Celebrating alumni achievements and industry support

Ceremony honours Waterloo Engineering medal and award recipients

By Charlotte Danby Faculty of Engineering

Past and present students, donors, faculty and staff gathered to celebrate the exceptional achievements of eight alumni and a long-time supporter of the Faculty.

Hosted by Mary Wells, dean of engineering, this year’s event recognized the developer of innovative wearable technology, the founders of a fully integrated and reusable packaging program, two alumni leaders and co-class representatives, an advocate for equity and diversity, a leader of distributed control technology and systems, the CEO of a company that specializes in PVC recycling and waste reduction, and a valued friend of the Faculty.

The recipients of this year’s awards are:

Dhananja Jayalath - Young Alumni Achievement Medal

While studying, Dhananja Jayalath (BASc ’12, electrical engineering) developed an idea for a product that could enhance people’s fitness training by telling them which parts of their bodies needed attention.

This idea was born out of Jayalath’s own frustrations in the gym. He couldn’t afford a personal trainer and couldn’t tell if his workouts were delivering maximum benefit. He wanted a way to gather valid data from his workouts that he could action immediately. 

Fast forward eight years and Jayalath’s wearable technology company, Athos, has supported the performance and recovery of more than 40 division one athletic teams, five Olympians and members of the elite branches of the United States Armed Forces. The company has also received 42 patents for its innovations.  

Athos specializes in tech-enhanced athletic apparel that uses sensors to analyze a person’s muscle performance while working out. It then delivers an actionable analysis for improved training.  

Jayalath’s passion for innovation extends beyond his work and he is committed to helping the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders unlock their potential. Under his leadership, Athos has hired and mentored nearly 100 Waterloo Engineering students through the co-op program. 

"I support engineering students and grads who make mistakes and keep on trying," Jayalath says. "Learning how to learn is a survival skill so use it. Always ask why and read your emails."

Kayli Dale and Jacqueline Hutchings - Team Alumni Achievement Medal

Kayli Dale and Jacqueline Hutchings (BASc ’20, chemical engineering) met just before their first-ever undergraduate lecture. The two quickly discovered a shared desire to solve big world problems through sustainable solutions. In third year, they traveled to Sweden for an inspiring four-month study program. The trip exposed them to a culture that focuses on minimalism, environmental sustainability and thoughtful consumption.  

What struck them most was learning about the circular economy model and its potential to reduce waste through reusable product design. They were determined to introduce the model to North America and hit upon a brilliant way to do so. In 2019, they founded Friendlier, a fully integrated and reusable packaging program, so named because Dale and Hutchings knew it was time to be friendlier to the planet.  

As their fledgling business took flight, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, creating a very challenging food service market. Through thoughtful leadership, Friendlier successfully expanded to service 50 food businesses in the Guelph area in 2020.

Driven by their commitment to environmental stewardship and social justice, Dale and Hutchings raised over $800,000 to develop and commercialize their business - no mean feat in the current economic climate - and have grown the company to a team of 20 employees.  

The company continues to grow and now supports over 140 food businesses across Ontario, including delivery services such as SkipTheDishes and national brands such as Loblaws, Compass Canada and Aramark.  

Friendlier has made a significant environmental, economic and social impact in a short space of time. The company has provided 120,000, and counting, reusable containers to over 100 independent retailers, diverting more than 15,000 lbs of waste from landfills. 

"As students we learned how to expand our problem-solving engineering minds to think about the bigger business picture and manage that important balance between profit and impact," Hutchings says.

"We’re grateful to all our lecturers and mentors for teaching us how to figure stuff out," Dale adds.

Stephen Kozary and George Roberts - Team Alumni Achievement Medal

Steve Kozary and George Roberts (BASc ’79, chemical engineering) took it upon themselves to act as class champions and keep their class connected after graduation. For over 40 years, the duo brought their Waterloo classmates together for both formal alumni celebrations as well as informal catch-ups. Their efforts were entirely voluntary and resulted in a tight-knit group of people who remain as close today - if not closer - than when they were students.  

While pursuing their respective careers, Kozary and Roberts worked tirelessly to re-establish contact with classmates, remind their classmates of upcoming reunions, maintain an up-to-date contact list, organize get-togethers for those in the GTA area and connect people with each other for relevant opportunities.  

As a result, they were responsible for getting the largest turn-out of alumni attendees at their class’s 25 year reunion in 2004.  

Sadly, George passed away in 2020. He is remembered by many in his class as the glue that held them together for four decades. Other tributes recall how he assisted fellow classmates who had fallen on hard times in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis with industry introductions and small contracts to help get them back on their feet. Perhaps the most fitting tribute for someone who loved bringing his classmates together is from his obituary which simply states, "Cheers to George who loved gatherings more than anything".  

"I am deeply honoured to receive this award on behalf of my late friend George," Kozary says. "I encourage today’s students to maintain the close relationships they have with their classmates after graduation. The lifelong friendships and business networks that have supported me on my journey have been invaluable."

Camille A. Mitchell - Alumni Achievement Medal for Community Service   

Camille Mitchell (BAS ’06, MARCH ’10, architectural studies) is a highly accomplished architect with the Toronto based award-winning firm, Gensler. Her growing reputation in the field, though, goes beyond her professional expertise and achievements.  

