Environment and people in good hands with young scientist

Upon moving to Canada from China in 2011 to pursue his education, international student Zebang Wei was unsure of what he was passionate about.

For several years, he followed his family’s advice and sought to major in a business program, but found that he was more absorbed in his science courses. He developed an interest in improving the lives of people with respect to the environment, and pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Geography at Simon Fraser University (SFU). With the introduction of SFU’s Bachelor of Environment, Wei deduced that the new program was more suited to his ambitions and made the switch.

“The program provides a very good fundamental basis for statistics, math, biology, chemistry and other concentrations in the science field. That sort of knowledge is applicable to the more social side [of environmental studies], such as environmental politics or resource management,” says Wei.

Disaster models

Zebang Wei, first graduate of SFU’s Bachelor of Environment program | Photo courtesy of Zebang Wei

Zebang Wei, first graduate of SFU’s Bachelor of Environment program | Photo courtesy of Zebang Wei

The Bachelor of Environment also offers an array of courses in data analysis, a field Wei is enthusiastic about.

“Remote sensing and geographic information science (GIS) are practical portions of the geographical study. Now that everything is computer and software related, you can get more functional work done using data analysis,” he says.

Employing technology to increase natural disaster preparedness is a vested interest of Wei’s. Working closely with his instructors at SFU, he constructed a wildfire development model, which uses algorithms to predict the rate and direction of the spreading fire.

“There are different factors like wind speed, wind direction and even the density of the burning material,” Wei explains. “I would say that this is a very practical project, and even though there is still a long way to go to make it a reality-based model, it’s something I can do, using my knowledge:
to help the environment and help the people.”

Wei intends to advance his model and create a viable system that can be used in the work field.

“These ideas encourage me and also make me feel proud,” he says.

Practical applications

Currently working in the admissions department of Victoria’s Royal Roads University, Wei aspires to eventually complete a master’s degree. Emphasizing his interest in GIS and remote sensing, he hopes to be able to make a positive contribution to the community through the use of technology.

“Geography and environmental studies are not narrow sciences: they have an impact in all kinds of related fields,” says Wei.

After observing a recent evacuation drill on the campus of Royal Roads University, Wei believes that he can apply his abilities to create maps and simulations that will increase public safety in the case of an environmental emergency.

“This is not only useful for the campus but also for lots of communities and neighbourhoods. It’s important for people to have this kind of information,” says Wei.

As one of his final projects at SFU, Wei and his team conducted a thorough analysis of the seismic strength of infrastructure in Metro Vancouver. Using an assortment of the Environmental Systems Research Institute’s (ESRI) ArcGIS software, they identified critical sites and mapped out regions most vulnerable to earthquake damage. The full report can be found on sfu.ca/geog, under ‘2015, spring semester.’

When asked if he has any advice for those still struggling to find their passion, he has only words of encouragement.

“Eventually, you will find what you really want to do. I was very confused at the beginning. But now I think that especially for undergrad students, you should major in what you truly like, in what you’re passionate about,” he says.