Celebrating Waterloo’s Class of 2024 valedictorians

Class of 2024 valedictorians collage
Class of 2024 valedictorians collage
Convocation is a time of immense pride and celebration across campus. This year, 13 outstanding students have been chosen to represent the graduating Class of 2024. 

Below they share parts of their academic journey filled with innovation, growth and resilience.  

Why did you choose to study at the University of Waterloo?   

Natasha J. Chen (BAFM ’24) was set on coming to Waterloo since receiving her offer of admissions at 16 years old. As a high school student, Chen was drawn to Waterloo for three main reasons: the entrepreneurial environment, being able to gain paid work experiences through the co-operative program, and the Chartered Professional Accountancy (CPA) accredited program. 

"I could see myself in similar roles as my mentors who graduated from the Accounting and Financial Management program as well, which inspired me to accept my offer," Chen says. "Another fun fact was that I had three other cousins studying here [at Waterloo] as well - one in the same year and program as me."   

Chen will be completing her degree on the Dean’s Honours List and graduating with a Bachelor of Accounting and Financial Management, with both a Professional Accountant Specialization and Financial Leadership Specialization. She is currently pursuing her Master of Accounting degree.   

Karim Al-Atrash (BASc ’24) knew studying computer engineering at a renowned institution like Waterloo would give him the opportunity to learn in both an academic setting and within the industry through the co-op program. Al-Atrash is graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Engineering. 

"I felt this was special because while I enjoyed math and programming and solving fun puzzles with these skills, I was also interested in how people use all this stuff to solve problems around the world," Al-Atrash says. "Waterloo gave me a chance to apply my learning within industries, ranging from highly technical robotics sensing to mass marketing of Internet of Things (IoT) devices." 

As an Engineering student, Al-Atrash developed critical features for the Tesla Cybertruck release and supported the patent process for a firmware security feature that he made during his two co-op work terms at Tesla. After graduation, Al-Atrash will be moving to California to work as a firmware engineer with the goal of improving security for mass market electronics.   

Kathleen Amanda Szajbely’s (BSc ’24) father graduated from Waterloo in 1991 and she grew up hearing stories about his time on campus. Szajbely wanted to learn more about being a Waterloo student, so after attending her first open house she immediately felt at home. 

Szajbely was involved in a variety of groups and organizations on campus, including the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Assocation, Campus Housing, Waterloo Athletics and volunteering during fall open houses. 

"Witnessing the effects that I can have on other’s leadership and community involvement is something that I am extremely proud to have achieved at Waterloo," Szajbely says. "In the Faculty of Health, we learn how individual and population changes affect health and well-being, and I am grateful to be a part of continuing this legacy in the Waterloo community." 

She will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences. This fall, Szajbely will be attending the University of Western Ontario to pursue her Master of Science in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Szajbely looks forward to continuing her research on women’s health promotion. 

Matthew Kee’s (BASc ’24) earliest childhood memories included playing with a frisbee that said "Waterloo Engineering" on it. 

"My parents met in the Mechanical Engineering program, so I grew up hearing stories about the Engineering traditions and antics," Kee says.    

It wasn’t until high school when Kee discovered his love for physics and computer science. He realized he enjoyed problem solving and wanted to have the same opportunities that his parents had at Waterloo. 

Kee will be returning to Outschool, a San Fransisco-based educational platform where he completed his final two co-op terms, working full-time as a software engineer. His role will involve developing and maintaining core features and foundational systems such as the enrolment flow and translation services.    

"I’ve always had a passion for teaching and mentoring so working at Outschool feels like a perfect fit," Kee says. 

He will be graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Systems Design Engineering.  

As a high school student, Olla Obied (BSc ’24) was torn between her interests in journalism, medicine and neuroscience, but through the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, she discovered her passion for environmental science. 

"Having lived in Sudan for 19 years, I decided to write my extended essay for the IB diploma on the biochemical oxygen demand of the Blue Nile river which sparked my interest in environmental sciences," Obied says. 

"Collecting samples near the river, just 10 minutes away from my house, I became fascinated by water science. I was then drawn to Waterloo for its renowned co-op program but fell in love with geoscience after attending lectures by Drs. John Johnston and Keith Delaney." 

Obied is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science with a Geosciences specialization. Being selected as a valedictorian carries deep personal significance for Obied as the child of parents who are refugees due to the conflict in Sudan.  

"Despite their inability to attend the graduation ceremony, this honor represents the resilience and determination instilled in me by my upbringing," Obied says. 


