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In Memoriam: Xiaobo (Bob) Wang

Jim Sallis. September 25, 2017

Dr Xiaobo Wang contacted me by email in 2015 and expressed an interest in being a visiting scholar with our research group at UCSD. He was Associate Professor of Physical Education at Zhengzhou University of Light Industry in China, with a background in exercise psychology. Because I cannot agree to sponsor everyone who requests to visit with us, we scheduled a phone call. The call reassured me that Dr Wang was well-acquainted with our group’s work, he had specific plans to use the visit to start new research directions, and his English was very good. Thus, I agreed to sponsor his visit. Dr Wang and his family began their visit about February 2016 and stayed until February 2017. During this time I got to know Bob (his preferred English name), his wife Lilly, and their 5-year-old son Prince very well.

Bob spent almost every work day at the office, and he became friends with all the staff and students. He was always in a good mood and was enthusiastic about learning from everyone. He participated in meetings, learned from Kelli Cain how to use accelerometers, and received substantial tutoring in statistics and study design from Terry Conway. His primary goal was to develop and publish a manuscript using one of our databases. Bob’s main interests were in youth sports and physical activity. Because he was very tall and had been a lifelong basketball player, this sport was a main focus of his teaching and research. We decided he would lead a paper based on our TEAN study of adolescents. He was eager to learn about built environments, so his paper topic was the interaction of built environment and psychosocial variables to explain adolescents’ active travel. To pursue this paper he had to conduct several literature searches, become familiar with a complex study, and learn new statistical methods. He persevered and produced a manuscript in collaboration with the whole study team. The paper received positive reviews from Preventive Medicine and was accepted before he departed in February 2017. It appeared in print soon thereafter. He was very pleased with this outcome, because he had fulfilled the terms of his visiting scholar grant and believed this paper would help him obtain funding for research to be done in collaboration with our team.

Bob received a Certificate of Completion of an accelerometer training from Kelli Cain. 2017.

 

Bob participated in the accelerometer training with colleagues from the World Bank, Malawi, and Peru. 2017.

During the visit, Bob and sometimes his family, participated in our team’s social events. Here are some photos of our social times together, including a trip to the Anza-Borrego Desert East of San Diego.

Bob and Prince with Jim in Anza-Borrego Desert. 2016

Prince with sculptures in Anza-Borrego Desert. 2016

Bob, Prince, and Jim at a holiday celebration in San Diego. 2016

July 4th luncheon 2016. YiYi Lee from Malaysia, Jim, Bob, Shemi, Lilly, and Prince. At Jim and Shemi’s home in San Diego.

Bob, Jim, Prince, Lilly. On the pier in Pacific Beach, CA. July 4, 2016.

Bob at the SPARK Trainers’ Meeting. San Diego. Summer 2016.

YiYi Lee, Jim, and Bob enjoy a day in Tijuana, Mexico. 2016

Bob attends a private tour of Tijuana. This is the restaurant where the Caesar Salad was invented. 2016.

Bob, on a pedestrian shopping street in Tijuana, Mexico. 2016.

During Bob’s time in San Diego a very sad event occurred in my life. Shemi, my wife and companion for 39 years, became ill, was hospitalized, and died. Bob did everything he could to support me in this difficult period. He was the only person who visited Shemi and I in the hospital virtually every day. I appreciated deeply these visits, his concern, and his friendship. I think these actions revealed the strength of Bob’s character and his goodness as a person.

With all of these positive professional and personal memories, it hit me very hard when I learned that Xiaobo Wang died suddenly September 16, 2017 at about age 38 years. I was informed by a Chinese colleague who was collaborating with Bob to jointly sponsor my first visit to China. Apparently, Bob was doing what he loved, playing basketball, when he had a heart attack and died immediately. He was taken to a hospital but could not be revived. This was news that came as a complete shock and surprise, because no one expects such a young and healthy person to die with no warning. The news of Bob’s death hit me hard, and as I informed other members of my research group, I had to watch their sadness and disbelief. My heart aches for Lilly and Prince who will mourn Bob the rest of their lives. They will have to carry on and make the most of their own young lives, but they will carry a weight of sadness. Our whole team sends love, best wishes, and positive thoughts to Lilly and Prince. We will miss Bob too.

