He comes across as a very quiet individual. But appearances belie character, and Andrew Wong — age 19 — has plenty of that to go around.
Two years ago, Wong, currently a third year Geography and Biology double major at the University of Waterloo, received a scholarship to participate in an expedition organized by Students on Ice, a not-for-profit organization that brings students, educators and scientists on educational trips to experience the Earth's polar regions.
As an award-winning young environmentalist with a background in species and habitat conservation, community organization and wildlife photography, the opportunity was too good to miss.
That trip brought together 70 students from around the world to experience first-hand the raw beauty, harshness and vulnerability of the Arctic wilderness, and included strong immersive and educational components in the form of lectures, presentations, visits to Arctic communities and hikes in Auyuittuq National Park.
The experience changed his life.
Auyuittuq means "the land that never melts" in Inuktitut. But it was melting. "There was glacial meltwater — precious freshwater — just flowing away every second," says Wong.
"To get that opportunity to see first-hand impacts of climate change, how it's affecting the ecosystems, the wildlife, the people who live up there… I realized I needed to begin to take personal action rather than wait for some solution."
So in May 2011, while attending a reunion organized by Students on Ice, he presented his idea for a youth delegation to represent the polar regions at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The Students on Ice Alumni Delegation was quickly formed with Wong as its Executive Director, and within months, had recruited nearly 40 youth from around the world, between 17 to 24 years of age.
Armed with a minimal budget and a carefully researched recommendation paper prepared over the course of 5 months and peer-reviewed by a dozen academic experts, Wong and his team arrived in Rio "to speak directly to decision makers from around the world".
"Our delegation is speaking up for the polar regions, speaking up for their importance to the planet we live on and bringing to light the sustainable development challenges that both polar regions face," says Wong.
"I'm privileged to take the stage at TEDxUW to share how we thought big and made it happen… how we took the massive issue of the polar regions and made a difference at a global level, shoulder to shoulder with decision-makers and heads of state.
I hope that my story inspires you to face a global challenge you care about and make a big difference with it."
When artist-scholar Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae's parents were searching for a suitable name in anticipation of her birth, their quest led them to an issue of Ebony Magazine that included a list of African names, along with their pronunciation and origin. They ultimately chose the North African name Naila, and practiced pronouncing it in the months before she was born using the guide provided, "nah-ee-lah". Naila's parents' choice, though, was based on the name's meaning, "one who succeeds," and time has shown their decision to be a prescient one.
In fact, it didn't take long for success to come. At the age of 9, Naila won her school's speech arts competition for her adaptation of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," which she title "Goldilocks and the Three People." She continued to excel throughout high school, winning a provincial public speaking contest organized by the Lions club and performing her first spoken word poem, "Rude Gyal Undressed", on a staged shared with local hip hop artists including Kardinal Offishall. Her talent continued to develop while she completed her undergraduate degree at Concordia University in Montreal, where she immersed herself in spoken word poetry and theatre, eventually writing, performing and recording her works.
This work was well-received and allowed Naila the opportunity to complete two separate artistic residencies in South Africa, before returning to Canada to pursue a Magisteriate degree (gender neutral for Master's), and later a PhD, in Theatre at York University. Keleta-Mae won a number of awards during her studies, and has been featured in publications ranging from Canadian Theatre Review to The Toronto Star. She has become known for her charismatic versatility and gut-wrenching content, and her efforts to continue to develop her talents in poetry, music, and spoken word over the last decade have produced two spoken word albums, two plays, at least two film appearances, and one book of poetry.
Naila joined the Department of Drama and Speech Communication at the University of Waterloo in 2011 as an Assistant Professor, where she has enjoyed having the chance to apply her own teaching philosophy to the classroom. This teaching philosophy mirrors Keleta-Mae's own approach to life, which will become more evident to TEDxUW 2012's audience as she weaves a number of her well-developed talents together in her Talk.
In many ways, innovation requires that one have openness to new ideas coupled with a rich understanding of older traditions and ideals. In fact, some of the most notable innovations of our time – combining a phone and a computer, for instance – find their roots in this coupling. And for Celtic musician Heather Dale, keeping an open ear has paved the way for her entire career.
