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[Alumni Interview] Morningsider - Serag Heiba Steadfast Determination to Pursue Marine Conservation over Engineering

Morningsider - Serag Heiba
Steadfast Determination to Pursue Marine Conservation over Engineering

An ocean advocacy writer, Serag Heiba (23/MC/ Energy and Environmental Engineering) began his connection with the sea as a child growing up in his hometown of Alexandria, an Egyptian city located near the Mediterranean Sea. His passion for conservation was only ignited in 2019 when he came to Hong Kong to study at CUHK and established the Hong Kong chapter of marine action group, ThinkOcean, on campus. With boundless possibilities in university life, Serag, who originally studied energy and environmental engineering, his life plan has deviated from engineering science to his current line of work – engaging in writing for the education on marine ecology. He encourages more young people to join his cause to become pioneers in marine conservation.

Serag Heiba came from Egypt to study in CUHK. He was inspired with new perspectives and found his life direction.

CUHK pioneers the innovative Energy and Environmental Engineering Programme
In his high school in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, Serag met with the Hong Kong delegation at the on-campus education fair for two consecutive years. When he learned about the chance of receiving a scholarship, an interest in this unfamiliar city sparked. “I might become the first student at my school to venture to Hong Kong for higher education. I searched online and discovered that Hong Kong is vastly different from Egypt. Despite its small size, it blends Eastern and Western cultures and offers a vibrant lifestyle. Skyscrapers and nature are within reach. It has several prestigious universities, and that is how I discovered the CUHK." Serag intended to major in physics or mathematics for his undergraduate studies at the beginning. As engineering may open up more career prospects, after further consideration, he felt that he had an interest in environmental protection and renewable energy since high school so he decided to go for it. After looking for related information worldwide, he found that CUHK was one of the pioneers to offer undergraduate courses in energy and environmental engineering. "The curriculum is comprehensive, integrating theory and practice. CUHK's campus is beautiful. It also has a collegiate system that has never been offered in Egyptian universities."

Serag arrived Hong Kong with his mother to enroll at the CUHK in August 2019 at the time of social unrest. He shared frankly that it was an unforgettable experience for him and his mother, but they were not frightened. He quickly adapted to the life in Hong Kong. Being a vegetarian, he found a variety of food options on campus. He particularly enjoyed visiting the Coffee Corner and the Women Workers’ United Cooperative Store at the Franklin Benjamin Centre. Still, he would occasionally miss the bread and cheese from his hometown.

Sailing is an unforgettable extracurricular activity for Serag.

Establishing the Hong Kong Branch of ThinkOcean
As an engineering student, Serag’s most memorable subjects were from the Department of Geography and Resource Management. "Although the technical knowledge in engineering is practical, my true interest lies in geography and environmental topics. Fortunately, CUHK offers a flexible system in course selection. I particularly enjoyed the cultural geography classes by Dr. Murat Es and the environmental management ones by Professor Lam Kin-che. The courses were highly inspiring to me. At the same time, I gradually discovered my talent for writing and began publishing articles on environmental advocacy platforms while studying."

With active participation in campus competitions, Serag won third place in the English Public Speaking Competition organised by the English Language Teaching Unit in 2021.

Besides learning, Serag's most fruitful university experience came from extracurricular activities. Shortly after his enrolment, he joined ThinkOcean and established its Hong Kong branch on campus. He recruited fellow students to join the cause of marine conservation and organised educational and outreach activities within the community, including seminars, lectures, and beach clean-ups. "In the first three years of my studies, I did not spend much time in the classrooms because I dedicated myself to organising marine advocacy activities through ThinkOcean. This experience was particularly important to me. University life should not be limited to studying; one should step out of their comfort zone, make new friends, and even put themselves in environments they may not initially like. Unexpected rewards await."

In 2019, Serag founded the Hong Kong branch of ThinkOcean and participated in beach clean-up activities with its members.

Conservation Efforts Reaps International Recognition
After two years of joining ThinkOcean, Serag became the Executive Director of its global network, leading students around the world in action. His efforts in promoting marine conservation also gained international recognition. In 2021, he represented Egypt at the Youth4Climate Forum under the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” in Milan. Last year, he was recognized as one of the EE(Environmental Education) 30 Under 30 changemakers by the North American Association for Environmental Education, becoming the first Egyptian to receive this honour. His recent environmental education project involves collaborating with five writers from around the world to develop the “Youth Ocean Action Toolkit”, a free resource that equips young people with skills and knowledge to engage in ocean protection actions. After his graduation, Serag has returned to Egypt, where he plans to write about marine stories of the Red Sea, connecting its natural beauty and cultural history. He also hopes to have the opportunity to revisit Hong Kong or Asia to further promote marine conservation.

Starting from the 2020-21 academic year, the CUHK General Education Office launched the Sustainable Development Goals Learning Programme, using the framework of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to equip students to face future challenges. Serag believes that this is an important initiative that can cultivate a new generation of young leaders in promoting sustainable development, also making CUHK more forward-thinking compared to other universities.

Serag (center, front row) got along well with the hallmates of Morningside College. He attended the high table dinner in the hostel.

Published on "CU Alumni Magazine" Issue 117 by Alumni Affairs Office 2024

Read online: CU Alumni Magazine Issue 117 (Chinese Version Only)
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