Alumni Spotlight

The Department catches up with Geography graduates Lisa Oliver and Edison Ting

Lisa Oliver

I graduated from the SFU Department of Geography twice (PhD, 2008; BA 2000) with a focus on Health and Social Geography. In between these two degrees I completed a MA at UBC in Geography (2002). My PhD at SFU focused neighbourhood and community influences on health and well-being where I gained expertise and statistical and spatial analysis. At the end of my PhD I joined Statistics Canada as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and have remained with the Federal Government ever since.

I am currently applying my geographical training to the federal response to COVID-19. In the spring of 2020, I had opportunity to join the COVID-19 Task Force at Health Canada as a Senior Policy Analyst. I am currently the ‘Data Lead’ on my team and am involved in the development of dashboards and other products to track various aspects of the pandemic. My training in geography has been valuable in my current role contributing to the pandemic response. Through my PhD I gained skills integrating data and information from different sources to examine neighbourhood influences on health. I apply this ability to integrate different types of pandemic-related data in my current role.  I also draw upon my technical skills to design visualizations including maps and other graphics to summarize complex information related to the pandemic.  My training in social, economic, and political geography has also been important in understanding the differential impact of the pandemic across Canada and regional trends.

Before joining the COVID-19 Task Force I was a Regional Manager in Microdata Access at Statistics Canada and worked on several data-related initiatives to make complex linked data sets available to researchers to answer critical research and policy questions. 

In my spare time during the pandemic I have been staying close to home and going for walks and hikes with my family and children. I often hike the trails around Burnaby Mountain and think fondly the 9 years I spent in geography at SFU and the many students and faculty I met during that time that helped shape my future career.

Edison Ting

When I first stepped into SFU as a fresh undergraduate student, I was originally looking to pursue a major in economics with the aspiration to work in Wall Street and make the ‘big bucks'. That all changed when I took two electives in Geography (GEOG 100 and 162) which opened up my curiosity about the manifestation of modern cities. With mentorship from professors and participating in the co-op program, it made me realize the diversity in career options in geography. Looking back, switching my major to geography was the right decision!

The spectrum of geography courses provided me with a solid foundation in planning and to become aware of the challenges and problems confronting cities globally. Furthermore, participating in the co-op and study abroad program expanded my knowledge of alternative professions in the field of geography, of which, I had encountered some opportunities to explore while completing my degree.  Upon graduating in 2012, I was determined to pursue my career in planning when I was accepted to the Ministry of Transportation’s Technical Entry Level Program (TELP) as a Development Approvals Technician.

Today I am a Development Planner at the City of Coquitlam, where I influence land-use decisions while taking into consideration social, economic and environmental factors. My role is to act as a facilitator and mediator to identify challenges in projects and effectively work with specialists to find solutions that balances the divergent interests within the community. The most rewarding part of my job is to be able to support and witness a project rise from a concept sketch to tangible results on the ground. Every project is unique, and every challenge is unique. No two days are alike and I still learn something new every day. 

The path I took from SFU to where I am today was an invaluable journey around various cities and organizations (TransLink, SFU Community Trust and City of North Vancouver) that gave me an ideal training stage to explore, test my knowledge, and learn new skills. I would like to express my gratitude to professor Shivanand Balram and John Irwin who pushed me forward with continued support with my urban planning graduate degree overseas. I hope the students at the Department of Geography will also find a profession to contribute a positive influence on shaping equitable and resilient cities.