Geography and Geology Department Head Dr. David Keeling recently completed a three-week transect of Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway, sponsored by the American Geographical Society.
The educational tour began in Vladivostok, Russia’s major Pacific port city, which had been closed to foreigners throughout most of the Soviet period and only opened up in 1992 to international tourism. Aboard a special expedition train, the educational program visited a number of Siberian cities, including Irkutsk and Yekaterinburg, before ending the trip in Moscow. Along the way, participants enjoyed a visit to a Siberian tiger sanctuary, a side trip to Ulan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, and a tour of Kazan, the ancient city of the Tatar Republic situated on the Volga River.
During the expedition program, Dr. Keeling gave lectures on several aspects of Russia’s geography, including climate change, natural resource management, and contemporary geopolitics. Following Russia’s recent conflict with Georgia over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia, passengers were especially interested in learning more about Russia’s foreign policy and its geopolitical relationships with the United States and the European Union. Sustainable development issues were also a hot topic for discussion after a visit to the ecologically sensitive region of Lake Baikal, where industrial pollution presents significant challenges for this amazing ecosystem.
Dr. Keeling serves on the Board of Councilors of the American Geographical Society, North America’s oldest geographic society founded in 1851, and has lectured for the AGS on educational tours to such locations as Turkey, Azerbaijan, the Maldives, northern Africa, Gabon, Namibia, Easter Island, Angkor Wat, Papua New Guinea, the Arctic region, Dubai, and the Falkland Islands.
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 resource implications of oil and gas extraction for Russia’s Arctic region, global climate change impacts on the Siberian Basin, and the geopolitical relationships between Russia, its neighbors, and the rest of the world. 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 Russia’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.