James Gaskin: A Passion for Tinkering

 

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James Gaskin’s office décor goes way beyond the family photos and desk plants. A homemade jetpack built by his daughters hangs above his desk, and below his window sits a growing model village complete with green hills, an electric train, and a miniature Hogwarts castle.

“I have no books in here except for a couple that I never use,” says Gaskin, an information systems professor. “I just have them to make myself look like a professor. I took down my bookshelves because they were in the way.”

Gaskin’s decoration choices don’t just make for a colorful office; they showcase the professor’s passion for creating and inventing new things—something Gaskin says is an essential part of his field.

“Information systems is all about using technology to solve problems that might not have been solved before,” he says.

As a small child, Gaskin would tinker with computers, write programs, develop video games, and even kept an invention journal.

This knack for technology led him to get both undergraduate and master’s degrees in information systems at BYU, and eventually a PhD from Case Western Reserve University in 2012.

Since returning to BYU to teach four years ago, Gaskin has been working on exciting projects like virtual reality, wearable technologies, and intelligent virtual agents, in addition to advising student projects like CattleGuard, a startup that invented GPS-capable smart ear tags for cattle.

Gaskin was recently recognized for his research when he received the Association for Information Systems Early Career Award—an award given to accomplished professors within seven years of receiving their PhD. On the web, Gaskin is most known for his statistics tutorials and tools he’s developed to automate the more tedious and difficult aspects of statistics. He hosts a YouTube channel and wiki page that collectively have six-million views.

When he’s not at work, Gaskin can be found with his daughters at Arete—a gymnastics center that he helped build in Lindon, Utah. He coached gymnastics in various states around the United States for fifteen years and now goes every week with his four daughters.

Following his interests is something Gaskin lets direct his life.

“Know what makes you happy and pursue that,” Gaskin says. “If you’re passionate and know what you want, everything you do can be guided by that passion.”

Gaskin lives this by solving problems with technology—and by adding trees to the model village beneath his office window each weekend with his daughters.