Dale has been many things in life, from the morning manager at a coffee shop to a 'solder-jockey' at an electronics firm to a university librarian. But it was while training to become an environmental educator that she discovered the world-wide Medievalist movement – a discovery that paved the way for her career as a recording artist.
In keeping with the Medievalist movement's aim of fostering the best virtues of the Middle Ages and Renaissance period in the modern world, Dale uses the romance, courage and nobility of spirit found in the legends of the Medieval period as a guide to write songs that highlight modern themes in old material. As she side-steps the notion that the stories of the past are irrelevant to the present, Heather's music has also done away with stylistic stereotypes, fusing traditional stories with a healthy mix of Celtic folk, world music and rock influences to produce a truly unique sound.
Dale's career as an independent musician has been full of adventures, and her pursuit of these experiences has resulted in the formation of an indie record label, Amphisbaena Music, through which she manages her recording work and her extensive touring schedule. With over a decade of stories and touring experience to draw on, Heather's presence is bound to be anything but boring!
For most researchers, conducting research in domains that can make a difference in people's lives is a common primary goal. What sets Dr. Geoffrey (Geoff) Fong apart, then, is his second driving objective: to communicate the results of that research so that it can make a difference in people's lives. Fong believes that the end goal of research is a practical one, and that an important part of his job is putting this information in the hands of the people it will affect.
This is a goal that has motivated him since he was an undergraduate, when his research on the impact of inadmissible evidence in jury decisions was published. Later, as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he conducted research on reducing errors in everyday decisions, and as a junior faculty member at Northwestern and Princeton, he explored ideas relevant to health behaviours, like methods for reducing risky sex - research that included the first-ever randomized experiments on the impact of abstinence interventions as compared with safer sex interventions.
Over the past decade, Geoff has focused his research on evaluating the impact of tobacco control policies contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first-ever health treaty, which was adopted in 2003 and which has been ratified by 175 countries. As the Founder and Chief Principal Investigator of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (the ITC Project), based at the University of Waterloo, Fong has played a pivotal role in conducting a large-scale evaluation of FCTC policies, including smoke-free laws, increases in tobacco taxes, and pictorial health warnings on cigarette packages. The ITC project has involved the collaboration of over 100 researchers across 23 countries –allowing the group to evaluate tobacco control policies that have affected over half of the world's population.
Fong has received numerous awards for his work, including being named an inaugural co-recipient in 2009 of the "Top Canadian Achievement in Health Research Award" from CIHR and the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and two awards directly related to that second driving objective of his, the 2011 CIHR Knowledge Translation Award and the 2012 Lise Manchester Award from the Statistical Society of Canada for "the unique and historic research effort" of the ITC Project. And with some his work having ground-shaking implications, he's more driven than ever to bring his knowledge to people with the ability to act on it.
When you walk onto campus at the University of Waterloo, one of the first buildings you'll come across is the William M. Tatham Centre for Co-operative Education and Career Action. It's no surprise, then, that Bill Tatham – as he's known to his friends – is a UW grad, and even less of a surprise that he's been a very busy man since his graduation.
In 1990, Bill took his knowledge and experience and founded Janna Systems in his basement. Only ten years later, he had built the company into a billion dollar business as a leader in enterprise Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for the financial services industry. After selling the company and waiting out the non-compete period Bill got back in the game by founding "the next Janna", NexJ Systems Inc., which has quickly become one of the fastest growing companies in the world and his company has again taken a leadership position providing cloud-based CRM for multiple industries.
Bill's interests and passions extend outside of the business world as well, as he serves on the boards of the University of Waterloo, the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and the Michener Institute, as well as the North York General Hospital and Woodstock General Hospital. He's a passionate advocate for co-op education, noting that he likely could not have afforded a university education without it and that co-op gave him the experience and skills he needed to make the most of his opportunities.
