Improving the Quality of Lives Through Data
Becoming responsibly engaged in the world (BREW) is a motto that Concordia students learn to apply in various ways during their time at the college.
For many, it deeply applies to their studies, continuing with them after graduation and becoming a lifestyle. 2008 graduate Grant Weller grasped the concept while studying mathematics and economics at Concordia and has infused his engagement with the world as he traveled around the country to further his education and taken his knowledge back to Minnesota to continue making a difference.
Why did you choose Concordia?
As a high school senior, I knew that I wanted to go to college and perhaps play football, but I really had no idea what I wanted to study nor did I know where to start when looking for schools. Having grown up on a farm near a small town (Sauk Centre, Minn.), I didn’t think I was ready for a large campus in a big city. I first heard of Concordia when (head football coach) Terry Horan visited my high school and (as he later told me) happened to notice me in one of our high school team’s game videotapes, prompting him to ask my high school coach if he could talk to me. I remember coming away from the ensuing conversation with Coach Horan very inspired and interested in becoming a Cobber. After a visit to campus later that winter and quite a few conversations with my very supportive parents, I decided that Concordia was the best fit for me and I would join the football team. During incoming student registration day the summer before I enrolled, I met Dr. Jim Forde who encouraged me to enroll in Calculus II, setting me down a path toward the mathematics and economics degree with which I would eventually graduate.
Tell us about your work after graduation with Colorado State University, Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
At the encouragement of Drs. Xueqi Zeng, Doug Anderson and others in Concordia’s mathematics department, I went directly to graduate school, enrolling in the M.S. program in statistics at Colorado State University, enrolling immediately before the Great Recession hit in late 2008. In 2010, I realized I enjoyed doing original research and I was accepted into the Ph.D. program of the same department. I worked on my thesis with an advisor who connected to opportunities at SAMSI and NCAR. I spent a semester at SAMSI in North Carolina, which gave me the opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in mathematics and statistics. At NCAR, I worked on several projects with atmospheric scientists who were using climate simulation models to quantify the potential impacts of global warming on extreme weather events. In our work, we found evidence that winter storms affecting the West Coast could be expected to occur more frequently and with greater intensity over the next several decades.
After finishing my Ph.D., I accepted a faculty position at Carnegie Mellon, which involved a mix of teaching and research time. There I became interested in applying some of the tools developed in my thesis to data on financial market fluctuations, and I also had the opportunity to learn quite a bit about machine learning (the technology being used to develop self-driving cars and the modern version of artificial intelligence) from the world’s foremost experts in the subject.
How did you find yourself at Savvysherpa?
It was largely a desire to move back to Minnesota that led me to Savvysherpa. My wife, Rita (we weren’t yet married at the time), had been accepted to the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and I was looking for positions in the Twin Cities. Upon interviewing at Savvysherpa, I learned that the company had many people with deep scientific expertise and quite a few data scientists, so it seemed like a good fit for me. It was a bit of a change from academia, but I’ve found that Savvysherpa is a company that values intellectual exploration and innovative thinking, which seems less common than it ought to be.
What’s a typical day like for you?
The best part of my job is that no day is “typical”! One day I may be working with one of our junior data scientists to develop and test code for an analysis on a research project, and the next I could be in a meeting with one of our partners in the C-suite of a Fortune 15 company. Other days may find me working with our company’s scientific experts and business leaders to develop strategy to generate the next big innovation in healthcare delivery. We work with partners across the healthcare industry (including insurers, hospitals and health systems, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies) on using data to improve health outcomes and increase the efficiency of the healthcare system.
What’s your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment was finding a gracious, thoughtful and generous life partner in my wife, Rita. Besides that, I am proud to have experienced success in a variety of domains, including athletics, research, academia and business.
Why are you in this field? Why do you do what you do?
I have found myself in a position where I can leverage my skills and interests to have an immediate, meaningful impact in the world. The healthcare delivery system in America is in a state of flux (even prior to, but especially since, the 2016 election), and new technologies are frequently being introduced to it. This offers many opportunities for innovative thinking and approaches to solve the pressing problems in healthcare. Working toward the goals of improving quality of the healthcare system and making it more cost effective for everyone is the most exciting part of my job.
Does your experience at Concordia affect your life today? If so, how?
I believe that it does. The faculty at Concordia fostered my inquisitiveness and the liberal arts environment exposed me to a diverse set of perspectives. My Concordia experience promoted personal growth and prepared me for my future endeavors in academic and professional life. I am also grateful to Concordia for introducing me to many great mentors, teammates and friends – many of whom I am still close with today.
Is there anything else that we should know about you, whether it’s your current job, previous projects or other experiences at Concordia?
I am grateful for the many great opportunities and experiences I had at Concordia, including working in the Academic Enhancement and Writing Center as a mathematics tutor for three and a half years. There is one memory in particular that is indicative of the Concordia experience. During my senior year, I planned to take an advanced mathematics course in the fall, but it was only offered at a time that conflicted with another, required economics course that I needed to take. Dr. Doug Anderson in the mathematics department generously offered to add another section of the course at a different time with me as the only enrolled student! It is hard to imagine an instructor at a larger college or university being so accommodating.