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Meet the Faculty

Fighting Lifestyle and Health Challenges through Computer Science

Dr. Mechelle Gittens is one of a kind. She is the lone female Senior Lecturer in the group of distinguished academics attached to the Department of Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics at Cave Hill. 

A native of Barbados, Dr. Gittens completed her Ph.D. in Computer Science with an emphasis on software engineering at the University of Western Ontario in 2004.  Her doctoral study on software quality assurance opened doors at IBM Canada, where she contributed to the development of their software testing process.  

This stint with IBM Canada eventually culminated in a full-time position in 2005.  During her time there she was granted a US patent in computer software test coverage analysis, as part of an international team of computer scientists and mathematicians. IBM Canada welcomed this patent and has built on it to develop the cutting-edge software quality assurance systems employed today.

Despite a successful teaching stint at the University of Waterloo in Canada and opportunities to build a solid career at IBM, Dr. Gittens felt the call to return to her island home and seized the opportunity when a lecturership opened at the Cave Hill Campus in 2008.
 
The Cave Hill Experience
At Cave Hill Campus, Dr. Gittens has been able to pursue her dream of helping people live better and more productive lives by employing internet applications, artificial intelligence and smart technologies.

Healthcare providers across the globe are using artificial intelligence to improve patient care and reduce costs through innovations such as robotic surgery and virtual nursing assistants.  For Dr. Gittens, these technologies should be employed much earlier in the game, long before surgical procedures and palliative care become necessary.

Like several of her colleagues in the Faculty of Science and Technology, this student-centered lecturer is a firm believer in developing her pupils through collaborative research.  Student-lecturer collaborations have great potential because they facilitate a marriage between the experience and expertise of the lecturer, and the energy, enthusiasm and fresh perspectives of the student. Since 2008, Dr. Gittens has supervised several projects developed with graduate students using web based and mobile applications, coupled with machine learning to solve pressing lifestyle and health concerns.
 
One of these is ‘Farmers Connect’- the brainchild of Dr. Gittens, and implemented by Jacob Hunte, a computer science student who brought his affinity for mathematics to the creation of a data analytics system to benefit consumers and farmers alike.  Presented in forums including the National Council for Science and Technology Symposium, ‘Farmers Connect’ is a web-based application which uses artificial intelligence and genetic algorithms to match, for example, a consumer who wants to purchase fresh carrots with a farmer who has them for sale.  Moreover, this application saves time and costs by identifying an optimal geographical midpoint where the farmer and consumer can meet to complete the sale. 

‘Farmers Connect’ is just the tip of the iceberg.  Dr. Gittens is working to make it and other systems a part of an overall life and health management system for diabetics, and persons with the other non-communicable diseases that are such a challenge to healthcare systems in our region. Using concepts from psychology, she worked with graduate students Brendon Duncan, Reco King and Dominic Evans to create mobile applications to get diabetics to move more and to be more diligent in taking medication. The next step will be to link this move/medication app to ‘Farmers Connect’ (expanded by graduate student CJ Bonadie) and to a food recommender system (built with intern Branden Spooner) whereby diabetic or hypertensive patients can receive daily alerts on exercise deficits to be made up, medication requirements for that day,  what they should aim to eat, and finally information on which farmer(s) can provide the fresh fruits and vegetables at the optimal collection point.
  
Dr. Gittens’ other projects include work with her current Ph.D. student Shamar Ward on Smart City Technology that will lead to better productivity in the day-to-day activities of Barbadians as they use local transportation systems and their physical work spaces.  She collaborates with Dr. Curtis Gittens, in their ‘Lifestyle Management Technology Lab @ UWI’ and is working with Statistician Dr. Peter Chami on a data-driven project to improve air quality as a means of bettering the lives of asthmatics.  
 
The Women in Science Network
Dr. Gittens is one of the chief proponents of the Women in Science Network at the Cave Hill Campus. She has worked on behalf of women in (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) STEM since her time in Canada, and has conductedongoing research on the severe under-representation of women of colour in Computer Science.  A joint research project with undergraduate student Shenice Mason demonstrated that science was perceived by many young Barbadians to be a ‘career for the men’. This perception appears to be global, and may explain the miniscule number of females in all areas of science around the world. 
 

Dr. Gittens with Che-Leslie Cox Graduate Student in Computer Science. Proud members of the Cave Hill Women in Science network.

Nevertheless, Dr. Gittens is proud to report that the UWI is doing its part to address this gender inequality in STEM. There are now a handful of females completing doctoral research in computer science at Cave Hill, and that number is expected to grow as these graduates enter business and academia, and take their place as role models for Caribbean girls who have a passion for information technology and for scientific research.
 
Accomplishments and Joys
When asked what she is most proud of, Dr. Gittens lists several accomplishments.  She takes great pride in having guided her past doctoral students through the highs and lows of completing a Ph.D. thesis.  She admits to being excited when Masters students under her tutelage decide to take the next step and enroll to do a Ph.D.  By far, however, her greatest joy is having the privilege of raising two beautiful daughters with her husband Dr. Curtis Gittens, also a computer scientist, who she describes as being a wonderfully supportive husband and an excellent father.
 
The Way Forward
Going forward, Dr. Mechelle Gittens is intent on a career dedicated to using computer innovation to help others to live happier and more productive lives, and welcomes M.Phil./Ph.D. students who share the same motivation. Through the recent introduction of a Masters in Computing Innovation, the Department of Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics has sought to create an additional avenue (apart from the M.Phil./Ph.D. route) for indigenous technological entrepreneurship and development. Most importantly, all of Cave Hill’s computer scientists look forward to receiving expressions of interest from qualified individuals who want to impact their world through science and innovation.  

Click here to view some of the research done by Dr. Gittens »


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