Published: April 28, 2017 By

Hamid Zoraghein photo portait

Hamid Zoraghein

First, a little about myself and how I ended up in Boulder, Colorado. I am from Tehran, Iran. Like in the U.S., students typically start college at age 18. However, in my country, a student’s field of study is determined by a nationwide exam. Based on their ranking, students are placed in various universities around Iran. My field of interest is GIS, which in both Iran and the U.S. is a very marketable discipline. Fortunately, I completed my Bachelors and Masters degree at KATU University in Tehran in Surveying Engineering, where GIS is part of the curriculum. Before applying to CU Boulder Geography, I contacted Professor Stefan Leyk as I was already familiar with the nature of his work. Since the CU program is very prestigious in the U.S. and because I like Stefan’s work, I applied here. Through my research, I discovered that CU Boulder ranks 2nd nationwide in placing its graduates as faculty, and that made a big impact on me at the time. While I was accepted to other universities, I chose CU over the others not just for its quality, but also because of Boulder’s smaller size, weather, and politically-accepting atmosphere.

My dissertation, Creating Temporally Consistent Small Area Census Units Using Advanced Combinations of Areal Interpolation and Spatial Refinement: Method Development and Assessment, is about population distribution. I work with census data in a temporal context. My goal is to create a temporally consistent estimate of census data over time. Population-related data are sensitive and not reported by individuals, so we don’t know age, race, or education level of individuals because the data is aggregated over boundaries. We know specifics of the data within a census tract, but we don’t know the actual distribution within the boundaries. These areas are redefined every census year. For example, if we want to study the temporal pattern of age or race or how the total population has changed through time, we can’t base our analysis on these units because they change over time. Thus, I am working to develop methods that enable the transfer of population data into consistent units and educe how demographic data have changed temporally within small areas. I am using census blocks within census tracts to validate the accuracy of my results. This will provide higher resolution in the study of demographics.

Hamid sitting at his desk

Hamid splits his time between working on his dissertation in the Guggenheim Building and his job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO.

I also work for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder on the Community Demographic Model (CDM) research project. We are developing how demographic variables such as urbanization and population distribution can be projected for different regions of the world and assessing the relationship between demographic changes and climate change out to the year 2100. The components of the project include agricultural modeling, land use modeling, and demographic modeling which are integrated with climate change modeling variables. I work on population distribution models by country and their relationship to climate change, also projected out to 2100. NCAR has been awarded funding to undertake a similar project for just the U.S. I will join that project next year as a postdoctoral fellow.

When I reflect on my time  here, I know living in Boulder has molded me into a different person both personally and academically. Undertaking a PhD in a different language and learning a new field of study (Geography vs. Engineering) has been difficult yet very rewarding. Working on two projects simultaneously has enabled me to interrelate different concepts and learn the intellectual rigor and time management needed to meet the deadlines of both projects. Being far from family has made me a stronger person since I must handle all of life’s problems on my own. I returned home 2 1/2 years ago for a visit, but the risk of not being allowed to reenter the U.S. has been too great since. 

I think back to my first class as a TA for GIS 1. It was frightening. I didn’t know what to expect or if students would accept me. I soon discovered American college students are well behaved, follow the course work as instructed, and would never make fun of my accent. Teaching for 2 years helped me understand American students and culture. Everyone here has made the transition to American culture much easier for me. One of the greatest things about the Geography department’s faculty and students is that they create a friendly, welcoming, and supportive atmosphere. Overall, CU Geography has been a great experience for me. I’ve become familiar with a different culture and different people and it has made me into a more well rounded person.