As a Black woman in the traditionally white, male dominated field of architecture, Mitchell has faced challenging perceptions regarding her capabilities as an architect. Her response has always been to prove them wrong through hard work, excellent results - and advocating for change.  

Mitchell is passionate about the volunteer work she does to address systemic social inequalities that undermine diversity in architecture. She wants young people from underrepresented backgrounds to see themselves as architects and design professionals, for them to believe such careers are possible, regardless of their colour or gender.  

Mitchell’s community-based work to promote equity in architecture and design is extensive. She is a founding member of the independent organizations Building Equality in Architecture Toronto and the Black Architects + Interior Designer Association. Their programs are dedicated to supporting mentorship, networking and leadership opportunities for women and visible minorities within the architecture profession. 

In 2020, Mitchell was invited to sit on Waterloo Engineering’s School of Architecture’s advisory board for racial equity and environmental justice. This task force was created as part of the University’s ongoing truth and reconciliation work to help it address the inequities that persist within the academic setting.

"We need to be mindful of our privileges and opportunities, and give voice to those communities that lack representation," Mitchell says.

Mark J. Nixon - Alumni Achievement Medal for Professional Achievement

Mark Nixon (BASc ’82, electrical engineering) is currently the director of applied research at Emerson Automation Solutions where he has worked for over three decades in different roles and departments. 

Over the course of his career, Nixon has received over 160 patents for his innovations, making him one of the company’s best inventors.  

Of Nixon’s many professional achievements, the one that comes up time and again is his key contribution to the standardization of WirelessHART technology for optimized process controls in manufacturing. It has been so successful that it is now the core technology behind Emerson’s portfolio of wireless devices.  

Nixon contributes to many automation standards. He currently leads the research and development for DeltaV, one of the most powerful distributed control systems in process automation. His work on DeltaV led him to co-author and publish two books that establish the foundation of advanced control in process automation.

In recognition of his industry leading contributions to the field of process control, Mark was elected to the Process Automation Hall of Fame in 2010 - the highest honour there is in the field.  

"All I can say to aspiring engineers is don’t be afraid of failure," Nixon says. "Work with positive people and keep on trying."

David S. Foell - Alumni Achievement Medal for Professional Achievement

Over the course of his career, David Foell (BASc ’89, chemical engineering) has proven that environmental stewardship and successful business leadership can work together.

After graduation, Foell started working with PolyOne, a company with deep expertise in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polymerization and products where he enjoyed roles in sales, marketing and business development. His work with PolyOne included the creation of a new venture with Owens Corning, Decillion, to create products from in-situ stabilization of PVC and wet use long glass fibers using a newly patented process.

When Foell left PolyOne, he started his own business called P2 Concrete Forming which is the exclusive manufacturer and marketer of a permanent, patented concrete forming system called P2Forms. 

Driven by a desire for greater sustainability in manufacturing, Foell incorporated locally sourced, recycled vinyl materials in his P2Forms products. He worked closely with Return Polymers, a privately held PVC recycling and compounding company, and in 2007, joined the business as an owner. 

Under Foell’s leadership, Return Polymers has grown into the largest and leading rigid vinyl recycler in North America, all while increasing its level of automation, safety, third party certifications, sales and margins.

The company’s success is measurable in more ways than one though, with extraordinary amounts of PVC diverted from landfills (>1 billion lbs) over its 30 years of continuous operations.

In recognition of these exceptional achievements, Return Polymers was awarded with the Vinyl Institute’s inaugural ’Recycler of the Year’ award in 2019.  

Foell’s accomplishments and capabilities soon came to the attention of AZEK, an industry-leading manufacturer of low maintenance and environmentally sustainable outdoor living products. In 2020, AZEK successfully acquired Return Polymers to help reinforce its sustainability mission with Foell as president of Return Polymers and vice-president of PVC Recycling at AZEK.

"Success is always the product of good collaboration," Foell says. "Surround yourself with awesome people, maintain those relationships over your career and allow the team to succeed."

Friend of the Faculty Award - Microsoft 

Through its generous support of Waterloo Engineering for over three decades, Microsoft’s partnership continues to transform students’ lives with incredible learning and research opportunities. 

Its investments towards student scholarships, experiential education at the IDEAs Clinic and co-operative employment has helped build a growing global pipeline of talent that meets the needs of industry and understands the challenges facing society.  

In addition, Microsoft provides Waterloo Engineering with support to further research and innovation focused on driving economic prosperity and improving the human condition. Its support of Waterloo.AI has given Faculty researchers access to funding, technology and expertise to explore innovative research in many aspects of artificial intelligence and machine learning across a wide range of disciplines.  

Since 1987, Microsoft Canada and Microsoft U.S have together hired over 2,600 co-op students from Waterloo. Today, over 500 UWaterloo alumni are employed by Microsoft and its subsidiaries around the world.  

Christopher Pratley, corporate vice-president at Microsoft, joined the company a few years after graduating from Waterloo in 1991 with a BASc in systems design engineering.

"I urge all Waterloo engineering students to make the most of their co-op experiences," Pratley says. "Not all will be the thing you want to do but they will help you figure out what it is you do want to do."