Alumni Awards & Honours Gala

For the last year or so, I’ve been working with Alumni Affairs & Development at the University of Guelph to plan the inaugural Alumni Awards & Honours Gala. Last Thursday, a year of effort came to fruition as we invited students, staff, faculty, industry partners, and alumni to return to the School of Computer Science to recognize the ongoing contributions of some of our incredible alumni.

Three awards were handed out over the course of the evening. Dr. Jason Ernst received the Young Alumnus Award, Devin Gauthier and Mark George accepted the Award of Excellence on behalf of Sandbox Solutions, and the Medal of Achievement was presented to the first Director of the School of Computer Science, Dr. Deb Stacey.

Dr. Ernst, co-PI on the Bridging the Digital Divide research program and adjunct faculty member, completed his MSc and PhD in the School of Computer Science in 2009 and 2015, respectively. During his graduate training, he won the Canadian Open Date Exchange hackathon, and then followed this up with accelerator funding to support his company, RedTree Robotics. Since then, he joined Left as their Chief Networking Scientist, where he leads the RightMesh project as Chief Technology Officer. In addition to that, Dr. Ernst has been named to the Forbes Technology Council, and was a member of the Canadian Association of the Advancement of Science. He has also been nominated to the 2019 list of Canada’s top 40 under 40.

Devin Gauthier and Mark George completed their undergraduate degrees in 2005. Since that time, they have gone on to found Sandbox Software Solutions while remaining closely connected to the School of Computer Science. They were both listed as part of Guelph’s 40 Under 40 in 2012 for their continued work in the community, and launched a scholarship to promote women in computer science within the School. Beyond that, they continue to offer numerous students co-op positions every year, and are regulars at all of our community and industry outreach events.

Dr. Deb Stacey finished her undergrad in the then named Department of Computing and Informations Sciences in 1978. She received her MSc and PhD from the University of Waterloo, and then immediately returned to Guelph to begin a faculty position in 1989. Deb helped lead the School as its first Director, helped co-found SHARCNET, helped develop and launch the BComp program and the Computer Science and Software Engineering Programs, and has continued to work to encourage young girls and women in the field. In addition to this and having numerous grad students, she was appointed to the role of Associate Dean Academic for the College between 2011 and 2016. Her research spans numerous disciplines – currently connecting Computer Science to the Digital Humanities, and to the Ontario Veterinary College.

Having been involved in the organization of the event, there is always a fear that something is going to go wrong, or it’s not going to live up to my personal expectations. In this case, I can honestly say that the awards ceremony was far better than I had ever imagined it was going to be. It was inspiring and moving, and I wish I could say that I had planned all of this to happen; I wish I could have guaranteed that it was going to be a night full of laughter so deep that my sides hurt; I wish that I could have guaranteed in advance a night where we’d all be bursting with pride. Obviously I wanted it to be all those things, but there was no way I could promise it – because really, anything could have happened.

To be honest, the culmination of events that was the gala was truly the result of so many years of hard work – by our winners and all of the nominees, by the staff and faculty of the School, and most importantly, by our students. I think in many cases, all have been working away quietly on their various projects – probably too quietly – that much of their accomplishments and efforts have gone unnoticed. But the gala was a chance to celebrate – truly celebrate – where the School has come from, where it is now, and where it’s going. And I think we all needed it. It was cathartic and reflective and fun.

The speeches – although all longer than originally planned – were heartfelt and uplifting. It was fantastic to listen to the impact that Dr. Ernst has made on one of my undergraduate students, Keefer Rourke (who presented Jason his award). Laura Gatto and Kate Roberts, our amazing co-op coordinators, talked about how much the team at Sandbox has meant to so many of our students. And Liz Sandals, former MPP and former faculty member in the School of Computer Science, spoke about how unsurprising it was the Deb was receiving the inaugural Medal of Achievement for her lifetime and continued efforts in the School.

I’m still smiling at some of the stories that were told. I’m still smiling that so much focus was paid on our students and the amazing work they do. I’m still smiling.

Beyond the memories and celebration of incredible contributions to the discipline of Computer Science, what impressed me the most was the ongoing theme of computer science for good. Every single award presenter, every single award winner, spoke about how the School of Computer Science at the University of Guelph is so much more than computers. It’s about working with people to make our communities, our country, and the world a better place. And that really felt damn good to hear. It’s something we should celebrate. In fact, I think it’s something we should be shouting about.

Once again, I want to thank everyone who helped make the event possible – particularly Dan Penfold and Melissa Woo of Alumni Affairs & Development. It truly was a fantastic night – one that I won’t soon forget. And of course, congratulations once again to our award winners.

For those interested, I’ve embedded the slides that we had on display on the various monitors throughout Reynolds. These represent some of the history of the School that I know of, although I can’t guarantee it’s accurate or complete. If you have any information you think should be added to the history that is presented here, please let me know.

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