Obied has accepted a position as a graduate geoscience engineer with BHP - one of the top mining companies in the world. She will be joining their Jansen project in Saskaktoon, which aims to develop one of the world’s largest potash mines and help solve the demand for food in our growing global population. 

Tell me about some of the achievements you are most proud of to date.

Lowenna Olowo Barungi (BA ’24) has long been pursuing a career as a singer. Born in Uganda, Barungi  was a contestant in a national singing competition in 2021, where she made the semi-finals out of more than 2,000 contestants. Since then, she has been pushing herself to get out of her comfort zone by recording and performing more, which has helped boost her confidence and improve her craft.   

"In the future, I plan to continue exploring a career in music and media, but I also hope to return to school for a law or master’s degree," Barungi says.   

One of Barungi’s fondest memories at Waterloo include being the director of The Real African Culture Exhibition Showcase (TRACES), an annual event hosted by the UWaterloo African Association (UWASA). As the director of TRACES in 2023, Barungi looked forward to the evening rehearsals for the showcase because that’s where she formed most of the friendships that she has today.  

"There was nothing like bonding with amazing people to bring a project that we were all so passionate about to life," Barungi says. 

As a valedictorian, Barungi is honoured to represent her family and her community who have been very supportive of her achievements. Barungi is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts and Business, with a major in Communication Studies and a minor in Legal Studies.    

Shahed Saleh (BASc ’24) is a 2019 Schulich Leader who was interested in Waterloo because it was the greatest way to develop herself as an innovator. 

During her time at Waterloo, Saleh was the mechatronics class representative for five consecutive years as an advocate for students. She completed several undergraduate research positions at Waterloo’s Social and Intelligent Robotics Research Lab (SIRRL), RoboHub and the Multi-Sale Additive Manufacturing Lab.  

These positions enabled her to publish five research papers, win several awards for her engineering designs, and be named an IEEE Human-Robot Interaction Pioneer 2021 for her work with the SIRRL.   

"I’ve always been grateful for the incredible mechatronics engineering cohort I was a part of," Saleh says. "We’d come together for picnics, cooking competitions, bonfires, beach trips and class dinners. The memories I made with friends at Waterloo will outlive any lecture or exam, and I will continue to cherish the time we spent supporting one another." 

As part of her final year, Saleh and her capstone team developed OSCAR - an autonomous surface rescue robot that navigates to an overboard victim in open water to provide lifesaving floating and location tracking. Their capstone project received multiple awards, including the Mechatronics Best Overall Capstone Award, first place at the Normal Esch Pitch Competition, and third place at the OEC Innovative Design Competition. 

Saleh will be graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechatronics Engineering.  


She will continue to pursue her passion for engineering, user design and business, as a product manager at CoLab Software - a software company designing the world’s first design engagement system.     

Emma Schuster (BES ’24) fell in love with Waterloo through high school-level math competitions. She then discovered that the University offered a program that allowed her to pursue her interest in the earth and its complex systems.   

During one of her co-op terms, Schuster created a blog, Fan Behaviour, which opened opportunities for her to travel, write about live music, meet local talents and share her experience with the world.    

"Fan Behaviour has also put my foot in the door of the music industry so that I can combine my passions for music and sustainability," Schuster says.  

At the GreenHouse 31st Social Impact Showcase , Schuster received $1,500 in funding for her creation of a framework that will support live music venues to become more sustainable. 

"Through the GreenHouse program at United College I got the chance to put my ideas to the test," she says. "My venue project is getting a lot of traction because of GreenHouse, my research with the University and my connections in the music industry, and I am excited to see where it ends up." 

Schuster graduate with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies in Environment, Resources and Sustainability, with a Biology minor. 

Gurakam Singh Pabla (BMath ’24) was interested in Waterloo for the interdisciplinary nature of the mathematics/financial analysis and risk management program, combined with being the world’s largest co-op program. 

"Completing my undergrad, being selected as valedictorian and joining the executive team of 11 student clubs throughout the years (before rising to senior levels in eight of them), are but a few achievements that I’m especially thankful for," Pabla says.    

"However, the achievement I’m most proud of to date is being able to say that I’ve made my parents, who never went to post-secondary themselves, proud." 

Pabla will be graduating with a Bachelor of Mathematics in Mathematics/Financial Analysis and Risk Management, with the Chartered Financial Analyst specialization. Pabla’s immediate goal is to travel and see different parts of the world to gain perspective on varying societies before pursuing a successful long-term career in the financial services industry. 

