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2014 NSERC Awards for Science Promotion

The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing at the University of Waterloo

The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) is Canada’s largest and best known outreach organization for mathematics and computer science promotion. Housed at the University of Waterloo, the Centre has reached millions of Canadians, since 1963, and has shown success in fuelling the interest and developing the abilities of youth in mathematics and computing.

The CEMC’s yearly math and computer science competitions engage students from around the world in problem-solving contests. In 2013-14, more than 200,000 students registered for the contests at almost 3,000 schools in Canada and 65 other countries. These competitions challenge the brightest young minds, foster discussion and cultivate interest in science, technologie, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines by helping students become stronger in mathematics. The CEMC also organizes face-to-face workshops and school visits that give youth a better appreciation of math and computer science and that get them to consider higher education and careers in STEM fields.

Working with math teachers and educators is also a priority of the CEMC. The Online Master of Mathematics for Teachers program, which launched in 2010, provides math teachers with an opportunity to continue their education and improves their knowledge and understanding of the subject-matter they teach. Fostering relationships with teachers, through support and professional development, improves their pedagogical and mathematical skills, and, ultimately, also benefits students through enriched teaching.

The CEMC’s impact extends far beyond the Canadian education system. The centre also encourages public interest in mathematics and computer science through free online learning materials for the general public. In 2013-14, these web resources received almost five million page views. The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing has reached millions and greatly impacted mathematics and computer science in Canada.

The CEMC will receive $25,000 for future science promotion activities.

Dr. Brock Fenton, Western University

If you asked Dr. Brock Fenton to name his favorite bat, he would tell you that his answer changes every day. For him as a scientist, each day is better than the last. One enlightening experience follows another.

For years, Fenton has channeled this passion for learning about bats into devising new ways of teaching people about them. For example, he uses pizza to teach children about their feeding habits. A female bat nursing her pups will eat her weight in food every night, so he decided to use the visual of a four-year-old girl standing next to her weight in boxes of pizza in order to illustrate this to children―the boxes reached up to her ears.  

Throughout his career, Dr. Fenton has taught biologists and conservationists about bats both across Canada and internationally. He has received numerous NSERC Discovery Grants for studying the behavioral ecology of bats and has received many awards for his research, including a Honourary Life Member award from the Canadian Society of Zoologists. Yet it has always been of the highest importance to Dr. Fenton that everyone, not just professionals, understands the impact that science has on their lives. He has written seven books on bats aimed at non-professionals along with 27 general interest publications.

Dr. Fenton is passionate about showing his audience the importance of the natural world and its diversity. As nocturnal flying mammals with many unique characteristics, bats give the public a good impression of how diverse nature is. The small winged creatures offer a compelling avenue through which people can understand how science affects their lives. For example, bat research has led to unexpected discoveries and innovations, such as a drug under development for stroke patients that was inspired by the study of vampire bats. The drug exploits the chemicals that vampire bats use to get clots out of the blood they feed on.

As a retired professor, Dr. Fenton encourages science outreach in the next generation of scientists. As a mentor, he tells his students the secrets to effective science outreach: straightforward language, personalized anecdotes, and a clear display of enthusiasm. As he says, personal stories about doing research are more memorable than a detached report of what other scientists have done. A former student of Dr. Fenton’s who now works for the Discovery channel credits the passion he developed for biology to his example. Many other students have a similar story.