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Profound Connections

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:

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!

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Profound Connections

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.

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Profound Connections

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! 

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Profound Connections

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!

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

Message from the CEO

Welcome to May. As we look forward to what May has to offer, it is important to acknowledge it is the official month of Mental Health Awareness. This month, along with every other, we should take time for ourselves and pay attention to both our physical and mental well-being. 

It’s time to #GetReal about the struggles that many academics and faculty face on a daily basis in silence, as nearly 20% of full-time academic physical and basic science faculty had significant levels of depression. ⁣Let’s continue to open up the dialogue and create a safe space for those suffering in our industry to feel supported. ⁣⁣

This month we will be hosting a new episode of our Profound Insights webinar series titled, “The Future of Work: Lifelong Learning & Networking with Digital Communities.” The webinar, moderated by Rob Darling, will take place on Wednesday, May 26th at 12:00pm EST. Rob will be connecting on the Profound Impact platform with esteemed panelists from the Waterloo Region including Simon Chan, Vice President of Talent, Academy & Future of Work at Communitech, Dr. Judene Pretti, Director of the Work-Learn Institute at the University of Waterloo, and Caitlin MacGregor, CEO and Co-Founder of Plum to discuss lifelong learning, professional development and talent resilience. 

On May 4th, I was honoured to be the recipient of the “K-W Oktoberfest Rogers Women of the Year – STEAM Award”. With a lifelong passion for STEAM, it is a privilege to be recognized by members of the Waterloo Region community for my efforts for women of all ages. 

Award programs such as this one recognize incredible women in our community. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

As the province-wide lock-down continues, we encourage you to learn more about how online virtual events and platforms like Profound Impact can help elevate your organization’s engagement during these times. Learn more about Profound Impact’s digital engagement communities and how the Profound Impact platform can ensure a safe and secure platform for your entire organization and attendees with our free self-assessment tool.

Thank you for your continuous engagement and support!

Dr. Judene Pretti

Judene Pretti

Director, Work-Learn Institute, University of Waterloo

Dr. Judene Pretti began her career at the University of Waterloo 25 years ago as a co-op student in the Faculty of Mathematics and has worked there ever since. During this time, she spent nine years working in Computer Science within the Math faculty, in addition to five years establishing the WatPD program — a program of online professional development courses for co-op students. In the last 10 years, she has served as the Director of the Work-Learn Institute, formerly known as the Waterloo Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education.

Her career aspiration from a young age was to become a teacher. Judene originally attended the University of Waterloo for the Math Teaching option program because it offered the opportunity to complete co-op work terms in an educational setting during the completion of a degree. During her final work term, Judene supported associate professor Arnie Dyck in teaching a new first year computer science course, which resparked her desire to teach and eventually pursue a role teaching in Computer Science at the university after graduation, rather than going into the secondary system.

While her current role as the director of the Work-Learn Institute is not directly related to her initial plans to become a mathematics or computer science teacher, Judene explains that she’s been given opportunities to learn and grow and identify her strengths and weaknesses. Her two main motivations are her desire to help people develop and her passion for identifying and solving interesting and important problems. Judene’s long-term goal is to keep learning and growing and hopefully inspiring others to do the same. 

With an impressive repertoire of accomplishments, Judene’s experiences have ranged from a number of exciting projects over her career to focusing on the Future of Work to examine predictive trends and to consider the implications for preparation of students. That work led Judene to the development of the Future Ready Talent Framework, a competency tool that is used at the University of Waterloo within the Co-op and Experiential Education portfolio at Waterloo to help students think about how they are developing the skills and competencies that will be important in their careers.

Additional accomplishments include, but are not limited to, Judene’s work with Communitech as part of their Future of Work consortium, her contributions to the growth of the WxL institute, receiving the CEIA Tyler award for a research collaboration with WIL researchers in Australia and New Zealand, winning the CEWIL Canada Branton award to recognize co-op/WIL researcher,    and undertaking both her Master’s degree and PhD while working full-time. While simultaneously juggling her career, education, and three children, Judene’s perseverance is commendable and represents the tremendous impact and capabilities she has brought to the Waterloo Region community. 

