Looking at a map of Gainesville’s underserved areas, Rajeeb Das wondered what life was like for the families who lived there. So he decided to move into one of these neighborhoods to find out for himself.
Family and friends were concerned about his decision, but Das, a statistical research coordinator at the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics and grant writer at the department’s Family Data Center, had already made up his mind.
“If I could experience what these families were dealing with on a daily basis, I knew I’d better understand what the numbers meant,” he said.
This attitude of going the extra mile to help others is the reason Das was recently honored twice as the inaugural recipient of the Community Service Award during the universitywide Superior Accomplishment Award ceremony.
“Mr. Das has played an integral role in the college’s mission to promote community health, empower families to take charge of their health and reduce the health disparities in the region,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “He is an inspiration because of his compassion for our area’s most fragile populations.”
Jeffrey Roth, Ph.D., program director of the Family Data Center and a research professor of pediatrics at UF, said Das played in instrumental role in pinpointing the “unknown areas of need.”
“Rajeeb worked with faculty to take a look at a density map of communities that have adverse conditions,” Roth said. “He paid attention to the areas that are sometimes overlooked because they are near nicer neighborhoods.”
After studying the geographic information from maps, Das moved into a local low-income neighborhood for six months. Through that experience, the Gainesville native gained insights that helped him write highly competitive grant proposals to accurately address the needs of the residents.
“I saw people living in a broken state, neglected and forgotten by their community,” he said. “Little things like sidewalks and quietness didn’t exist there. But the people there are just like us, trying to live a life.”
At the Family Data Center, Das collects data on maternal and child health and works collaboratively on projects with state agencies such as the departments of Health, Education, Children and Families, and Juvenile Justice. But just getting numbers and figures on paper has never been his final goal.
“I enjoy numbers and statistics,” he said. “But if it’s not applied, what is the point? What can we do with these numbers for our community?”
Das’ colleagues, who nominated him for the award, had no difficulty obtaining recommendation letters, said Jill Bischoff, a training and education coordinator at the Family Data Center.
“Rajeeb is great at sharing passion and connecting people,” she said. “People realize that what he does is genuine.” — Jessica Jinah Song