What's the next opportunity? Bill thinks it's healthcare, and he thinks NexJ is standing right at the edge, ready to make the leap. "What we did for banks 10 years ago, healthcare doesn't know how to do at all," he says. Tatham believes that with demographic changes and emerging economies, the healthcare industry is reaching a critical stage, and he believes he's ready for the opportunity.
A student's success can be attributed to many things, from their own efforts to the support of their friends and families. But there is a large cast of other characters acting in uncredited roles whose efforts are no less vital to each and every student as they complete their university career. William Thompson – or Bill, as his friends call him – is one such character, playing the role of coach, counselor, storyteller, and, of course, bartender to countless students over the past 12 years.
Bill grew up on dairy farm near Woodstock, Ontario, the son of a hard-working dairy farmer – a man from whom he learned many things, not the least of which is the value of a good story. While he's quick to acknowledge the value of a good education, some of his most formative experiences occurred outside of formal education, at the school of hard knocks. In fact, Bill believes that the best education comes simply by doing: embracing entrepreneurship and the accompanying changes without fear of failure. A belief that was only strengthened during the early 1990's when his career took him to the US and he was exposed to what he describes as a "cultural ability that accepts failure as a part of growth".
This attitude rubbed off on Bill in a big way, and his resulting zest for life has led him to always try new things and become a student of life. Over the years, his studies have earned him a number of titles, including: Host extraordinaire, Purveyor of ales and spirits, Coach, Counselor, Cheese connoisseur, Aspiring wine-maker, Chocolatier, Husband, Father, and Friend. In fact, in light of his disparate interests and accomplishments, it would be safe to say that Bill has never not been in school.
Bill's interaction with students over the years has offered him a rather unique perspective on student life, and given him the opportunity to share in his patrons' ideas, successes, and even the occasional failures. These failures, however, haven't dimmed his optimism one bit. "Young people today are engaged, enthusiastic, naive, opinionated, and any of the things you hear and read that baby boomers say about youth," he says. "That is what young people should be. You can wait until you're my age to be crusty, opinionated, and jaded." And it's with these students exactly whom Bill hopes his message – a look at one very common stumbling point in every student's academic career – will resonate with.
When entrepreneurs dream about the companies they'll start, there is a temptation to focus on the one idea that will change the world. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, the best ideas can fail if execution is not well thought out and implemented. Fortunately for today's crop of entrepreneurs, people like Dr. Andrew Maxwell are around to explain the science of entrepreneurship and help guide potential entrepreneurs through pitfalls they may face.
Maxwell is a bit of an old hand when it comes to launching technology based businesses. He has not only been involved in his own startups and worked with more than 100 early-stage tech startups, but has actively studied the startup process as part of his research – incidentally receiving the Academy of Management's Heizer Award for his Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo on angel-investor decision-making. Maxwell has also advised governments on technology transfer, innovation and entrepreneurship, helped establish the Exceler@tor, the University of Toronto's technology incubator, as well as VentureStart, a FedDev funded program, to train and fund 200 companies in southern Ontario.
Andrew is an Associate Professor at Temple University's Fox School of Business, where he is cross appointed with the College of Engineering. He is also Chief Innovation Officer at the Canadian Innovation Centre in Waterloo. He continues to explore his passion for technology entrepreneurship, and innovation management, developing resources to help entrepreneurs and innovators reduce the likelihood of failure.
Maxwell remains fascinated with innovation and has made it his life's mission to study and share insights that help turn ideas into reality, investigating how individuals look at the risk of forming new relationships in particular. "It's interesting that entrepreneurs and leaders must work with others to implement their innovative ideas," he says, "and yet we spend little time teaching people to decide how to develop relationships, or with whom, something that would be useful at work and in your personal life." Andrew hopes the insights he'll share at TEDxUW will help each attendee make the most of any opportunity they see, and each relationship they might develop.
In many ways, Cassandra Cole is a typical third-year mechanical engineering student at the University of Waterloo. Hand her a broken camera tripod or a wobbly table card holder and her first instinct is to examine it, figure out how it works, and try to fix it. She also works on structural components as a member of the school's Formula SAE team and has spent time working around North America as part of the co-op program that's integral to her education. But Cass – as her friends call her – is so much more than that: she's the Formula SAE Team Lead, a model and a designer, and has already begun working with NASCAR part-time – work that she hopes to use as a springboard towards her dream job as a Race Engineer.
