Student Spotlight with Geosciences Grad Ph.D. Highlight Rifat

Ph.D. Department of Geosciences graduate Shaik Abdullah Al Rifat received his diploma last fall from FAU, and he has since landed a vital job at FedEx Freight. While at FAU, Rafit focused on monitoring and modeling urban growth process and measuring community resilience to disasters in the coastal United States. He joined FAU in Fall 2017.

Rafit is one of eight students to graduate from FAU’s Department of Geosciences Ph.D. program in 2022. This past academic year also marks the largest number of Ph.D. candidates to graduate from the geosciences program since the degree was launched in 2009.

The Department of Geosciences at Florida Atlantic University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in various subfields of the geosciences. The three main areas of focus in the department are earth systems science, human-environmental systems and geo-information science. The department places a strong emphasis on fieldwork, GIS, remote sensing and other analytical techniques in geospatial modeling, and encourages interdisciplinary research.

What attracted you to the geosciences?

Being born and raised in one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world like coastal Bangladesh, I was always fascinated by the geographical aspects of natural disasters. It shaped my academic and intellectual pursuits that link understanding disaster risk and vulnerability, climate variability, and coupled human and environmental interactions.

Could you describe your research to us?

My Ph.D. research focused on monitoring and modeling urban growth process and measuring community resilience to disasters in the coastal United States. More specifically, I quantified spatiotemporal patterns of urban expansion that has occurred in the Miami metropolitan area from 1992-2016, and I identified major factors that caused urban growth. Based on these urban growth patterns, I predicted future urban growth in Miami and combined it with current urban flood exposure and sea level rise to identify areas that are currently at a high risk of flooding and future urban areas that could be impacted by flooding and sea level rise. In addition, my research also shows the current state of community resiliency to disasters in U.S. coastal communities.

There are several implications of my Ph.D. research. For example, my dissertation research provides policymakers and urban planners with insights into historic urban growth that has occurred which could also indicate future directions of urban expansion in the region. Additionally, emergency management agencies could directly utilize the findings of my research to identify how their communities fare against coastal disasters in the study area, what needs to be done to decrease disaster vulnerability in their communities, and subsequently, what could make them more resilient to disasters. Furthermore, my research shows which areas in Miami have a high chance of being developed in the future by considering three different growth scenarios based on historic growth patterns, areas that are currently under high risk of flooding, and future areas that could be exposed to flooding and sea level rise.

What is novel about your research?

My research shows the degree of community resilience to disasters in the coastal United States by considering five different dimensions of disaster resilience. To the best of my knowledge, this research was among the first to measure and differentiate disaster resilience across the coastal counties of the United States. In addition, I have used an integrated artificial neural network-markov chain (ANN-Markov) model to predict three different urban growth scenarios in the Miami metropolitan area in the context of urban flood exposure and sea level rise. Even though there are many urban growth models, no research used ANN-Markov in the context of flood exposure and sea level rise impacts.

How did FAU help you on your academic/research journey?

FAU’s contributions to my academic and research journey were significant. More specifically, the research-oriented environment along with the funding provided by FAU was a big part of my academic and research success. I would like to specifically mention my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Weibo Liu, Associate Professor at the Department of Geosciences. Without his continued guidance, suggestions, and help, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my Ph.D. dissertation. I also thank all the members of my dissertation committee for their valuable comments and suggestions on my research.

What kinds of experiences or leadership opportunities did you find at FAU?

My tenure at FAU was full of pleasant experiences. A diversified student and faculty community along with the welcoming and friendly environment contributed significantly to my academic success. Additionally, I worked as a graduate teaching assistant during my doctoral studies which definitely helped to enhance my leadership skills.

As a Ph.D. candidate, did you receive any awards?

I was awarded the first place winner at the GIS Day Student Poster Competition organized by FAU’s Department of Geosciences in 2019, and I won second place at this same competition in 2018. Also, one of my papers titled “Quantifying Spatiotemporal Patterns and Major Explanatory Factors of Urban Expansion in Miami Metropolitan Area During 1992-2016” was selected as one of the finalists at the paper competition arranged by the Remote Sensing specialty Group at American Association of Geographers (AAG) annual meeting in 2020.

What are your plans after graduation?

I am currently working as an Operations Research Scientist II at FedEx Freight where I lead several projects related to geospatial modeling and analysis. Prior to joining FedEx, I worked as a Senior GIS Analyst at the Polis Center at IUPUI.