“My friends played a big role in me becoming so passionate about mathematics. When I was in middle school we had a math assignment every day, I would take it back home and figure it out then rush to my friends’ houses to work together as a team. Each time I would explain the concepts to my friends, there would be a light bulb moment for them, when something finally clicked that they couldn’t get in class. They would say to me, 'Jude! I’ve got it now!'. Those light bulb moments were exciting.
When I graduated from high school, there was no hope of university. It was not something that was mentioned, my mom was a single mother with five children, she worked as a small-scale farmer, so I would either stay in the village and help on the farm, work at the school, or become a priest.
My mom allowed me to visit a family friend in a nearby city and while I was there, I started tutoring.
I met someone who was taking the national exam for teachers, and they said if I took the exam and passed, they could host me while I attended school at the Secondary Teachers training college.
I thought, this would be great, I would have the opportunity to help more students. I decided to take the exam and I passed, graduated, and started teaching in secondary school. At that point, I some money and could afford to go to university and study mathematics and computer science.
The year I graduated I was going to keep teaching at my secondary school, but I attended a conference that talked about applying mathematical modeling to solve disease issues and I asked if it could be used to solve malaria issues. The group of international participants at the workshop were so nice and they explained to me how it could be used. I had lost a lot of people to malaria, so I was touched.
I decided I was going to study mathematical modelling and artificial intelligence to acquire tools I could then take back home to fight malaria, this terrible, yet preventable disease that was killing a lot of people I knew, my loved ones.
The moment I joined York University COVID started, so my focus shifted somewhat and now I have put together a team of 52 researchers in nine African countries. We’re using AI and mathematical modelling tools to save a lot of lives. Soon I will be able to shift back to fight malaria as well.
York is the place to be. It’s home
The first day I started at York, I was walking on campus looking for my building, because I didn’t know the area. When I looked up, I saw the wall of the student building and noticed the diversity of students running for student government, from almost everywhere and I thought to myself – this is Canada, this is our country. York is the place to be, especially when you look at diversity. My colleagues have welcomed me, trained me, helped me to be good at the work I’m doing, helped me to come up with proposals. I find York a unique place to be, because after discussing with other colleagues elsewhere, I’ve realized that the community and support I have at York is that of a family, they look beyond their job descriptions, they work together, they are dedicated to help you, reach out to you and do much more than their work requires. In reality, it’s a family and you give everything to family. York is the place to be, it’s home.
If you can conceive anything and you believe in it, you can achieve it.
It means so much to me to mentor within disadvantaged communities and our students here at York. If you grew up like me, with no mentor, it’s hard to think of university, much less imagine going there. I didn’t know what I would do graduating from high school. I knew it was the same here, finding myself in disadvantaged Black and Indigenous communities when I moved to Alberta. I realized these communities aren’t different from my community back home. I asked myself what would have been different for me if people in my community had someone to look up to, or to realize that university was an option for them.
If these students can see what is possible, they can start to conceive that university is a path for them. That was my first target, to open people’s minds, if you can conceive anything and you believe in yourself, you can achieve it.
I have created a community for the Black mathematics students at York where they are supported, they can ask questions without judgement. We have office hours where they can study silently or work as a group and I’m there if they need help with the mathematics or anything else. The more there are Black students graduating from mathematics, the more people from their community will see them and will be encouraged to take mathematics. This will change their family trees, it will change their community.”
Dr. Jude Kong has a substantial track record in mathematical biology, infectious disease modelling, mathematical and statistical modelling, data science, artificial intelligence, citizen science, and participatory research as well as working with policy makers in government and industry. He is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Science - Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Principal Investigator for the Kong Research Group, Director of the Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Consortium, and is a member of the Canadian Black Scientist Network and the Canadian Centre for Disease Modelling.