While at Waterloo, Justen Wilmot (BSc ’24) led the creation and organization of Waterloo’s blood and stem cell drive for science event with a small group of peers. In collaboration with the Canadian Blood Services, Wilmot and the team tested more than 200 participants and their eligibility to be a stem cell donor and encouraged blood donations.  

"I hope to inspire new, current and graduating students with my story to motivate them to keep working hard and overcome challenges that they face in [their] academics and personal life," Wilmot says.  

Wilmot was the Gaskin and Claudine Dey Upper-Year Scholarship recipient for promoting African, Carribean or Black culture and community through extracurricular activities on campus, through his work with Black and Muslim lab day and Black science events. 

He will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences with a Medical Physiology minor. After graduation, he will be continuing his research through the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award.  

"As of now, I am hoping to practice medicine in Canada and be a cardiologist to help patients with their cardiovascular system and improving [both] physical and mental health," he says. 

Wilmot is a recipient of the Future Physician Scholarship to study overseas at Saba University School of Medicine. He will be one of the first Waterloo students to participate in the medical schools educational pathways partnership that was announced by Waterloo and Saba University earlier this year.  

What is one of your fondest memories as a Waterloo student?      

Ahmed Ehab Khalil (BA ’24) is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts and Business, with a major in Economics and both a Finance Specialization and a minor in Entrepreneurship. Before coming to Waterloo, Khalil remembers his mother’s advice: "Stay together, support each other and you’ll achieve great things." 

He joined his brother at Waterloo, which allowed them to strengthen their bond, while thriving in a vibrant and innovative community that encouraged his ambitions in the product and tech sector.  

From leading the Waterloo Arab Student Association as president to the many late-night study sessions with his friends at the library, Khalil has created many fond memories at Waterloo. He is honoured to be selected as one of the Faculty of Engineering class valedictorians to represent Egypt and make his family proud. 

"The opportunity to represent our class at convocation is driven by more than just achievements," Khalil says. "It’s fueled by a belief in the power of our stories to inspire change and to motivate others to pursue their passions with courage and determination. I see this as an opportunity to amplify our collective voice, celebrate our resilience, and to cast a vision for how we, as the next generation of leaders, can leave a lasting impact on the world." 

Khalil is currently working on expanding his startup business, BikoBear Digital, which supports service-based founders and solopreneurs to build, grow and monetize their personal brands on LinkedIn. He aspires to grow BikoBear Digital into a multi-six-figure venture by the end of 2025.   


The Architectural Engineering program at Waterloo was less than a year old when Dominic Nguyen (BASc ’24) applied for a spot.  

"The program was a perfect mix of creativity and practicality that I had been looking for in a program," Nguyen says. "The collaborative group environments helped introduce me to some of my closest friends who were amazing in fostering a sense of community in my class." 

One of his fondest memories (and a proud achievement) involved a group research project about the application of flexible glass in building facades, which Nguyen completed during his semester exchange in Denmark. Their research was published at the 2023 SIGraDi Congress , which he considered a major honour.  

One of the perks of being in the architectural engineering program was Nguyen’s access to studio space for his cohort to work in and host informal events and hangout session. 

"Along with the late-night study sessions, we held nerf gun fights and movie nights, decorated the space with posters and lanterns, and even snuck a fridge inside once (which was quickly removed by the department). These little moments reminded us that even though we were adults, we were still very young and are allowed to have fun." 

Nguyen will be graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Architectural Engineering. After graduation, he plans on travelling for a bit before returning to his hometown of Toronto to begin his full-time role as an associate consultant for a construction claims consulting firm.   

Wendy Zhang (BMath ’24) has been active in many different roles while studying in the computer science program. 

Zhang volunteered for residence council during her first year at Village 1 residence. She also took on executive roles in Waterloo’s UNICEF and UWaterloo Photography club and volunteered in various capacities during Waterloo’s orientation and fall open houses. 

"From interacting with all these lovely people in Waterloo coming from very different backgrounds and hearing their life stories, I am often struck by the profound respect I hold for each person’s journey up until this point," Zhang says. "These are invaluable memories I will remember and cherish forever." 

Zhang is graduating with a Bachelor of Mathematics in Computer Science. She will be returning to Colorado in the United States, working full-time as a software developer for a company that she had previously worked at as a co-op student.  
Angelica Marie Sanchez