SOTYA Winner 2022: Isaac Cheng – University of Waterloo

March 2023

Isaac Cheng of University of Waterloo third year honours undergraduate – Physics and Astronomy, winner of the Student of the Year Award, University Co-op, Mr. Cheng has had several successful co-op experiences working as a junior scientist and researcher at the Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics, National Research Council Canada. He has been recognized for his academic achievements as a recipient of awards such as the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award, the Helen Sawyer Hogg Scholarship in Astronomy, and the Walter Metzger Memorial Award. In addition to his academic pursuits, Mr. Cheng is a member of the University of Waterloo's Animusic Ensembles, a band that brings anime and video game music to life. 

Mr. Cheng supported the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and UV Research (CASTOR) mission, developing a software framework which has since been adopted as the template for future mission planning tools. Elements of the framework he helped to develop have also been adopted into similar tools for a planned Canadian space telescope.

Mr. Cheng has distinguished himself as a standout student during his co-op term at NRC. His co-supervisors’ note: “We selected Isaac from a large and talented pool of applicants […] Prior to the start of this project, Isaac had already distinguished himself as a standout at NRC in two previous co-op terms. His previous co-supervisors, Drs. Toby Brown, Joel Roediger, and Trey Wenger have kindly agreed to allow us to reproduce some of their words in recommendation of Isaac’s incredible capability. Dr. Brown: “Isaac has a remarkable ability to establish his scientific goals and independently solve the complex problems that arisen pursuit of these”; Dr. Roediger: “I have never had a co-op student that was as advanced or productive as he”; Dr. Wenger: “Isaac is perhaps the most self-motivated and scientifically curious student that I've ever worked with.” Yet there is broad agreement at NRC that Isaac’s performance during the Winter 2022 term under our supervision exceeded even the very high bar set by his previous terms, reaching a level of proficiency, confidence, and clarity of purpose that I would expect of an already-established scientist working in the field.”

At CASTOR monthly meetings, Mr. Cheng regularly presents his work to an international team of researchers and industry professionals. These presentations demonstrate the benefits of work-integrated learning (WIL). Mr. Cheng has completed three work terms with the National Research Council. In his most recent work term, he received the highest performance rating of “outstanding”. This rating is reserved for only those few students who have distinguished themselves by their unique contributions or exceptional performance. It indicates that the student has significantly exceeded all behavioural and developmental performance expectations with respect to output, quality standards, and delivery of goals and assignments.