First cohort of project-based master's students showcase final projects

June 04, 2024
Yiming Zheng (left) showcasing his project "Brief Dreams: An Interactive Procedural World Builder," at the Master's Project Showcase.

The School of Interactive Arts & Technology (SIAT) graduates its first cohort of project-based master's students at SFU's June convocation ceremony. All three students presented their final projects at a public showcase at the SFU Surrey campus in April.

The three students, Henry Leung, Mewael Welearegay, and Yiming Zheng began their master's studies at the School of Interactive Arts & Technology (SIAT) as part of the program's first cohort of project-based master's students.

Rather than completing a thesis component, students in the project stream complete one detailed project that they present at a showcase at the completion of their program.

One of the graduating students, Mewael Welearegay, chose to attend SIAT based on the school's multidisciplinary nature. "I knew I would gain diverse skills that align perfectly with my own multidisciplinary background and my never-ending quest to explore and learn as much as I can," he says.

“I am so happy that I accepted the project-based admission offer with an open and curious mind and I couldn't be more pleased with the experience I had throughout the program,” says Welearegay of the experience.

The interdisciplinarity of SIAT also appealed to graduand Yiming Zheng who chose the project-based option as it allowed him to pursue his interest in building and developing projects.

“I was looking for an interdisciplinary program that would provide opportunities for students to use interactive technologies to develop and create projects,” and SIAT allowed him to do just that, Zheng says.

Welearegay, Zheng, and Leung will be graduating at this June's convocation ceremony taking place on June 14th at SFU's Burnaby campus.

Mewael Welearegay testing out his project "Qirsi: Reimagining Tigrayan Heritage Through an Interactive Spatial Virtual Experience."
Henry Leung discussing his project "Artificial Intelligence as Agents to Support Neurodivergent Creative and Critical Thinking Modules."


Mewael Welearegay, MSc

Project Title: "Qirsi: Reimagining Tigrayan Heritage Through an Interactive Spatial Virtual Experience"

Project Description: Qirsi is a personal exploration of Tigrayan culture and history, fueled by a desire to preserve Tigrayan heritage during times of conflict. The project uses 3D modelling and spatial computing platforms (Mozilla Hubs and Meta Horizon Worlds) to create interactive and accessible experiences showcasing Tigrayan artifacts and landmarks.

Qirsi blends personal narratives with cultural analysis, inviting users to connect with and learn about the rich heritage of Tigray. This project highlights how spatial computing can reshape cultural preservation and promote global understanding.

Welearegay, who is from the Tigray province in Ethiopia where the Tigray War (2020-2022) took place, created Qirsi as a way to reconnect with his roots and defy the harsh reality that he has faced. The Tigray War and genocide is considered to be the deadliest conflict of the 21st century and, while in Canada, Welearegay was completely cut off from his family for two years. When communication was restored, he was devastated by the destruction and the loss of lives.

“I knew that the Tigray I was raised in had changed forever, but I wanted to preserve the Tigray as I knew it and as I was raised in it,” says Welearegay. “By virtually re-creating what had been taken away from me, I sought to feel empowered and honour my heritage.”

For Welearegay, the most rewarding part of this project was transforming his feeling of being a powerless victim into a sense of empowerment. “Through this project, I feel like someone who has the choice and the skills needed to shape my own reality.”

Welearegay hopes to continue working on this project, especially by collaborating with other Tigrayan 3D and world artists to continue developing the project.

Yiming Zheng, MSc

Project Title: "Brief Dreams: An Interactive Procedural World Builder"

Project Description: Brief Dreams is an interactive procedural world builder that allows users to design, build, and explore virtual environments using the procedural content generation framework in Unreal Engine 5.

This innovative project allows users to easily create photorealistic 3D landscapes, including natural biomes, deserts, campsites, trails, and rivers. In addition to building virtual environments, users can explore their creations in a first-person walkthrough and modify the appearance of the world by changing the time of day and weather. This project aims to provide an accessible way for general users, with or without a professional design background, to take advantage of the procedural content generation (PCG) framework to create and immerse themselves in virtual worlds rapidly.

Zheng was inspired to create Brief Dreams by various open-world video games that use PCG to provide users with complex environments, as well as Epic's Unreal Engine 5.2 announcement presentation, which showcased the power of PCG to automatically generate and modify the design of virtual environments in a short period of time.

“This inspired me to turn this Unreal Editor feature, typically intended for developers and designers, into a game-like experience that allows general users, with or without professional knowledge, to create large-scale environments in minutes,” says Zheng.

Going forward, Zheng plans to continue working on the project as a portfolio piece. He plans to develop more features to include a wider range of PCG clusters to allow the placement of different sounds in the scene.

Henry Leung, MSc

Project Title: "Artificial Intelligence as Agents to Support Neurodivergent Creative and Critical Thinking Modules"

Project Description: This project is the creation of a minimal viable prototype of an artificial intelligence (AI) model training ecosystem and its supporting applications using the system design approach methodology.

The product consists of an online platform that allows educators to upload and train education curriculum knowledge to feed into a learning activity generator application. This application will generate a socio-environmental-related activity and use another speech text application that combines small data models and generated pre-trained transformer (GPT) to provide conversations that support feedback and reflections within creative and critical thinking modules.

These products are precursors to conducting further research in the future to explore the socio-environmental and educational barriers experienced by neurodivergent individuals, particularly in the domain of creative and critical thinking and reflection.

"Through different research, I found that there is a great potential in generative AI and neurodiverse creating and critical thinking. Thus, this finalized what my research and project would be," says Leung.

While the project came with challenges, the most rewarding part for Leung was watching the product develop into a usable state and watching people test and use it.

Leung hopes to build on top of the product and find opportunities to present it to educators and stakeholders in BC.

"I hope to see the product be used in all parts of learning to bridge the gaps and opportunities to exercise collaborative creative and critical thinking," says Leung.