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Two University of Waterloo alumni reflect on the importance of paying it forward.
by Lisa Kabesh
While Craig Doughty and Michael Symonds would go on to travel down different career paths after graduating from the University of Waterloo in 2000, their connection to the University keeps bringing them back together.
The long-time friends met during their studies at Waterloo, where they both majored in Actuarial Science and earned Bachelor of Mathematics degrees.
Symonds would move to Wall Street in 2004, where his early career focused on mergers and acquisitions and reinsurance. Today, he is managing director of Nomura’s Insurance Solutions Group in New York, a division of the investment bank Nomura Securities. With over 20 years of experience in insurance and investment banking, Symonds advises insurance companies about financing transactions in the capital markets.
Doughty’s career path would also take him beyond Canada’s borders. Working in various leadership roles for Manulife since 2006, he spent six years in Barbados as vice president and chief financial officer of the company’s Barbados reinsurance operations. Now based at Manulife’s Toronto headquarters, Doughty oversees actuarial policy interpretations and advocacy efforts related to a new global insurance accounting standard that’s set to become effective in 2023. He brings over 20 years of experience in the life and health insurance industry to his role as vice president, IFRS17 policy.
Despite these divergent career paths, the two have remained friends who are committed to helping young people start on their own path to success.
That’s why they chose to give back. Along with another friend and alumnus, Doughty and Symonds teamed up to make annual, matched gifts to dedicate a study space in the Faculty of Mathematics in 2017. They wanted students today to have the same rich educational experiences they had during their time at Waterloo.
Now, Symonds and Doughty have teamed up again, but this time they’ve set their sights on the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC).
Creating Formative Learning Experiences
So, why did these friends choose to throw their support behind the CEMC? The answer, in part, is personal.
During their high school years, both Doughty and Symonds benefitted from the type of educational outreach that the CEMC undertakes.
Both recall their participation in CEMC mathematics contests with fondness.
“Those competitions were a bit of a turning point,” explains Doughty. Symonds chimes in: “The contests were huge for me as well.”
For Doughty, it wasn’t until his Grade 11 math teacher introduced the class to probability theory that he learned what actuaries are. The same teacher encouraged his class to write mathematics contests, which stretched Doughty in new ways and began his pursuit of a career in mathematics. It was “a different development than you get in your regular math classes,” he explains.
For Symonds, participating in a math contest in Grade 10 would prompt an important shift in how he saw mathematics. He recalls when a teacher visited his school to introduce students to the contest: “I remember looking at the question and thinking, ‘I have no idea, no idea how to do this.’ And I was good at math,” he recalls. “She walked us through it, and then I realized that it wasn’t that I was incapable of engaging with math at that level, but that I needed to learn how, that it was a different skill.”
This experience would inspire Symonds to apply for a challenging afterschool math program. “This extra education was so formative, so important. It taught me to think holistically, taught me to problem solve as a team,” says Symonds.
Now, Symonds and Doughty want to make sure that kids and young people have the same opportunities that they had to grow and stretch their skills. Symonds emphasizes the life-long impact this type of enrichment can have on young people: “The comfort with theory, the theoretical piece – it’s helped me in my career – breaking things down into first principles, thinking about why things are the way they are, rather than just plugging in a formula.”
Inspiring the Next Generation
To the two friends, then, supporting mathematics and computer science education at the secondary- and primary-school level with a gift to the CEMC represents an important investment in the future.
“Getting people involved in mathematics, getting people involved in computing, in advanced analytics – as an actuary, and as a representative of my company, that’s really important,” explains Doughty. “We rely on smart people coming out of programs like that to become leaders of our organizations.”
For Symonds, “bringing more people into the fold, opening more people’s eyes to what’s out there and to learning things at a higher level” is deeply important.
“These are skills that people can nurture, that people can grow,” Symonds says. And that’s what the CEMC is all about.