Jim Sorem, dean of the TU College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, accompanied a group of TU mentors and first-year students to Panama City this past summer for the international admission experience JumpstartTU. The weeklong program is an introduction to study abroad and prepares new students for the challenges and opportunities that distinguish a TU education. JumpstartTU blends knowledge of another country and culture with field experience in local nongovernmental organizations and intergovernmental agencies to discover global issues in an international context.
JumpstartTU Team CATHALAC
TU staff and faculty hosted two JumpstartTU sessions this summer, each including 45 students. Sorem and his wife, Gentra, attended the second trip in July as facilitators and team leaders for the nongovernmental organization CATHALAC, which examined watershed management and land use planning in the tropics. The group learned about agriculture, urban growth and tourism while visiting farms and agricultural facilities in the Panama Canal.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience — the cultural exposure, the history of the canal and the importance of the watershed to the success of the canal,” Sorem said.
The opportunity to visit another country and experience a different culture and language is an eye-opening experience Sorem said is important for the growth of every college student. Participants engaged with native residents and learned about the issues faced by Panamanians.
Traveling abroad with strangers
Mechanical engineering freshman Candelaria Alayon is originally from Uruguay and has traveled abroad extensively with her family, but she said visiting a foreign country with a group of strangers is a completely different experience.
“I gained a lot of insight as to the social and cultural atmosphere of Panama,” she said. “We spent the week touring everything from poverty-ridden areas to some of the most developed parts. For me, traveling to Panama was significant because it was my first time in Central America since moving to the United States when I was one. I got the opportunity to practice my Spanish and learn more about Latin influences.”
As an out-of-state freshman, Alayon said she initially was nervous about the beginning of the school year, but the trip helped her meet new friends and ease the transition. JumpstartTU introduced her to the campus community and she appreciates the familiar faces she sees around her now on a daily basis.
“It removed the awkwardness of starting somewhere where you don’t know anyone,” she said. “My interactions with professors and Dean Sorem showed me how much TU cares about students. Why else would they spend a week of their summer with a bunch of nervous to-be freshman?”
Growing as young adults
The friendships, connections and comradery developed on JumpstartTU trips helps students grow as young adults and take their first exciting step into the university community.
“They now have a strong foothold on life outside of their past background and understand that their personal experiences are far from the average, despite the fact many of them have faced significant challenges to get to this point in their lives,” Sorem said.