MEET THE NEW DIRECTOR: Dr. James Gilchrist
Dr. James Gilchrist
professor (oral biology), College of Dentistry
A community-minded dentistry professor with a zeal for engaging youth in science, soccer and finding one’s passion is the new director of the Biomedical Youth Program (BYP) in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Dr. James Gilchrist, professor of oral biology in the College of Dentistry, Faculty of Health Sciences, has invested over three decades pursuing research in heart and muscle adaptations to exercise and disease. Gilchrist, a U of M faculty member for 22 years, was welcomed as the new director in January. The BYP was previously led by founding director Dr. Francis Amara, who had spent close to 10 years nurturing an incredible relationship with schools and kids in the community.
Be of service to others
The 62-year-old, born in Kent, England, moved frequently due to his dad’s job with the Royal Air Force –including a stint in Australia. He says his life growing up was much more different than most of the kids he works with through inner-city initiatives. “I spent most of my time either swimming or just wandering off into the bush and playing make belief,” he recalls of his childhood.
His father — whom he says “lived an Indiana Jones kind of life” — was full of idioms that acted as guides to life, ones Gilchrist now passes on to his two kids. “My father once commented to me on how it was back in those times in England; he said people considered it demeaning to be in a position of service but he always felt it was important that you do offer yourself and to give,” Gilchrist says.
For the last 15 years he has devoted his time to coaching soccer teams, the last five of those split between coaching and volunteer community work; on average he’s volunteering three to four nights a week.
Gilchrist remembers a conversation he had with his eldest child. His 21-year-old son had approached him about what his next steps in life should be. “I told to him, it doesn’t matter what you do, just try and make sure it fits well with you. There are two moments in my life when things fit, the first when I went to do my undergrad. That fit. The second that fits is this job, particularly this positon of working with the BYP.”
He earned an undergraduate degree in sport science training in Liverpool, U.K., and went on to obtain a M.Sc. at the University of Alberta. During his PhD training (at the University of British Columbia) Gilchrist played semiprofessional soccer; he stopped playing competitively just five years ago. He came to Winnipeg for postdoctoral training with Grant Pierce,a College of Medicine physiology professor and executive director of St-Boniface Hospital Research.
“Francis and I both started at St-Boniface around the same time and eventually went off in our own directions. We kept in touch and I was always aware he was doing something special … over the last couple of years, I became involved and helped out with the BYP,” says Gilchrist.
Now as director of BYP, one of his goals is to teach high school students to become good storytellers so they can go back to their communities and share what they’ve learned in a way that has an impact on the community. His short term plan is to focus on consolidating the main activities of the program — its involvement in the Winnipeg School Division Science Fair, the BYP Summer Camp, the Inner-City Science Centre at Niji Mahkwa School — by engaging a committee of people representing each of the Colleges in the Faculty of Health Sciences for this faculty-wide initiative.
“My long-term vision is to help bring about a better coordination and funding of a number of related activities currently running in Winnipeg that are all directed toward the same thing,” he explains. Many dedicated people and organizations in Winnipeg offer similar activities aimed at enhancing kids’ curiosity about science and increasing the number of under-represented populations in University science programs and health professions.
“It’s nice to be involved with the BYP, but this is not about me; this is about moving the program along. It was always that way with Francis and it’s kind of as much to honour Francis that I wanted to keep this going.”
Dr. Francis Amara
B.Sc. (Hons), PhD, M.Ed., PDipl
Associate Professor, Biochemistry & Medical Genetics;
Founding Director, Biomedical Youth Program & Inner-City Science Centre
Dr. Amara is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Medical
Genetics, with cross appointments in the Departments of Community Health
Sciences and Medical Education.
He is actively involved in teaching and medical education research, faculty development, and curriculum design
in the College of Medicine. Dr. Amara has administrative experience in coordinating and providing
leadership in curriculum development, evaluation and remediation in medical education.
He is very passionate about bringing the joy of learning science to youth in underserved communities, and from diverse cultural backgrounds.