Michael Friesen

Master of Public Health

Michael’s capstone project provided an important first step in evaluating a community radon testing program.

After Michael Friesen completed his undergraduate degree in molecular biology and genetics, he wanted the opportunity to tackle tangible issues on a wide variety of topics, so he decided to choose SFU’s MPH program. During his MPH practicum with WorkSafeBC, he worked on a project that assessed ionizing radiation-emitting devices in British Columbia. With the knowledge and experience from his practicum in hand, FHS professor Anne-Marie Nicol reached out to him about assisting with his capstone project.

“There was some interplay between my project and radon, so when this opportunity came about, I was excited to help as I wanted to learn more and I felt that my previous experience would allow me complete this project to a high standard.”

Radon is a colourless, odourless gas that is naturally emitted from the breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil, but can be present in homes. Friesen’s work studying radon testing not only creates added awareness to the importance of radon gas, but also provides insight to the government-funded lending program. Currently, free testing kits are available in 53 libraries across five provinces. While researching for his capstone project, Friesen discovered some misconceptions surrounding radon.

“Radon gas may seem less likely to affect newer homes, but ventilation can still be lacking in homes regardless of age, leading to elevated radon levels,” he explains. “Another misconception is that remediation is expensive, but in many cases residential levels can be significantly decreased via simple and cheap methods certified by Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program professionals.”

Throughout his MPH degree, Friesen developed an interest in analyzing how projects and policies can adversely affect human health. He also learned the value of looking at issues holistically and stepping out of his comfort zone. Eager to take initiative during his time at SFU, and learning to be okay with being uncomfortable, he joined the FHS Grad Caucus and also worked as a research assistant with John Calvert and Malcolm Steinberg.

“Joining the caucus was somewhat of an impulsive decision as I hadn’t taken up that type of role before, but I’m glad that I did as it fostered a sense of comradery and created relationships that otherwise might not have existed,” he recounts. “As a research assistant, I helped with a number of different projects and this helped me to meet and develop relationships with several faculty and staff, all the while completing interesting and impactful work.”

As a recent graduate, he is looking forward to taking on a role in health impact and environmental risk assessment. For students looking for advice, he reiterates what he learned through the program: take initiative, be okay with being uncomfortable, and be a good listener.

“Students and faculty come from such a breadth of backgrounds and I think that this variety helped to enrich our learning experience. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn from hearing their stories.”