Geography class to spend break in Panama


    While other students travel home this fall break, senior Steven Goeken will spend time exploring the rainforest in Panama.

    Goeken, a senior geography and secondary education major, will take the trip with seven other students in Associate Professor of Geography Ben Tillman’s upper-division Geography of Latin America class.

    “I think it’s more important to go there and experience it firsthand instead of learning about it in a book that someone wrote years ago,” Goeken said.

    Jeffrey Roet, an urban geography professor also attending the trip, said the students will travel Oct. 10-Oct. 15.

    Roet said the trip targets three aspects of Panama’s geography—its physical geography in the rain forest, the human geography in the indigenous Embera village and the historical geography in various Spanish colonial settlements from the 1500s.

    Goeken said he is most excited about the human geography portion of the trip.

    “I’m looking forward to learning about the indigenous cultures,” he said. “We get to go out on dugout canoe trips to observe indigenous cultures as they existed before foreign interaction.”

    Roet said most upper-division geography classes have field trips associated with them, and in the past, he said students have traveled to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Puerto Rico. This will be the geography department’s first trip to Panama.

    Roet said the Latin American geography classes used to travel to Mexico often. However, due to a U.S. State Department warning, Roet said geography classes would not be traveling to Mexico again in the near future.

    “If we study Latin America, we go to Latin America; if we study Western Europe, we go to Western Europe,” Roet said. “Geography becomes one of the most exciting classes to take.”

    Fernanda Arana, a junior political science major, said she was unaware of the trip component of Tillman’s class.

    “I thought it was a neat idea, and it would be a great opportunity,” she said. “I wouldn’t go to Panama otherwise, and it would be an educational visit.”

    Arana said she has been to Honduras and Mexico and hopes to learn more about another Latin American country on the trip.

    “Geography is more than just a classroom experience,” Roet said. “Geography is travel and discovery outside of the classroom, and that’s why we go on our field trips.”