Alumni Spotlight

The Department catches up with Geography graduates Alex Hallbom and Celene Fung

Alex Hallbom (Grad 2013)

Thank you to the SFU Department of Geography for reaching out regarding my experience in the geography field since graduating. I enrolled in the SFU Department of Geography with the intent of working in urban and land use planning. Over the past several years I have been able to establish myself in this field, in part thanks to connections and skills gained while attending SFU.

Upon graduating from SFU with a BA in human geography, I moved north to the Yukon on reports from classmates that both adventure and employment opportunities were available in abundance. I spent several years in the community of Dawson City working in administrative and communications roles for non-profit organizations, the Territorial Government, and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. 

At some point it became clear that I would need to return to graduate studies in order to find work in urban and land use planning. Soon after, I moved to Winnipeg, enrolled at the University of Manitoba, and eventually completed their Masters of City Planning program. Since then, I have had the pleasure of working in planning roles for the City of Dawson, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

If I had one piece of career advice for undergraduate students currently enrolled in the SFU Department of Geography, it would be this: take advantage of as many student-only employment opportunities as possible.

Celene Fung (Grad 1999)

It has been a long time since I graduated from Simon Fraser University. It is hard to believe that my undergraduate education was completed in 1999! I remember those days fondly. There were field trips to study the vast landscapes of British Columbia, collaborating on group projects in the old underground student pub that served cheap beer and the best french fries in town, and the many hours spent in the GIS lab using the first edition of ESRI’s ArcInfo, that was linked to a specialized line plotter that could only use four-colour pens. Ahh… reminiscing about the good old days. After spending five years at SFU, I completed the Arts and Social Sciences Co-op Program and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Archaeology, and a Certificate in Spatial Information Systems.

The education and practical work experience provided by SFU’s undergraduate program provide a solid foundation for pursuing a career in the field of Geography. Early in my career, I established a GIS consulting business. The business focused on delivering GIS training and cultural landscape mapping for Indigenous communities throughout British Columbia. Later, I moved into providing GIS services for municipalities. I learned about urban planning while on the job and was inspired to redirect my career from being a GIS specialist to becoming an urban planner. I went back to school and completed a Master of Arts in Community and Regional Planning from UBC in 2008 and a Certificate in Urban Design from SFU in 2012. Since then, my career has taken many interesting paths. I have delivered urban policies, long range community plans, and inner-city revitalization initiatives for local governments, as well as collaborated in the planning and designing of community infrastructure projects such as K-12 schools, playgrounds, and childcare centers.

I took a couple of gap years in 2016 and 2018 from local planning and worked abroad in Mongolia and Sri Lanka on several international development projects. In Mongolia, I worked with community stakeholders and led the project planning for the Mongolian Yak Fibre Community Economic Development Initiative. The Mongolian University of Life Sciences administration also invited me to teach as a guest lecturer. I developed a Sustainability course and project-based learning activities and later shared the materials with faculty so that they could use the lesson in future classes. In Sri Lanka, I collaborated with business associations to develop strategic economic action plans. In addition, I took the opportunity to initiate the first Women Friendly Cities Challenge Forum in Sri Lanka. The objectives of the forum were to showcase women-friendly city initiatives that help make cities work better for women and girls and to facilitate a networking event to connect local urban planners, architects, social activists, academics, municipal leaders, and international development funding agencies. After the forum, I was invited by Thiagaraja Saravanapavan, the Mayor of Batticaloa to provide feminist urban planning training to his senior management team and to develop an engagement process for local women to express their concerns and issues in their community. I still keep in contact with the Mayor and the great thing is that he is actively leading projects that enhance local safety conditions and delivering community initiatives that support women and their families!

Fast forward to today. I am currently working at BCIT as a Senior Development Planner. I am responsible for implementing campus land use and development plans. Initiatives include delivering building development guidelines and design standards, as well as activating active transportation and demand traffic management strategies. In addition, I collaborate with multi-disciplinary teams in conducting technical research and facilitate stakeholder engagement processes to inform the planning of campus initiatives.

I’ve had an amazing career so far, and I’m not sure what the future holds but my roots will always be in Geography, as it aligns with my curiosity about places, cultures, natural landscapes, and human environments.