Skip to the content of the web site.

Donor Profile

University of Waterloo Couple Back Indigenous Initiatives

Why a dean and a retired computer science lecturer see enormous potential in the CEMC.

by Lisa Kabesh

Mark Giesbrecht and Tian Kou “I was inspired by a high school mathematics and computer science teacher who really changed what I thought I could do,” muses Mark Giesbrecht, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo. “And he inspired the idea that mathematics and computing came from the same place.”

“There was real power for me in that, and there still is.”

For Giesbrecht and his wife, Tian Kou, a retired lecturer and administrator at Waterloo, and software engineer at BNR/Nortel, the incredible potential to inspire young people at the community level to get excited about math and computer science is what spurred them to give to the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC).

In particular, the couple is moved by the CEMC’s work in supporting education in remote and Indigenous communities.

As Canada’s leader in math and computer science outreach, the CEMC is uniquely equipped to provide educational resources and support right in people’s home communities, delivered by the educators they trust and admire. Giesbrecht points to the CEMC’s established expertise in delivering online learning content as an important piece of the puzzle in reaching remote communities.

New initiatives are focusing on increasing engagement among Indigenous learners and educators. Recognizing the invaluable role teachers play in students’ lives, the CEMC recently created new scholarships for the CEMC’s Master of Mathematics for Teachers (MMT) program. Up to five MMT Indigenous Scholarships are awarded each year to Indigenous educators or teachers whose work impacts Indigenous learners, and the Agibcona Scholarship supports educators working in remote or Indigenous communities.

Leading By Example

So what makes this personal for Giesbrecht and Kou?

Kou is unequivocal: “All people have ability in mathematics, regardless of where we’re from. This ability should be fostered and enabled for everyone, and for some it can be a passion or a career. If we’re not seeing this interest from remote and Indigenous communities, then we have to ask ourselves why? And then we have to do something about it, in a way that works locally!”

The two emphasize that in giving to the CEMC, they wanted to lead by example.

“Outreach will be key to making mathematics and computer science more inclusive – not just at Waterloo, but across Canada and beyond, both inside and outside of academia, wherever mathematics and computer science play a role,” adds Giesbrecht.

Their gift is timely. Statistics Canada has reported that the population of Indigenous peoples in Canada is young and growing, which highlights a need to expand educational opportunities as well.

Inspiration Starts at Home

When asked why giving to the CEMC matters, both Giesbrecht and Kou have a lot to say.

“You can make a difference with a gift like this,” says Giesbrecht. “You can help a young person say, ‘Look, I’m good at this, and this matters!’ Or you might make it possible for an expert to develop resources for remote communities. You can help students make connections in their own communities that help them see a path forward. And you can help young people see that mathematics and computing is important in our everyday lives, or a viable career that connects to where you live and who you are.”