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Anifat Olawoyin

UM Phd student Anifat Olawoyin is at the forefront of big data Arctic research

November 2, 2020 — 

When Anifat Olawoyin was invited to help create the first centralized database for the Canadian Arctic, the Nigerian-born UM PhD student immediately agreed and imagined an empty cold-white horizon and polar bears.

“Do I get to go up North?” was her first question, she says.

Olawoyin was chosen to participate in the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) project, which is a partnership between the ARF, the University of Manitoba and Red River College.

While a global pandemic has interfered with her dream of Northern travel, Olawoyin, feels a great sense of satisfaction being part of the ARF project. Her participation is made possible by Mitacs, a not-for-profit research network that provides students with research and training opportunities both at UM and internationally.

Olawoyin, who holds both an MBA and MSc in computer science, says her role with the project is to design and implement the database.

“It will be really, really useful because in most cases, people of the North have not seen the outcomes of data collection,” she says. “The data is in different spots right now. When we create this database, it’s going to be in one spot and accessed by many, many people: researchers, students and people from different domains.

Olawoyin says for years a wide variety of data types has been collected in different formats by ARF vessels, mobile labs, and equipment. Data includes animal stock assessments, weather, changing ice conditions, the salinity (salt content) of the ocean, physical features of coastal areas and the depths and shapes of underwater terrain.  

For the first time, huge amounts of data on the rapidly changing Arctic will be available and aid in everything from mapping of shipping routes to the development of natural resource projects to the growth of food sustainability programs and improvement of local economies. Olawoyin says easy access to information can help local communities thrive and improve peoples’ lives.

“By making this data available to the public, it will show how different organizations, government and researchers have been very active in the North. Northern communities will see they are not alone, and that a lot of people are working on providing solutions that address the challenges of living in the North.”

The second-year doctoral student was asked to join the project by Dr. Carson Leung, her supervisor, professor in the UM department of Computer Science, and head of the Database and Data Mining Lab.

Leung says Olawoyin is “bright and talented” and, through this unique opportunity, will gain experience working in collaboration with the students at Red River College and will develop important skills that will benefit her professionally and academically.

In addition to being a mother and PhD student, Olawoyin works full-time as a business analyst for the City of Winnipeg. Before leaving Nigeria, she received her MBA from the University of Ibadan and did her undergraduate and MSc in Computer Science at the University of Winnipeg.

Olawoyin came to Canada 10 years ago from western Nigeria with her husband and two daughters and had a son in Manitoba. It was -40 C their very first day in the city.

“Humans have an adaptive gene,” Olawoyin says. “We adapt to any environment we find ourselves. In Nigeria, the lowest temperature we experienced was +16 C, but now we are used to the cold weather in Canada. Thankfully it’s only really cold in the winter.”

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