GSU hosts inaugural RANGE conference

SFU geography student union celebrates first student geography focused conference

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this is a photo of one of the conference presentations. There is a large crowd sitting at tables, looking at the speaker who is at the front of the room, speaking into a microphone
PHOTO: Zihao Zhang

By: Issra Syed, SFU Student

Editor’s note: The Peak would like to acknowledge that Issra Syed, one of the geography student union members, wrote this article. The Peak has taken steps to prevent conflicts of interest or potential bias from influencing the article. 

On November 25, SFU’s geography student union (GSU) hosted their inaugural RANGE geography conference at the Burnaby campus. The conference aimed to expose the broader community to the multiple facets of geography. RANGE highlighted 23 speakers, each sharing examples of their geography-focused studies through presentations. GSU members found RANGE successfully highlighted the community’s interest in geography, and gave them the opportunity to share their geographic knowledge with others. 

RANGE aimed to bring the broad disciplines of geography to the wider community, covering topics such as urban Indigenous geographies, human influences on ecosystems, seafloor mapping, and mapping planets in space. With attendees coming from over 15 different high schools and universities, the participants were exposed to topics in human and physical geography, sustainability, and the applications of geographic information systems (GIS). GIS are computer-based mapping programs used to display data and its relationship in physical space. 

The conference was spearheaded by physical geography major Isabel Nelson, and human geography major Gabrielle Wong. Nelson and Wong are the 2023 co-chairs of the GSU, along with human geography major Ajay Minhas. “Our goal with RANGE was to create a networking opportunity and a space for knowledge sharing for the youth of our community,” said Nelson. Since it was the first time the GSU hosted such a large event, members felt it was a great opportunity for the union to share the knowledge they’ve gained. “I was very pleased that all of our volunteers knew what they were doing,” she continued. 

A diverse collection of speakers were given the opportunity to present at the conference. Academics of all skill levels shared their work. This included undergraduates sharing their experiences participating in field work, graduates showing off their thesis projects combining lasers and off-terrain vehicles, and professors sharing their research about high-quality 3D scans of temples in Egypt and “The Big One” — a devastating earthquake expected along the Juan de Fuca plate in North America. “We had such a diverse speaker team,” said Wong. “The diversity of everyone’s presentations was super, super informative, all the different perspectives were amazing to see,” said human geography major and GSU marketing coordinator, Hailey Lougheed-Lagan. 

At the conference, the GSU members were reportedly excited to witness the fruits of their labour, and to listen to their professors’ passion projects. One presenter was Dr. Nick Hedley, an associate professor in the department of geography who shared his experiences using GIS to map the seafloor, visualize Mars, and develop the spatial interface research lab. “Nick’s talk was one of my favourite parts. It was a good talk to connect with both undergraduates and high school students along with other speakers. It was very engaging,” said human geography major and GSU member, Allie Bui. Hedley’s talk exemplified the interdisciplinary nature of geography along with highlighting the rapid evolution of technology used in research. 

“We had such a great range of people, such a diversity of speakers. It really gives you perspective on the breadth of geography,” said GSU events assistant and SFSS council representative Erik Makinen, who is majoring in global environmental systems (GES). 

GES student and GSU treasurer Akmal Aslam was impressed with the wide range of attendees and their background knowledge about geography coming into the conference. “I feel it is really cool that more students are being aware of geography and its importance,” Aslam said. “I didn’t know how much interest there was in geography from high school students, but after speaking with one student, I was like ‘woah!’ They know stuff that I didn’t even learn till my second year!” 

With the key idea of the conference being the sharing of geographical knowledge with future students and lifelong learners, the GSU felt that the first RANGE conference was a resounding success, with hopes to continue hosting the event for many years to come.

To learn more about upcoming GSU events, visit their linktree at linktr.ee/sfugsu.

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