While always finding a challenge and purpose in the work that she does, Judene continues to build connections with others and seizes every opportunity to make significant and meaningful contributions to the Waterloo Region community every day. The cumulative impact throughout Judene’s career includes more than 100 co-op students she’s personally supervised, and for years to come she will continue to mentor and share her knowledge with the next generation.

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! 

Adele Newton

Strategic Partnerships Pioneer and Mentor

Adele Newton

The Impact of Making Connections and Fostering Mentorship

As the oldest of five children, including three younger sisters, being a mentor to young women and a leader is something that has always come naturally to Adele Newton. Over the course of her career, she has wanted to provide others with the guidance and support she didn’t always have.

“I had very few female mentors – but those I did have made a big difference to how I looked at progress in my career,” says Adele. “I know I would have been more confident and taken more risks if there had been more women role models for me. So if I can make the road a little easier and more visible to a young woman, that means a lot to me and to her.”

Creating her own way

When Adele started her BMath at the University of Waterloo, she expected to have a fairly straightforward career path as a teacher. She realized teaching was not what she had hoped for. Instead she created her own way, and after working in a series of positions at the university, she found her calling. 

“When I managed the President’s Club program for the University of Waterloo, I learned a lot about the importance of giving back to the university and the difference it makes to the institution. It was when I first understood the potential for connecting industry to the research part of the university and how that could benefit both parties.”

Over the years, Adele has facilitated relationships between industry and academia, which has led to countless research collaborations as well as valuable opportunities for students. Canadian companies, such as Alias Research, Side Effects Software, Bell Canada, and BlackBerry all benefited from connections Adele helped them make with universities around the world.

The value of mentorship

Her talent for creating connections has allowed Adele to pursue her passion for outreach and mentoring others. While working in the computer graphics industry, she became involved with SIGGRAPH, the world’s largest conference in computer graphics. Adele saw an opportunity to create programs to introduce children and teenagers to the field. She recognized the important role women play in mentoring others.

“I have almost always been the only or one of the few women in the room during my career. That’s just the nature of tech – though it is changing. When I suggested we have an outreach program for SIGGRAPH, I knew that most of the mentors would be male – but we had some wonderful women participate. I saw the kids’ eyes light up. These were kids where 10-14 years old from inner city schools in New Orleans. I knew we had sparked ideas and possibilities in them. It was very powerful, and I knew I wanted to keep doing this.”  

In more recent years, Adele co-founded LAUNCH Waterloo – an organization that aims to introduce children to science, technology, engineering, arts, and math through fun recreational programs. She is also a mentor in the Women in Communication and Technology (WCT) Waterloo Region Mentorship Circles, a program that connects women with mentors.

“Mentoring younger women is a joy! I love sharing my experience and being there for them to run their ideas by me and to provide insight that they may not have had otherwise.”  

A career filled with accomplishments

As Adele begins to consider retirement and focus on travel, writing and her love (and exceptional talent) for creating mouthwatering culinary creations, she can look back with pride on her accomplishments. She has influenced countless individuals – men and women alike – through her mentorship and guidance. Many of the research partnerships she facilitated continue thanks to the connections she originally created.

“I look back on my schooling and my career and am proud of the work I did with industry and universities and the lasting effect those programs have had. There are still research collaborations in place that started as a result of some of those programs. I know my work provided motivation and funds for students of all ages (from grade school to grad school) to go to school when they might not otherwise have thought to or been able to.”

Adele has been a valuable contributor to Profound Impact and will continue to work on special projects on occasion. While we are sorry to see her go, we are happy she will be able to indulge in her love of cooking and travel, and wish her all the best in retirement.

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.”