10 influential people who went to the University of Waterloo

A look at 10 innovative and influential former Waterloo students.
A view of the outside of the University of Waterloo's Engineering 5 building, which includes the Student Design Centre. The Centre is a space for engineering students to put their studies to practical use by building everything from robots to solar cars. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC)

The University of Waterloo has been again named Canada's most innovative university for the 23rd straight year in Maclean's magazine's annual ranking of universities. The magazine, which admits the ratings are subjective, also called the university 'Best Overall' and top of the heap when it comes to making the 'Leaders of Tomorrow.' 

But who are the university's most successful and innovative graduates? There's a long list to pick from - University of Waterloo grads have gone on to work in tech, science, politics and the arts, picked up Academy Awards, starred in hit TV shows, and have even influenced Canada's standing on the world stage. 

Here's a look at ten innovative and influential former Waterloo students:

Mike Lazaridis

Mike Lazaridis co-founder of BlackBerry, has been a driving force behind the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, which was conceived as a world leading centre for research. (Perimeter Institute/Associated Press)

​Mike Lazaridis cofounded Research in Motion in 1984, along with Doug Fregin and if you're reading this list on a smartphone, you've got them to thank. The company launched the first smartphone ever, the BlackBerry 5180 in 2002, changing mobile communications. Lazaridis also donated money to start the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing, as well as the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Lazaridis also has an Academy Award to his name, a 1999 technical Oscar for work refining and further developing digital time-code slates. Those slates have time code that film editors use to match with shots, helping them edit more quickly and efficiently. 

​Kevin O'Leary

Kevin O'Leary.

The former dragon on CBC's Dragon's Den graduated from UW's Faculty of Environment with a bachelor of environmental studies in 1977.  Despite no background in engineering, he founded a software company, SoftKey, that provided home learning software on CD-ROM, along with John Freeman. The company went on to acquire The Learning Company and took that company's name, becoming a massive player in home educational software, and was eventually acquired itself for $4 billion. O'Leary was a co-host of a Discovery Channel series called Project Earth about 10 innovative developments that could fight climate change, and continues to be an investor on ABC's Shark Tank. He is an author and investor. 

Martha Lenio

​Lenio graduated from UW's mechanical engineering program in 2004. She's now the first Canadian and the first woman to lead a simulated Mars mission, which is taking place at a NASA facility in Hawaii, and started on October 15. The program, which began on Oct. 15, is called HI-SEAS, or Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, and this current mission is the longest space travel simulation ever attempted in the U.S. and includes six crew members and two reserve members. The team will live in geodesic dome just 36 feet in diameter for the next eight months on the Mauna Loa volcano next to an abandoned quarry. NASA wants to gain a better understanding of the human dynamics at play in long-term space missions. In addition, Lenio will perform her own experiements on anerobic composting and gardening inside using LED lights.

John Baker

John Baker founded D2L. (D2L)

Baker is the founder and president of Desire2Learn, now known as D2L, which makes the Brightspace educational software platform. The company says over 1,110 clients use Brightspace, which adds up to a total of close to 15 million individual users from kindergarten to government and healthcare workers. 

Marie Bountrogianni 

Marie Bountrogianni is the dean of the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University. (Ryerson University)

Bountrogianni is currently the dean of the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University. She completed her undergrad at the University of Waterloo, and then went on to a masters and PhD, eventually becoming a psychologist. Bountrogianni was an assistant professor in psychology at both Wilfrid Laurier and McMaster universities. She was elected to Queen's Park in 1999 and 2003 for the riding of Hamilton-Mountain. In her second term as MPP, she was the Minister of Children's Services and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Then, during a cabinet shuffle two years later, she became the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. She also served as the president of the Royal Ontario Museum from 2007 to 2011. 

David Cheriton 

Cheriton is currently a computer science professor at Stanford University in California. He founded Kealia Inc. and Granite Systems, both of which were acquired, and is now a co-founder of Arista Networks, which builds high-speed switches. Cheriton's students Larry Page and Sergey Brin convinced him, along with Andy Bechtolsheim, to invest in their project, which became Google. Forbes has nicknamed him "Professor Billionaire."

Steven Woods

Steven Woods was hired by Google in 2008 to oversee the company's Kitchener office, the largest Google engineering office in Canada. (Google )

Woods is now the Senior Engineering Director for Google Canada. In 1998 he co-founded, an interactive voice portal that helped users find information on the internet. He describes it as an early version of Apple's Siri, voice command program. Now, Woods oversees engineering work at Google's Kitchener office, which employs 250 people and focuses on products like Google's browser, Chrome, and Gmail. 

Susan Tighe 

Susan Tighe. (University of Waterloo)

Tighe, who holds a PhD in civil engineering from UW, specializes in something you likely use every day: pavement. She's a Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Pavement and Infrastructure Management, researching ways to turn waste industrial products like crumbled concrete and roofing shingles into usable pavement, as well as how to extend the life of pavements and deal with the effects of climate change. She's worked on infrastructure projects around the world, from Africa to China to Australia. Tighe literally set the pavement standard in Canada - she oversaw the creation of the 2013 Pavement Asset Design and Management Guide for the Transportation Association of Canada.

Heather Moyse

Heather Moyse, left, and Kaillie Humphries celebrate their gold-medal win in two-woman bobsleigh in Sochi. (Canadian Press)

Moyse graduated from kinesiology in 2000. She is a multi-sport athlete who is best known for her two Olympic gold medals in bobsleigh. Moyse, with Kaillie Humphries, won the gold in two-woman bobsleigh in Vancouver 2010 and repeated the feat in Sochi this year. But Moyse is also a high level competitive rugby union player - she played on the 2006 and 2010 Canada women's world cup team, as well as the World Cup Rugby Sevens in 2008 (where she was leading scorer in the tournament) and in 2013, where Canada won a silver medal. 

George Elliot Clarke

(Thomas King/Courtesy HarperCollins)

Playwright and poet George Elliot Clarke graduated with an honours English degree from UW in 1984. Clarke's work explores the experiences of black Canadians, especially in Nova Scotia. He was awarded a Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry in 2002 for his collection, Execution Poems. Clarke is also the recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. achievement award and a Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation award. 


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