June 25, 2024

A transdisciplinary researcher’s journey from Egypt to Calgary

UCalgary President’s Doctoral Scholarship empowers Yomna ElGhazouly’s work on improving accessibility and comfort in architectural design
A woman sits in front of a camera
Yomna ElGhazouly

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, said, “The only constant in life is change.” 

Yomna ElGhazouly, a first-year PhD student in Computational Media Design, recently experienced a big change in her life. In the fall of 2023, she journeyed from her native Egypt to begin her doctoral studies at the University of Calgary. ElGhazouly says this was her first time travelling outside of her home country. 

Why travel thousands of kilometers to a different continent, you might ask? “I chose UCalgary after engaging in an insightful online discussion via Zoom with my main supervisor, where we talked about my research interests and its expansion possibilities, limitations, gaps and useful networks,” explains ElGhazouly. Additionally, she enjoys the privilege that UCalgary provided, in pursuing her doctoral studies in an interdisciplinary department that merges the Faculty of Science, the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape; and the Faculty of Arts.

ElGhazouly is a recipient of UCalgary’s President’s Doctoral Scholarship in Transdisciplinary Research, a major graduate scholarship funded by UCalgary’s Start Something fund. “The first reaction I had was extreme pride to receive such a prestigious award in my first year,” says ElGhazouly. She considers this award an acknowledgment of the value of her research and its alignment with UCalgary’s vision for future research. “Receiving this important scholarship has motivated me to achieve more in the future because it is proof of the abundant support, network and opportunities for multidisciplinary research available at UCalgary,” she adds.

One of the perks of being a president’s doctoral award winner is the opportunity to foster community and transdisciplinary research through the President’s Circle — a community comprising recipients of the President’s Doctoral Awards, Dr. Tara Beattie, dean and vice-provost (graduate studies), Dr. David Anderson, associate dean of transdisciplinary research, Dr. Clifton Cunningham, associate dean of student and interim head of the Graduate College, and Dr. Ed McCauley, president of UCalgary. ElGhazouly relishes the opportunities for collaboration, networking and supporting input on UCalgary’s transdisciplinary research goals offered by her membership in the President’s Circle.

Increasing accessibility through transdisciplinary approaches

ElGhazouly’s research is a transdisciplinary mix of art, science and technology that merges architectural design, ergonomics, kinesiology, sociology and computer science. She explains that her “research focuses on developing a digital design assessment tool that helps designers create communal spaces to prioritize the older adults’ comfort and accessibility.” More specifically, she employs the use of realistically behaving digital agents (avatars) that walk through digital spatial designs to predict and assess how actual users would react to these spaces when built in real life. 

What’s more, her research will incorporate the participation of Calgary’s diverse older adult community, further strengthening UCalgary’s ties and contributions to Calgarians and the city of Calgary. “The research benefits older adults and other vulnerable populations that use the designed social spaces by creating accessible, safe and enjoyable environments for them to use,” explains ElGhazouly.

A diagram of research

Overcoming challenges and looking ahead

Research comes with challenges and doctoral research is no different. “The major obstacle I faced while attempting to tackle this interdisciplinary problem was finding the proper expertise to guide me through the different aspects of the project,” explains ElGhazouly. She navigated this challenge by leveraging support from her supervisor, Professor Pil Hansen, co-supervisor, Professor Frank Maurer, colleagues at the Serious XR (SEER) lab, and contacts in the President’s Circle community.

Like many PhD students, ElGhazouly plans to work in a university as a professor conducting research, imparting knowledge, and nurturing the ideas of her students. In the future, she hopes to start a consulting company focused on helping designers assess and redesign their spaces to be more inclusive and accessible to vulnerable populations.

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