were things that we discovered – real surprises. Ideas that seemed so very theoretical with no practical applications turned out to have practical applications. It was always amazing.”

In 1980, during a visit to Stanford University, an opportunity to attend a lecture by Martin Hellman led Williams to write his most cited paper by far on public key cryptography.

“At the time, I didn’t think much of it at all,” says Williams. “After the class, I had a chance to talk with Ralph Merkel, one of Hellman’s students, for a few minutes. He told me about a result of Michael Rabin that came out of Harvard. I started thinking about it and prepared the paper. It was all because of a chance conversation.”

In 2001, after 31 years at the University of Manitoba, Williams was invited to join the University of Calgary’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics as the Alberta Informatics Circle of Research Excellence (iCORE) Chair in Algorithmic Number Theory and Cryptography. He was instrumental in establishing one of Canada’s leading research centres in cryptography and information security.

Although he officially retired in 2016, he continues his research and collaborates with students and other researchers. He considers the students he has taught and mentored to be the most important part of his career.

“The students were the most important thing,” he says. “I could teach them and watch their interest flourish. It was kind of like being a parent. My favourite time was when a student would come in with some computer output, plop it down on my desk, and then we would work to figure out what was going on.”

His students, his research, and his many accomplishments are all sources of pride for Williams.

“Naming a particular accomplishment is like trying to choose a favourite child,” says Williams. “They’re from different times and different parts of life. As you get older, one of the pleasures is to have the ability to look back and see the impact.”

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.