My Chinese colleague told me that Bob had a strong wish for me to visit China, so I will continue my plans to do so. I will do my best to spend some time with Lilly and Prince so we can mourn together and remember our good times together with Bob. Peace to Bob, Lilly, and Prince.

Bob’s farewell lunch in San Diego. February 2017.

 

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IPEN Team at ACU

IPEN Coordinating Center Makes Connections at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne

Jim Sallis. September 25, 2017.

The core team of the IPEN Coordinating Center took a very long field trip to Melbourne, Australia in August 2017 (i.e., 16-hour flight from LAX). The purpose was to establish an in-person relationship with colleagues at Australian Catholic University (ACU). A key reason Jim Sallis became a Professorial Fellow at ACU was to strengthen IPEN in several ways. Ester Cerin, IPEN principal investigator for the Hong Kong studies and lead statistician for IPEN, is Professor at ACU. Jim’s regular visits to Melbourne allow more face-time to move IPEN projects forward. There are several other IPEN investigators in Melbourne, including Takemi Sugiyama and Tony Barnett at ACU, Neville Owen at The Baker Institute, Jo Salmon and team at Deakin Uni, Billie Giles-Corti at RMIT, and Suzanne Mavoa and Hannah Badland at Melbourne Uni. ACU is supporting a full-time biostatistician to work on IPEN papers. He was hired in July 2017 after an open search, and his name is Muhammed Akram. Though IPEN Adolescent data are only now ready for analysis, NIH funding has ended. Thus, ACU is generously providing part-time support for the core IPEN Coordinating Center team of Terry Conway, Kelli Cain, and Carrie Geremia. Thus, the strong and experienced IPEN team is able to lead data management, data analysis, and manuscript coordination, along with Publication Committee chairs Ilse de Bourdeaudhuij (Adult) and Erica Hinckson (Adolescent), to maintain IPEN’s productivity. Though this group will be geographically dispersed most of the time, it is clear the headquarters of the IPEN Coordinating Center is now at ACU in Melbourne.

The IPEN CC team (Terry, Kelli, Carrie) spent a busy, productive, and enjoyable 2 weeks in Melbourne during the August winter. The Institute for Health and Ageing (IHA) hosted this visit. The centerpiece of the visit was 3 workshops to introduce the IPEN team and their skills to IHA members and beyond. I want to thank the IHA team for being so welcoming to the IPEN team. The first workshop was literally an introductory session during which each IPEN team member described their backgrounds and specific expertise. The second workshop was an overview of the project management, quality control, and database practices, protocols, and tools the IPEN staff has developed over the course of managing numerous international and US-based projects funded by NIH, CDC, and several private funders.

Carrie, Kelli, and Terry get to know Chinatown in downtown Melbourne.

Here we are in one of Melbourne’s beautiful parks, with the exhibition building in the background.

The third workshop, led by Kelli Cain, was an extensive 3-session training in accelerometer methods used in our San Diego-based studies. Participants learned our protocol-based methods for collecting the data, then downloading, screening, and managing the data. They wore accelerometers for several days, then practiced by downloading, cleaning, and visualizing their own results. The participants included colleagues from IHA, other units of ACU, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Deakin University, and The Baker Institute, so it was a useful network-builder for everyone involved. We appreciate the large number of attendees and their active engagement in all the workshops.

