Lawrence Folland named Honorary Member

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Former Cheriton School of Computer Science staff member, Lawrence Folland, has been named an Honorary Member of the University of Waterloo.

Every year at convocation, the University of Waterloo bestows select community members with honorary doctorates, distinguished professor emeritus and honorary membership. The honorary membership recognizes staff members for their outstanding service and is the highest honour they can attain.

Lawrence is being recognized for his “outstanding contributions to the University and his dedication to community outreach.”

From June 2003 to June 2022, Lawrence was the Technical Manager of the Computer Science Computing Facility (CSCF).  He also served as the President of the University of Waterloo’s Staff Association (UWSA) from November 2019 to October 2020. For the past 20 years, “his leadership has transformed how support for research computing is delivered in the School and he has created a model that other institutions now try to emulate,” says Raouf Boutaba, University Professor and Director of the Cheriton School of Computer Science. “I would like to congratulate Lawrence on this highly deserving honour.”

headshot of Lawrence Folland inside Davis Centre

Lawrence is known for his tenacious leadership, pioneering technology, and community outreach.

Lawrence will receive this honour at the Faculty of Math’s Spring Convocation ceremony held on Wednesday, June 12th, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

“I was incredibly pleased and grateful to learn that I would be receiving this title. I started at the University in 2003 and have loved my time here.  I was hired into the role of Manager of Research Computing Support in the School of Computer Science, where Bill Ince and [Professor] Ken Salem were my immediate supervisors. Mike Patterson and Mike Gore were my original team members.  Over the years my team grew, and I had the pleasure to work with the staff, faculty and grads in Computer Science. Later, I hired Trevor Grove who had a lot of experience at Waterloo. I learned a lot from him about the history of computing at the University. Over the years, I have worked on a passion project to build a Computer Museum at Waterloo. Now that I am retired, I volunteer regularly at the Museum and find great joy in that.”

About Lawrence Folland

Innovating Technology

Before working at Waterloo, Lawrence worked as a technology specialist in the software industry. Using this expertise, he oversaw the development of several advanced software tools and services at CSCF. This includes the Online Academic Tools (OAT), the Examination Management System (EMS), and tools for managing departmental graduate admissions workflows. This technology was so effective in disseminating and storing critical student information that other units at the University adopted them.

Beyond Waterloo, Lawrence is the President of Folland Software Services, where they developed “The Data Magician”, a data conversion tool.  It distributed selected data, catalogue cards and labels, and processed U.S. Federal Depository records to over 70 libraries in America. Throughout his career, Lawrence has pioneered technology that is used across campus and the world.

Supporting Research

Lawrence served as CSCF’s inaugural Technical Manager. He managed the newly launched Research and Special Projects Team, which focused on providing research computing support.

Initially, the team was unsure about their approach to research support. However, Lawrence brought their vision to life: he understood that forming strong relationships was key to the group’s success. He would actively work with researchers to understand and accommodate their needs and connect with new faculty to create a welcoming environment. Ultimately, Lawrence shaped how research is supported at Cheriton— as CSCF now provides customized technical support for hundreds of faculty and graduate students.

Tackling the Unknown

Lawrence’s past supervisors have praised him for his pragmatic leadership and his “can-do” attitude, especially in crises. In 2014, the CSCF machine room was hit by a catastrophic flood, damaging several computing equipment. Although there weren’t any emergency measures in place, he successfully mitigated the flood’s impact. He and his team worked with affected research groups to catalogue and restore their equipment. If it was beyond repair, he created temporary alternatives and workarounds. He also worked endlessly to replace the lost equipment and manage insurance claims. By renovating this equipment, he helped several computer scientists continue critical research endeavours.

Eventually, Lawrence led a presentation on the flood and CSCF’s approach to the Professional Development Advisory Group (PDAG),  which helped create emergency protocols for the University. This talk was so well-received, that he gave a similar presentation to the Ontario Universities Computing Conference.

Notably, Lawrence served as the President of UWSA, “during the very trying pandemic years with great support from the UWSA team, especially Gail Spencer.”  While many companies struggled to adapt during the COVID-19 lockdowns, Lawrence’s exceptional leadership ensured operational continuity for UWSA. Overall, Lawrence is renowned for his tenacity and out-of-the-box thinking, especially when faced with tumultuous events.

Championing Staff Rights

Lawrence became a long-time volunteer for UWSA when his colleague, Trevor Grove, was elected as president. Prior to his presidency, he served as UWSA’s Director and Treasurer. “I learned so much in those years about the University, Administration and Staff,” remarks Lawrence.

Through his leadership, he worked on initiatives that helped foster a strong and healthy work environment. He reformed “Policy 33 (Ethical Behaviour) and Policy 6 (Staff Vacations), where I helped reshape the policy of vacation usage in the first year of employment.” He also renegotiated Waterloo’s Memorandum of Agreement and addressed Ontario’s Bill 124, a legislation that restricted compensation for public sector employees.  

Preserving History

For years, many Cheriton staff and faculty were concerned that the technology and information that pushed Waterloo’s reputation as one of the leading computer science schools could become lost over time. As a result, Lawrence collected and curated various artifacts on Waterloo’s computing history. Eventually, he co-founded the Computer Museum in 2010, alongside the Faculty of Engineering’s Professor Scott Campbell. It features over 4000 artifacts, the oldest dating back to the 1880s.

Lawrence’s contributions included curating artifacts, reviewing governance documents, and designing exhibits. Notably, he created virtual displays for unavailable artifacts such as the IBM 360/75 computer and the famous “Red Room”. Although Lawrence retired in 2022, he regularly volunteers with the museum. His dedication to preserving and honouring Waterloo’s computing history demonstrates his commitment to community outreach.

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