Students Study Construction, Tourism Industries in Panama
Friday, June 04, 2010
Contact David Tisdale, 601.266.4499   
The recent development of academic and cultural ties in Panama by The University of Southern Mississippi has resulted in an opportunity for its students to study in one of the most successful democracies in the Western Hemisphere. In late May, students majoring in construction management and hospitality management programs participated in the inaugural Panama Study Abroad program, traveling to the Central American nation to view firsthand the country’s burgeoning construction and tourism industries.

Dr. Tulio Sulbaran, director of the Southern Miss Center for Trade, Logistics and Transportation, was joined by Southern Miss Director of International Education Dr. Susan Steen and Casino, Hospitality and Tourism Management program instructor Evelyn Kwan Green in leading 12 students on the program.  

“The program offers our students a chance to gain a global perspective on the industries they ultimately hope to work in, as well as an understanding of the unique and historical role Panama plays in linking the Americas,” said Steen. “It also provides us with opportunities to forge relationships between Panama and Mississippi that we believe will lead to increased economic, cultural and educational opportunities for not only our students, but our citizens.”  

Don Shepley, director of development and business planning for Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Authority, briefed the students before they left to provide context for their trip. After arriving in Panama, students met with industry leaders and visited major construction and engineering sites such as the Panama Canal; the expansion of Panama City’s International Airport; the Panama Canal Railway; and the Frank Gehry Museum of Biodiversity, the first building in Latin America designed by Gehry with construction slated for completion in 2010. Gehry also designed Biloxi's Ohr-O'Keefe Museum.

The group also toured an all-inclusive resort, met with casino industry officials, and visited a hotel/restaurant “laboratory” that trains students for prospective careers in the hospitality industry.

For Chuck Scheiderman, a graduate construction management student from Seminary, Miss. the program gave him the chance to see the planning process for a new subway system in Panama City, and how project managers are configuring it to adapt to the physical environment of its path. “It was a great opportunity to see how they worked around existing buildings and other infrastructure to institute new technology for the project,” he said.   

Green, who also participated in the program as a doctoral student, said it provided “an excellent illustration of the dimensions of tourism in a global context.”

Panama is a good example for students to learn how a country approaches development of this industry, and with the plans to expand the Panama Canal and the Port of Gulfport, they have multiple career opportunities in tourism and construction. Through this program, they can learn about these opportunities firsthand.”

The study abroad program emerged following a visit Southern Miss President Martha Saunders, Steen, Sulbaran and state business leaders made to Panama last summer, when Dr. Saunders signed memorandums of understanding with Panamanian university administrators that opened doors for educational, cultural and economic development exchange.

Dylan Pair, a senior tourism management major from Ocean Springs, said the program helped him think more globally, particularly in terms of the tourism industry and the opportunities available worldwide.

“It really gave me a good sense of what the country has to offer in the way of tourism, and when you see all the ongoing construction projects you realize how it’s growing in leaps and bounds,” Pair said. “Panama realizes it has a lot to offer tourists and is doing a good job of expanding the industry. A lot of our students are considering applying for internships at the various hotels and resorts there.”

For more information about the Panama Study Abroad Program and other Southern Miss International Programs, online visit

Bern, right, a developer and hotelier in Panama and president of Empresas Bern, shares his construction expertise at the site of his 611-room Westin hotel convention resort project, scheduled to open in 2012, with construction management professor Dr. Tulio Sulbaran, left, program coordinator for the Southern Miss Panama Study Abroad Program and his students. Looking on at far right is Elias Bahar, a Southern Miss graduate student studying construction management who participated in the university's Panama Study Abroad program in May.

Southern Miss students tour the construction site of Panama's BioMuseo (Museum of BoDiversity), the country’s much anticipated tourist attraction during the Southern Miss Panama Study Abroad Program in May. The BioMuseo is designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed Biloxi's Ohr-O'Keefe Museum.

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