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​‘Geography is Everything’ for Students on Mississippi Delta Trip

A trip down south for spring break sounds like a vacation, but for 38 students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a trip to the Mississippi Delta during their week off from classes was a cultural and learning experience.

Students took the trip as part of Geography 393, “The Environment and Culture of the Mississippi Delta.” Led by instructor Lisa Theo, students learned about the landscape, food, history, music, economy and diversity of several locations in Mississippi and Tennessee.

“Lisa likes to tell us ‘Geography is everything,’” said Cassandra Wentzel, a junior human geography major from Eau Claire. “So we learned a little bit of everything on the trip.”

At Forks of the Road in Natchez, Miss., the students saw a sculpture of shackles that marks a former slave trading site. In Moorhead, Miss., the group met with the city’s mayor to discuss ways the small community is trying to come back from lost industry and jobs. A stop at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., was “eerily quiet and full of introspection,” said Wentzel. Club Ebony, a part of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss., opened its doors to serve a soul food dinner accompanied by live blues music.

“Geography is influenced by history, culture, landscape, sociology, economy, poverty, education and race,” said Theo. “I want my students to see what impacts these influences have on a place and why.”

“There was so much to take away from this trip,” said Abby Heistad, a senior communication major from White Lake. “It helped me understand American history and what role the river plays in the delta area. We met people who had a lot of love for their life, even though they value different things than we do.”

“I loved getting to know the people,” said Wentzel, who added that much of the area’s history made an emotional impact on them. “We saw where people suffered, where people had to stand up and be brave.”
Theo has been offering this trip consistently since coming to UW-Stevens Point in 2007. The trip is also open to the public as space permits. She feels strongly students benefit from opportunities outside of the classroom.

“You learn so much more by experiencing something for yourself,” she said. “The trips I took in college, when I could see the history and geography firsthand and talk to local residents, were so impactful that I knew I wanted to take my students on these trips as a teacher.”

Each class Theo teaches includes a field trip aspect. Students in her Urban Geography course have traveled to Chicago, the Twin Cities and Milwaukee to learn the community’s history, structure, environmental impact, industry and urban planning. Their projects, such as creating maps and analyzing data, is done on site then presented to the people it affects in that community.

“Students from all disciplines benefit,” she said. “They learn how to communicate with diverse audiences and gain confidence for the workplace. They find a common ground among their differences. All of the students come back changed.”

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