Meet Dr Charles Burke, the newest addition to the USP’s distinguished faculty, soon to be teaching in both the Quantitative Reasoning Foundation, and the Sciences and Technologies Domains.

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We—Royston and Abhi, in our role as QR Assistants—had the pleasure to be amongst the first to get to know Dr Burke, to find out more about him and the modules he would be teaching.


Dr Burke arrived in Singapore in early April shortly after accepting an offer to teach at USP. While he grew up in the US, he has moved and lived in various cities across the US, Canada, Britain and Spain, just to count a few. Suffice to say, Dr Burke is quite a global citizen and has travelled extensively.


Singapore is his first big step into Asia, which he describes as his “biggest change in terms of geography and culture”. He tells us that Singapore reminds him of Florida where he spent a large part of his childhood in, a place dear and near to his heart. He jokingly admits that it might take a while for him to get adjusted to the heat in Singapore, but he does fancy the sunny weather, as well as the lush green spaces and the city-in-a-garden concept.


He describes Singapore as truly multicultural. He recounted his experience of taking the MRT on the first few days of arriving here, being delighted to see the diversity that we have. He is keenly excited to explore more of Singapore, and to make a few trips to the neighbouring countries.


On his academic background, Dr Burke pursued his undergraduate studies in Environmental Sciences at the Bishop’s University in Quebec, but switched to Political Science for his Masters at the University of Windsor. “I was always interested in environmental policy making”, he says. After graduating, he did some policy work at the Cross-Border Institute at the University of Windsor. The Institute had been subcontracted by the Obama administration back then for economic analysis on investments in transportation projects and upgrading transport facilities to be more environmentally friendly, as well as their impact on jobs. There, he analysed the traffic patterns of various cities, making sense of big data to come up with policy recommendations.


His PhD thesis was related to transportation as well, focusing on “active transportation”, which refers to human-powered forms of transportation, such as walking or cycling to your destination. He remarks that in present day, there is little space for bike lanes on roads, with cars occupying most of the road, but it does not have to be so. He has conducted simulations to analyse and assess where bike lanes can replace roads without affecting traffic congestion too much. He has already done a model for Toronto, which not only helped to identify spaces for bikes and pedestrians, but also eased congestion in certain areas. He is therefore excited about the prospect to do a similar model for Singapore.


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In the coming academic year, Dr Burke will be offering two modules. The first, a Quantitative Reasoning module, he titles “Pursuit of Happiness”, with a focus on the factors that lead to a high quality of life. “Is quality of life more related to social demographics, such as one’s ethnicity or economic status, or is it one’s attitude and outlook on things, such as being liberal or conservative?” He intends for his students to collect primary data on this topic, to compare against the data from the US.


The second module, to be offered in the Sciences and Technologies domain, will be on Big Data. Dr Burke tells us excitedly about what he has learned about OpenData SG and the vast amount of geographical data made available. He hopes to be able to use those data to identify useful patterns in this module, such as patterns of dengue fever occurrence.


When we asked Dr Burke on his approach to teaching, it was not surprising to hear that “it will be hands-on learning.” He expects USP students to apply what they have learned practically, digging deep into the data, and using software tools to answer questions through statistical analysis. Ultimately, he hopes that his students can all become data scientists.


Outside the classroom, Dr Burke is an avid sports fan and athlete. The former captain of his varsity American football team, he is incredibly sporty, and would love to join students in playing sports. In fact, he readily took up our offer to join the casual floorball game that same evening following our little chat (Royston has therefore had first-hand experience playing alongside him!). For someone who can pick up any sport quickly—“anything with a ball, stick, racket or disc,” he shares—it seems that we may just have a new ace player for the upcoming Inter-Faculty Games!


We really enjoyed our chat with Dr Burke. He looks set to be a much welcome addition to the USP community, in both academic and co-curricular fields. We keenly look forward to the exciting new academic year after this summer break.