Because this was the IPEN team’s first visit to Australia, we spent off-duty hours exploring the city, which was a pleasure. Living and working in the heart of the city meant there were constant discoveries of interesting streets, unique shops, never-ending parks, and a seemingly-infinite number of restaurants and cafes in all directions. We particularly enjoyed searching for the well-known alley art that is scattered around Melbourne and nearby cities. This search stimulated a fair amount of walking, and a few example photos are shown below. Melbourne’s central business district is a great example of a dense, mixed-used, lively, walkable city. Walking or taking transit everywhere was a very different lifestyle from the car-centric experience that is more-or-less required in San Diego, and I believe the IPEN team appreciated the benefits of the Melbourne approach. They were not surprised when it was announced during our visit that Melbourne was named by The Economist as the “world’s most liveable city”—for the 7th consecutive time. Jim was interviewed about this honor, and the article can be found at:  http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/columns/news-from-the-front-desk/news-from-the-front-desk-issue-no-352-on-liveability-inequality-and-timeless-truths/94709

In agreement with our colleague Billie Giles-Corti, Jim pointed out that only those in or near the central city experience the full benefits of the liveable/walkable city. Residents of the suburbs are mostly car-dependent and endure long commutes to work and elsewhere.

This is Hardware Lane in Melbourne, which is packed with restaurants. Similar pedestrian zones are fairly common there, though very unfamiliar in San Diego.

Alley art in Melbourne.

More alley art.

The delight of walking around the city is more than matched by the wonders of nature in Australia. Thus, we organized a weekend excursion to get immersed in nature. We piled in a van with IPEN colleagues Ester Cerin, Neville Owen, and Tony Barnett, and our first stop was a traditional Aussie lunch of meat (or veggie) pies on the way to the Healesville Animal Sanctuary. The Sanctuary houses most of the famous Aussie fauna in a naturalistic setting. There was so much to see there we spent about 3 hours, and we still missed some animals. We continued on to Marysville, which was destroyed in a fire several years ago, but beautifully rebuilt. We started a bushwalk from the center of town and walked through some old growth forest to the spectacular Steavenson Falls. Of course, we posed for photos there.

The IPEN team enjoying Steavenson Falls.

The other important lesson in Aussie culture was attending an Australian Rules Football game, which was held at the much-beloved Melbourne Cricket Grounds. The “MCG” holds about 100,000, so the 50,000 attendees only half-filled it. It goes without saying we walked from our hotel to the MCG. We had a special treat when football legend Paul Salmon explained the game to us and told us some of the history. Paul is married to Prof Jo Salmon, who is an IPEN Adolescent investigator, so both of them are stars in their respective fields. IHA staff Jerome Rachelle sat with us and helped us understand some of the complexities of the game.

Australian Rules Football star Paul Salmon (left) gives us a tutorial before a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. With Irene Estaban-Cornejo, a Spanish colleague who is a visiting scholar in Melbourne.

At the Melbourne Cricket Grounds with Jerome Rachelle of ACU, the IPEN team, and Irene Esteban-Cornejo.

The 2 weeks were full of walking, exploring, preparing for and delivering workshops, making new friends, developing collaborations, and getting to know Melbourne, so the time went quickly. We appreciate that Prof Wayne McKenna and James McLaren made time to meet with the IPEN team. Wayne and James are responsible for developing and supporting ACU’s research programs across all the campuses, and we thank them for understanding the value of basing the IPEN Coordinating Center at ACU. This collaborative relationship will ensure the continued production of groundbreaking science published in high-impact journals and communicated broadly to decision makers around the world. The result of our visit was development of a strong bond between IPEN and ACU teams that is just the beginning. I want to express my thanks to Prof Marita McCabe, director of IHA, and all who welcomed us with open arms and organized a bittersweet goodbye reception on our last day. See you soon.

The IPEN Coordinating Center team at ACU. Ester Cerin, Terry Conway, Kelli Cain, Carrie Geremia, Jim Sallis, Muhammed Akram.

Colleagues at ACU’s Institute of Health and Ageing gave us a very nice farewell party.

After the August 2017 visit Ester Cerin, Takemi Sugiyama, and their groups, along with the IPEN team, transferred to the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research at ACU. We are joining David Dunstan, who was already affiliated with the MacKillop, and John Hawley, an exercise scientist, who is the new director of the Institute. The MacKillop Institute at ACU is now the home of the IPEN Coordinating Center.