Sean Bergunder

Dual degree program graduand steps outside comfort zone, makes a difference

Before Sean Bergunder joined SFU, the computing science graduand was a timid high school student who had always found his comfort zone in academics.  

But Bergunder knew he needed to break out of his shell and experience the world so he could mature and gain confidence.

So, he embarked on SFU’s dual degree program (DDP) in computing science, an award-winning program that gives students the opportunity to study at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, for two years.

DDP students earn degrees from both SFU and ZJU, one of the best global universities in China, according to the U.S. News and World Report.

“I threw myself into the deep end, and it paid off,” says Bergunder, who had never lived away from home before setting off for the bustling city in east China, one of the country’s seven ancient capitals.  

Since then, Bergunder has mastered Mandarin, conquered his fear of public speaking, and explored his own cultural heritage.

“My mom is Chinese, so that culture has always been a huge part of my life, but before I started the DDP program I had never been to China and I didn’t speak the language at all,” says Bergunder.

When he wasn’t studying computer science with world-leading professors, or taking violin lessons at the university, Bergunder explored the Zhejiang Province, known for its rich cultural heritage, temples and pagodas.

He recounted of one of these adventures in the 2015 B.C. Mandarin Chinese Speech Contest, and won first prize in the competition’s non-heritage category.

“I had to deliver the speech in front of about 60 people,” says Bergunder. “But it actually wasn’t too intimidating since I had already spoken in front of more than 6,000 people at the university’s welcome ceremony.”  

Back on home turf, Bergunder co-founded the dual degree program club, where he organized a number of cultural and tech-based events to facilitate student transition and promote communication between SFU and ZJU students.

But he never lost sight of his passion for academics – specifically data analytics. For his final capstone project, he worked with Fraser Health to create a public-awareness tool to visualize the impact of the fentanyl overdose crisis using data science techniques.

Last January, he was also on one of the winning teams at a 48-hour health hackathon hosted by Fraser Health.

The interdisciplinary team devised an idea for a potentially life-saving app that would crowdsource overdose reports in real time, helping connect people carrying naloxone with people who are overdosing.

Bergunder first heard about the severity of the overdose crisis, which claimed the lives on 922 in B.C. last year, from his mom, a nurse.

“When you can apply data science to something that can help people, it makes it really rewarding,” says Bergunder.

Bergunder, who is currently working as a teaching assistant at Alexander College, hopes to complete his master’s in data analytics, and is currently awaiting admission decisions from universities in southern China.