Felix Vazquez

Oakes '20, environmental studies

Felix Vazquez (Oakes '20, environmental studies). Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

If Felix Vazquez had to title his four years at UC Santa Cruz, he said they would be called, “A Series of Fortunate Events.” 

After losing his father to cancer at 17, the Santa Monica High School grad said he came to the university feeling a bit lost. But, hearing about a class on Geographical Information System (GIS) technology taught by Barry Nickel, director of the Center for Integrated Spatial Research, he decided to investigate. Soon, Vazquez was hooked on the technology that allows its users to capture and analyze spatial and geographic data in new ways. 

Then, because he liked history, the environmental studies major also signed up for a course about WWII memories taught by Associate Professor of Humanities and Cowell Provost Alan Christy and found himself involved in Christy’s Okinawa Memories Initiative. It wasn’t long before Vazquez was on the Pacific island of Okinawa using his new GIS skills to research noise pollution from military bases there. 

Then, armed with $10,000 in grant monies, the Oakes College student went to Tokyo to do research for two months and fell in love with the city’s dense, fast-paced energy and its accessibility—so different from the sprawl of LA where he had grown up.  

“My late father was an architect,” Vazquez said of his dad, who was born in Uruguay, “and he did a lot of work in the U.S. and in Japan and so I always had a personal connection to the city” of Tokyo. 

There, Vazquez used his GIS skills to look at urban development. Combining GIS with Google Street View and Google Earth Virtual Reality, he examined urban design elements like street and sidewalk widths, land-use patterns, and even maps of fires in the area to analyze the pace of development and sprawl in the city of 9.2 million people.

Vazquez had found his path. 

Meanwhile, he also became a lead environmental studies peer advisor for three years, an academic tutor, a teaching assistant, and even authored a weekly newsletter for the Environmental Studies Department. His goal is to either work for an urban design firm or go to graduate school and a career in academia.

"Being at UCSC made me reframe how I viewed a lot of life,” Vazquez, 22, said. “There are so many things out of your control and that’s why I focused on doing as much as I could. I just kind of said yes to a lot of things. If you reach out, you never know what is going to happen.”