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Summer Explorations

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In his book The Innocents Abroad, published a century and a half ago, Mark Twain wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness … Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Those words certainly ring true to me. As someone whose first career took him all over the planet, I know first-hand that experiencing different places and cultures – and getting to know people whose life experiences and perspectives differ, often wildly, from your own – is the perfect complement to a formal education earned in classrooms, libraries, and labs.

I bring this up because in recent weeks, I have enjoyed hearing and reading about the summer travels of some of our students and faculty.

For instance, a group of UT Rio Grande Valley art students were put to the test – both mentally and physically – visiting the Inca ruins of Machu Pichu. Walking the ancient roads and trails of the Peruvian Andes, they ascended as high as 15,000 feet (several hundred feet higher than the highest peak in the contiguous United States).

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, a contingent from UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences set their sights a little lower, you might say, and farther back in time – traveling to Morocco and Slovenia in search of rocks from the Early Jurassic period (180 million years ago, give or take a few).

Our students and faculty aren’t just broadening their horizons. They are also, in many instances, making important, tangible contributions to the places they are visiting. A professor and graduate student from UT Dallas, for example, are collaborating with a colleague from Brac University in Bangladesh, using geospatial information systems to show how diseases might spread in that country, and where resources should be deployed to stop them.

You don’t need to leave the country, or even Texas, for your summer project to make a difference. Students and faculty from UT Tyler have been working at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, helping NASA develop the cockpit display of Orion, the flagship of America’s next-generation space fleet. Thus they will help Orion boldly go where no man or spacecraft has gone before.

The good news is you don’t have to be a traveler to be an explorer. You don’t need a passport, money, or spare time. All you need is an open mind and an open heart.

Which brings me back to the theme of this week’s blog, exploration. The great Texan Lyndon Johnson once lamented, “We live in a world that has narrowed into a neighborhood before it has broadened into a brotherhood.”Those words have stuck in my mind in recent days, because I think many of the problems we face as a society stem, at least in part, from a reluctance:

  • to broaden our perspectives;
  • to step out of our neighborhood, our “corner of the earth” – both literally and figuratively;
  • to do the hard thinking required to understand both the differences that make every individual interesting – and worth learning from – and the interests, hopes and fears we all share as citizens of the world.

Seeing the world has changed my life in ways I can’t even express – and I’m sure the same is true of our globe-trotting students and faculty. But I understand that travel is not always practical or affordable. The good news is you don’t have to be a traveler to be an explorer. You don’t need a passport, money, or spare time. All you need is an open mind and an open heart.

So whether you’re spending your summer in El Paso or Prague, Dallas or Delhi, I hope you make it a time of exploration. That’s what summer (and education, for that matter) is all about.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I’ll write again soon.