Count me In: Dan Gillis joins Real Scientists

We are delighted to introduce our new curator, Assistant Professor Dan Gillis (@DrDanielGillis), School of Computer Science, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Daniel initially wanted to be an animator but ended up following his love of maths through to university. His work now encompasses: public health and ecological risk assessment, alternative data collection, transdisciplinary education and pedagogy. He’s also involved in developing a health and environmental monitoring system for use by the Inuit of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut – a community situated in the circumpolar region of Canada. Daniel is a co-founder of Farm To unnamed-2Fork (farm-to-fork.ca): a project which aims to improve the quality and quantity of food donated to food banks and pantries by connecting donors with the real-time needs of emergency food providers. As if this isn’t enough, Daniel also co-creator of ICON (ideacon.ca): a transdisciplinary undergraduate classroom that brings students from across campus together to work on social challenges. Here’s Daniel, in his own words.

 

I have always loved math, even as a kid. I’d stay awake at night thinking about numbers and patterns. I once dabbled with the idea of being an animator, but the logical siren song of mathematics kept pulling me back.

 

Many people think that mathematics, statistics, and computer science are stuffy and boring and very egghead-y, however, because of the work that I do I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, to work with students and communities to build tools to help address complex issues like food insecurity, environmental health, and public health. To see the work in action, to see students engaged in science and learning, and to see them come together to develop new approaches, or apply existing methods in new ways is an incredible honour and a continual source of inspiration. This is what keeps me going every day.

 

I have several research programs that span statistics, computer science, and education. In one particular program I’ve partnered with public health and social science researchers and graduate students, as well as the Inuit community of Rigolet, Labrador to develop an environment and health monitoring web and mobile application called eNuk. The app is a communication tool to collect and disseminate information pertaining to public health, safety, and the history and stories of the people who call Rigolet home. The driving force behind this app came from the people of Rigolet who recognized the need to address climate change impacts that are having a profound effect on the community. In another program, I’m working with students to develop new ways of engaging users to collect information for public health risk assessment. Tied closely with the work in Rigolet, this project is also exploring the idea of making surveys more fun so that people are more inclined to provide complete information to the scientists who need it. I also am exploring the use of these types of community-engaged projects to support and enhance the educational experience of students in undergraduate classrooms. One in particular was the partnership with our local health unit and emergency food providers that saw computer science students develop a platform that would inform donors of the real-time needs of the community to improve access to better quality and higher quantity food. That work has led to partnerships with Meal Exchange, the Seed Community Food Hub, and more.

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My work is typically very applied. That is, I often find myself applying math, stats, or computer science to real-world problems. In that way, I think that my work has an almost immediate impact. While I do love theoretical mathematics and its inherent beauty and creativity, most of my work tends to be firmly rooted in the every day issues of community. More than that, I believe that by bringing these problems into the classroom and challenging our best and brightest to explore them without preconceived notions, biases, or other baggage that sometimes comes with age, students are better equipped to face the real-world once they step outside of the university setting.

 

I am co-founder of the Farm To Fork program, which was developed to connect donors to the real-time needs of the emergency food providers (e.g. food banks and food pantries). I am a member of the Seed Community Food Hub committee. I am the faculty advisor to the Guelph Coding Community – a group built by students for students, to geek out over all things computer science.

 

I am a huge fan of the mountains and travel. Every summer I spend at least a week with my best friend hiking in the mountains, and I travel at every possible opportunity. When I’m not completely lazy (like now), I love running and would love to try a 50k race.

 

Ideal Day Off? MOUNTAINS! TRAVEL! Also, coffee and delicious food. And chatting with new and old friends. And reading a good thriller. And maybe a scotch. Check that, definitely a scotch 😉

 

Please welcome Dan to Real Scientists!

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