Dr. David Keeling, head of WKU’s Department of Geography and Geology, recently completed a three-week circumnavigation of the planet, representing the American Geographical Society as part of its geographic educational outreach program.
The educational tour began in Peru, with a visit to the historic site of Machu Picchu, and continued on to Easter Island, where analysis of the Rapa Nui society’s collapse in the 16th century continues to raise critical questions about resource loss and climate change impacts. Dr. Keeling gave lectures on how relevant geography is for the 21st century and how global climate change is impacting peoples and places in important ways.
Aboard a special expedition jet, the educational program continued on to Samoa, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the highlands of Papua New Guinea where the impacts of global socio-economic change were experienced in the local Melpa culture. Visits to the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, focused attended on World Heritage site management and the challenges of over-visitation. Dr. Keeling lectured on Nationalism and Identity in a Globalizing World and shed light on recent events in Mumbai, India, as well as ongoing conflicts around the world involving territorial claims and ethnic tensions.
In Dubai, a major financial center in the United Arab Emirates, he lectured on Oil, Water, and Islam, and discussed why Dubai is reinventing itself for the 21st century but is struggling to cope with changing global financial circumstances.
Visits to the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania and to Marrakesh, Morocco, focused attention on ecological issues. Dr. Keeling gave a lecture on Exploration and Discovery and argued that we need to know more about the world around us if society is to overcome significant environmental, political, and resource challenges. The expedition ended in London, England.
The primary mission of the American Geographical Society’s educational travel programs is to focus attention on some of the planet’s most pressing problems, such as the social implications of climate change for small island communities, ongoing ethnic tensions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and the challenges for Islam in engaging with an increasingly Westernized global economy. A secondary mission is to demonstrate how geographers address these issues and to promote a broader geographic perspective on sustainable development issues.
“Learning about geopolitical conflict first-hand by examining, for example, Southwest Asia’s changing economy within a global context really helps people to understand the issues of sustainability and global change and puts the challenges we face as a global society into sharper focus,” Dr. Keeling said.
One of the benefits for WKU, Dr. Keeling said, is that the university’s growing international reputation is further enhanced through his participation in these educational tours. Students also benefit from the knowledge gained from these experiences and subsequently shared in the classroom and through research projects and study abroad programs.
Past educational expeditions have led to successful departmental study abroad programs to Chile, Argentina, Tanzania, Turkey, and Australia, among other destinations. Several friends and supporters of WKU participated in this around-the-world educational expedition, which served to solidify WKU’s reputation as a leading American university with international reach.