Oh, and Cassandra Cole is different from 90% of her classmates in one crucial way: Cassandra is, of course, a woman. This has never been something she's viewed as a problem, however. Growing up, she enjoyed her time as a dancer and has the competition medals to show for her dedication. She more than kept pace with the boys in the classroom, often ranking at or near the top of her class in high school. Taken together, these experiences should help explain why her program was a natural choice, even when many of her friends and teachers wondered why she'd ever want to go to school with the boys.
Cass has always had a competitive fire, loves problem-solving, and has never been one to shy away from a challenge, so a chance to apply her abilities at one of the top-ranked engineering schools in the world was not something she was going to pass up. She believes strongly in aiming high and choosing to follow her passions, and she's content to leave any second-guessing to others. Cole has never been one to bow her head when faced with challenges due to others' expectations of her – like the suspension meted out to the Formula SAE team following her "unauthorized" photo shoot with the car she helped design – and she's tackled her studies and Formula SAE work among many other initiatives with an unparalleled zeal, allowing her to become only the second female Team Lead in the team's 25 year history.
Richard Holmes has had a severe stutter since he first learned how to speak. Whether you have had a speech impediment yourself, known someone with one, or even have never even heard one before, it is easy to imagine how it would have a great impact on one's life. In Holmes' case he took to competitive mountain biking at age 10 as an outlet and a way to express himself.
This outlet eventually blossomed into a life-long passion: Holmes quickly established himself as a skillful rider, was first sponsored at the age of 13, and went on to attract several more sponsors as he won a number of contests. And after graduating from highschool, he packed his bags and chased his dream across the country, landing on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast to study Mountain Bike Operations, eventually working his way up to become a certified coach at the Whistler Bike Park.
Despite the medals and trophies, his stutter got no better – at some moments getting to the point where he could barely get any words out – and Richard was still very frustrated. So in the fall of 2011 he made a decision to do whatever it would take to change this part of his life and came back to Ontario to participate in an intensive speech reconstructive program at the Speech and Stuttering Foundation in Toronto. This program involved retraining the muscles used in speech, which he then coupled with his own unique process for changing the frustrating, vicious cycle that is part of stuttering.
The results speak for themselves: just six months after completing the program, Richard has become an award-winning public speaker, placing 3rd in his division in the Toastmasters International Public Speaking contest. He's looking forward to sharing the process he went through at TEDxUW – one that's transformed not just his speech, but also his life – and he hopes that hopes that attendees will be able to learn from his own experiences. "Nothing that fulfills my ambitions will be just given to me," he says. "It takes initiative to express yourself in a productive manner."
"I'm just a regular gal," says Ami Richter, who earned her bachelor's in Recreation & Leisure Studies at UW in 2001. But how does a "regular gal" with a knack for design end up on a phone call with the folks from O, The Oprah Magazine? The answer is surprisingly simple: a lot of hard work and a little luck along the way. When Richter and her future husband Jason founded Lug in 2005, they saw a sea of "black and boring" in the travel accessory market, and they knew they could brighten it up. Soon after they got a call from one of Oprah's editors, about featuring the smart and stylish Puddle Jumper bag on the famed O List – an honour that felt like a big high-five for a job well done.
From there, Richter never looked back. The little brand that burst onto the scene with the motto "live life in colour" has grown from a handful of travel bags and accessories to an impressive line of smart, stylish solutions for everything from work to play to active everyday living. And together with the rest of her team she's trying to keep moving and growing, thinking intuitively about what people might want and even re-designing and tweaking best-sellers to accommodate changes in technology and the needs of travelers.
That spirit of innovation to meet her customer's needs stems in large part from Ami's ability to connect the dots, sometimes in rather unorthodox ways. Though not a bag designer by formal schooling, she's combined a love for creating things with her focus on practicality, networking, and finding the best solution to any potential problem. Along the way, Richter has found a way to apply the skills she's picked up through the years, whether in past jobs, internships, or schooling, and she's all the better for it today.
