For the past 3 years, Dr. Aleksander Essex (BESc'04, MESc’08, PhD’12) has been teaching in the Faculty of Engineering at Western University. He is an assistant professor of Software Engineering with a specialization in cybersecurity and applied cryptography.
Despite the fact that he was no stranger to the campus, having completed an undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering at Western in 2004, his memories of Western go much further back than that.
“My father is a professor at Western in Applied Mathematics,” said Essex. “In the 1980s, the mathematics faculty was right here in the Spencer Building [where Engineering is now]. I walked up and down these very hallways as a kid.”
This full circle journey has landed him exactly where he wants to be: teaching cyber security in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at a campus he describes as one of the best in the country.
What makes Western University so appealing? Essex explained that it isn’t all about a great looking campus and a wonderful staff. The opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration plays a big part in making the Faculty of Engineering at Western a great place to work. “Western has a lot of expertise in a lot of areas – medicine, business, law,” Essex said. “I’m finding that I have so many opportunities to engage with different people. I’m working with people in mathematics, social science, medicine – colleagues with interesting problems that I can connect with.”
Essex’s research involves using cryptography to help answer important questions involving personal and private data using something called secure multi-party computation. Applications he is working on include Privacy-preserving Health Informatics, which develop technology that can help medical researchers get access to important health data while working within privacy laws and Trustworthy Electronic Voting, to provide proof to voters that their ballot was counted. He is also working toward Digital Currency: a secure, decentralized, alternative monetary system.
Essex explained that due to the nature of academia, it is essential to have a supportive staff who are committed to enhancing Essex’s experience as a member of the faculty. On a day to day basis, Essex relies on the dedicated staff who are committed to making sure things run smoothly. “Having a good staff is so crucial to your own research success and the overall quality of work experience,” said Essex. “[At Western Engineering], the staff see people as individuals. There’s a personal touch that I have not encountered on any other campus.”
It’s difficult to talk about Western without mentioning the absolute beauty of the campus and surrounding environment. Although Essex grew up in and around Western, he is continually inspired by his surroundings. “There’s this great attention to architecture here,” he explained. “It’s a beautiful campus, that is constantly changing with new building projects and new pieces to the puzzle being added all the time. All you have to do is look out the window and see the beautiful fall colours blooming at the side of the Spencer Engineering Building brick work.”
Essex, a devoted husband and father of three young children, has had the opportunity to live in a number of cities throughout his life. Although he admits that each has been extraordinary in its own way, London is the place he chose to raise his family. He calls London a ‘Goldilocks’ type of city: big enough to give you festivals, concerts, theatre, a true urban experience. Yet, small enough to be affordable without long commutes and an overall congested feeling. “If you want to see a Jays game, do some cross border shopping or go to the beach, you can daytrip to any of those things,” said Essex. “London has an incredible balance.”
Currently, Dr. Essex teaches SE 4472a/ECE 9064a: Information Security and the Graduate level course ECE 9609/9069B: Introduction to Hacking: Exploitation and Protection of Systems and Software. He also runs Whisper Lab, the Western Information Security and Privacy Research Laboratory.
For more about Professor Aleksander Essex click here.