Farah El-shayebFor Farah El-shayeb, geography was always correlated with seeing the world, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people.

As she prepares to cross the stage at Spring 2024 Convocation, she smiles broadly recounting how her interest in geography has taken her to so many unique places around the world in pursuit of her degree.

During her studies, El-sheyeb has travelled to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to study oceanography, fisheries and human impacts on the Atlantic Ocean. In Hawaii, she participated in a geology and natural hazards field program where she researched topics on volcanoes, tsunamis and marine science. Last year, she travelled to Peru for an internship with Café Femenino where she used geographic information system (GIS) to map rural communities, and this summer, she is in Ghana working with Youth Challenge International developing climate education and training strategies.

“Your degree is what you make of it” she says. “If you’re passionate and committed, you’ll achieve what you’re looking for and more.”

El-shayeb certainly achieved more. The new graduate has earned her Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) and is also graduating at the top of her class, receiving the Alumni Gold Medal for outstanding academic achievement in the Faculty of Environment, as well as the Departmental Award for distinguished academic achievement in Geography and Environmental Management.

El-shayeb recalls receiving unwavering support and mentorship from very young, starting with her Grade 5 geography teacher, Mr. Madrae, and continuing with Dr. Brent Doberstein, who taught her GEOG 101: Human Geographies: People, Space, and Change, in her first year at Waterloo.

“Mr. Madrae opened up the doors to pursuing geography for me and after taking GEOG 101 with Dr. Doberstein that's when I knew I made the right decision,” she says. “His passion for geography and the way he teaches fueled my passion.”

Along the way, faith, family and friends were the backbone to her success. As a word of encouragement to other students, El-shayeb shares a word in Arabic with significance for her: تَوَكُّل  (Twakkul). “It translates to: ‘faith in what God has planned for you,’” she explains. “Through the struggles, that belief has always kept me going, along with my family and friends … They've supported me on all the adventures I've gone on even though I knew they’d miss me, especially my mom.”

Outside of academics, El-shayeb pursued a variety of interests. She has played on the Varsity Squash team since her first year as well as intramural soccer. “It was perfect because it allowed me to relax and step away from academics,” she recalls. “At soccer, I’d meet a whole bunch of new people every term and some of them have become close friends. It’s a great community and I really enjoyed it.”

Following graduation, El-shayeb’s academic journey continues in the Faculty of Environment. She has received the SSHRC Canada Graduate Award and will be continuing her research under the guidance of Dr. Doberstein, as she pursues a Master of Environmental Studies. Her research will concentrate on analyzing the effects of climate change on coastal communities in Indonesia, a region particularly susceptible to environmental shifts. This academic pursuit is intricately linked with her overarching aspiration to attain a doctoral degree. 

“I am second generation Canadian and the second person in my family to go into a master’s program — hopefully the first for a PhD” she shares.

El-shayeb will receive her degree on Tuesday, June 11 with more than 400 of her peers who will also have their achievements celebrated in front of family and friends. Looking back on it all, she hopes to continue taking risks and hopes that others will too. “Going outside your comfort zone can often be stressful and draining, but it comes with a lot of positives and a lot of success that you might not realize.”