Meet Zaki Islam
This spring, Zaki Islam participated in the Graduate Research Symposium, winning first place in the category of Design, Humanities, Social Sciences and Management for his presentation, “I don’t go out anymore: Relationships between the Built Environment and Children’s Outdoor Activities in Dhaka, Bangladesh.” Islam received his undergraduate degree in Architecture from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) (http://www.buet.ac.bd), and originally came to the U.S. to earn his Master’s degree from the University of Texas–Austin (http://www.utexas.edu). However, he says that his “focus has turned almost 180 degrees,” since he came to NC State. For his Master’s degree, he was interested in “how culture has influenced cities,” but for his Ph.D., he has been studying “how cities shape people.”
His research involves quantifying children’s outdoor activities. While qualitative studies have been done, it is unusual to do a quantitative study on children’s outdoor behavior –- and especially rare in Bangladesh. Traditionally, these types of studies were part of Public Health and conducted by people with a medical background. Understanding the effects of built environment on people’s behavior is fairly recent, and now “design professionals like Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer and Planner are getting involved in this issue,” said Islam.
In his study, Islam measured how much time children spent outdoors and how far they go without adult’s assistance. Islam did this with a blend of simple and complex technological devices that included a laptop, cell phone (for internet access), Google Earth, and AutoCAD. His initial results show “an amazing relationship with density.” In Bangladesh, the advantage is with less density, but results for Raleigh may be quite different. According to Islam, “Bangladesh has the fastest urbanized cities in the world and may have crossed the line” in terms of density.
Islam also found interesting differences in how boys and girls relate to their environment. On a whole, boys tended to spend more time outside. However, there was a reversal of this behavior on “dead-end versus through streets.” On dead-end streets, girls would actually spend more time outside than boys who live on a through street. With this finding “now we are getting into gender and culture issues.”
Transforming his research into a single poster took some extra work because of the different media. However, Islam found the preparation of his poster “very useful” and used it as an opportunity to organize his dissertation. “Right now, the poster is in my apartment now with Post-its marking Chap 1, Chap 3, etc.” Islam found the experience of presenting his poster “a real eye-opener” because it was a chance to explain his project to people outside his own field. The questions they asked “made you think of new things.”
Like many graduate students, Islam admits to not having much time for hobbies outside the lab. He said “the first year, you don’t even get out, not even in your own neighborhood.” For Islam, part of the isolation comes from the fact that his family is still in Bangladesh, and being away from his family is the toughest part of graduate school. However, things are much better now that he has settled into his program, and Islam expects that this is “much the case for any Ph.D. student.” Nonetheless, he looks forward to returning to his family in Bangladesh.