Shortly after graduating from Princeton University with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Sindiso Nyathi joined the Global Obesity Prevention Center's (GOPC) Systems Science Core (SSC). Sindiso had a strong interest in the GOPC's system science approaches and tools, specifically the design and implementation of computational simulation models. Sindiso worked with the SSC team to develop computational simulation models aimed at the prevention and control of both communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The SSC team is comprised of a mind-meld of faculty, staff and students who work together to help various decision makers understand and address public health challenges including obesity and infectious diseases. While with the Center, Sindiso worked as a liaison between the SSC team and decision makers as he would help understand policies and interventions from decision makers and determine the best and most accurate way to represent them in systems models.
"The process of building the models often involves having to hone in on only the most vital factors in the system and understand how they work together," says Sindiso. "Trying to figure out how these mechanisms work with the SSC team are among some of my favorite memories."
Along Sindiso's almost two year journey with the GOPC, he has been able to learn the ins and outs of modeling from conceptualization to implementation. "Unsurprisingly, the entire endeavor requires patience and teamwork as well as focus and clarity, all run-of-the-mill skills, but nonetheless vital to the process of research," says Sindiso.
Sindiso helped develop computational simulation models in the GOPC's Virtual Population for Obesity Prevention (VPOP) Laboratories. The models were created to help decision makers better understand and address the various systems contributing to obesity and affecting diet, physical activity and metabolism. To date, Sindiso and the VPOP team have developed simulation models of Baltimore, New York City, Mexico City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. "Sindiso was always willing and able to learn new skills to fill needs for our VPOP team," says Marie Ferguson, MSPH, research associate. "Whenever we seemed to hit a wall in terms of how to handle a modeling issue, he was always willing to spend extra time coming up with a creative solution."
Sindiso was not only a valued member of the team, he was also a friend. "Having Sindiso one desk over has not only helped me to think more clearly in our work conversations but also gave me a friend to talk to about random topics in those much-needed breaks," says Atif Adam, PhD, MBBS, MPH, postdoctoral fellow. "Sindiso is a true scientist at heart and will be much missed. He certainly leaves a big seat at GOPC to fill in."
In order to further understand system science and modeling, Sindiso will be pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology and Clinical Research at Stanford University School of Medicine. Prior to starting classes in the fall, Sindiso will be returning home for a few months to visit his family in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.