In fact, what it comes down to in many ways is using each opportunity, each chance you're given to learn something new that may be beneficial in the future as both Ami and her company evolve. "It's been a really fun ride for us," says Richter, "and as long as that spark and that passion are there for us to keep growing, we will." The ride is far from over, though, and she's looking forward to seeing where her varied talents will take her next – a theme that she hopes will resonate with attendees at TEDxUW.
The pride of Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Heather Moyse has represented her country in the last two Winter Olympic Games, the last two Women's Rugby World Cups, and most recently at the 2012 Pan American Track Cycling Championships – where, after only ten months in the saddle and four months on the track, she placed high enough to become eligible for the 2012 Summer Games. Her achievements include a 4th place finish at the 2006 Olympics after only five months of sliding, and a Gold medal in Vancouver in 2010, as well as the title of leading try-scorer for both the 2006 and 2010 Rugby World Cups – but Moyse's athletic success is a result of a passion that's had an impact in other areas of her life as well.
While still a student at the University of Waterloo, Heather's desire to help those less fortunate led her to take a position as the Program Director at a summer camp for people of varying disabilities. Her experiences in the position fed her desire to make a larger impact on the world, and in 2001 she began a nine-month internship in Trinidad and Tobago as a Disability Sport Program Officer, extending her stay in Trinidad with subsequent contracts developing and coaching women's rugby and consulting with the local chapter of Disabled People's International.
The passion and drive that she displays in her charitable work comes as no surprise to those who know her, however, as Moyse takes a nose-to-the-grindstone approach to life. Her immediate success in cycling is a manifestation of this attitude, as was her placing fourth at the Olympics just five months after joining the Canadian bobsleigh team, and she has continued to give back to her community on a regular basis, serving as a Member-At-Large for Commonwealth Games Canada since 2002 and as an Athlete Ambassador for Right to Play.
How does she fit it all into her busy schedule? It's not easy, but Heather has made it work by pairing her Gold-medal passion with a heart of gold, and she's not done yet. "Sometimes success relies on the making of unorthodox choices," she says. "You've got to get off the path of least resistance and try things the hard way." This kind of commitment has allowed Heather to serve as an inspiration and as an example of true leadership, and Heather can't wait to share it with everyone at TEDxUW.
Some people start their careers slowly, while others start with a bang. Michael Litt's case is definitely the latter: the serial entrepreneur's first venture comprising the import and re-sale of firecrackers to his fifth-grade classmates. But if the story were to be told from beginning to end, Litt would be the first to admit that his path has actually involved a number of "bangs" – including some which didn't quite work out in his favour – a fair number of nervous moments, and lot of plain, old-fashioned hard work.
Early in his university career, Michael looked to be heading down a path familiar to many Waterloo engineers, securing co-op placements at Research in Motion – but it's what he accomplished after his first couple of years that made him stand out as a talented entrepreneur. After a spell as a day- trader, an aborted attempt at running a biodiesel refinery (during which he once used a bathroom hand dryer to un-freeze a jar of biodiesel minutes before a sales pitch), and an anonymous stint publishing a highlytrafficked blog which featured teardowns of new phones, Litt was focused on building revenue and he knew he wanted to start a business.
Fortunately, one of Litt's trades had put a little money in his pocket, and, with a little help from the subprime mortgage market, he was able to purchase a house and fill it with other budding entrepreneurs. This environment, now known as Batavia House, fostered the drive and motivation he needed to take the next step, and it wasn't long before he founded his current company, Vidyard, an organization helping businesses and individuals easily and effectively host videos on their websites.
A Waterloo native, Michael believes in the region's ability to attract and retain talent, and believes the local tech industry will only continue to grow. As it grows, Litt will continue to be an interested observer, albeit one with the experience to back up his words. "It's really interesting to see how things are developing," he says, "especially since my failures have defined my career and current position." It's an outlook that's bound to be part of any discussion about the future – a discussion that Litt hopes to be a part of at TEDxUW.