Hi everyone! I just back from my big trip to Panama this Sunday, and it hasn’t even really sunk in that I was just there. I had so much fun going to another country, and it was definitely a nice break from the consistent routine of school.
So why I did I go to Panama? As I have mentioned in past blogs, I am on the executive board for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Every year ASCE puts on a national conference where professionals and students from all around gather for a few days of sessions, networking, and exciting speakers. This year ASCE decided to have the conference in Panama because it is the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal, which is one of – or if not – the biggest civil engineering accomplishments of all time! This year’s conference was unique because not only was it outside of the USA, which made it a global conference, but the focus of the program was on civil engineers having a global impact, which was extremely interesting to hear about.
Four other students and I left Tuesday night on a red-eye flight to represent USC at the ASCE Global Conference. We arrived in Panama City early Wednesday and headed straight to the conference. Throughout the day I attended multiple sessions which each covered different topics. One of my favorites from Wednesday was about maintaining integrity when working on a giga project which focused more on the ethical implications of engineering.
For dinner that night, all of the conference attendees from the LA branch of ASCE went to eat together. I got to sit by the newly appointed Governor of Section 9, who is responsible for managing all of the ASCE groups in the state of California! The restaurant we went to was great. Not only did we get to enjoy typical Panamanian food, but afterwards there was a performance that showcased authentic Panamanian dances. It was nice being exposed to some of the culture of Panama, and I loved the costumes the dancers wore during their performances.
The next day (Thursday) we attended more session throughout the day. My favorite session from Thursday was about the design challenges of the Boston Central Artery Tunnel Project, which was a gigantic project which completed modified two major highways in the heart of Boston. I also really enjoyed our lunch that day! We went to a food stand run by some Panamanian women. The food was delicious: my plate consisted of rice, beans, chicken, and a dish similar to coleslaw. On the way to the food cart we even ran into a USC alum who is currently working for Nike in Panama. It is always crazy to run into alumni when you least expect to, but you can always expect a smile and a “Fight on!” from them!
Friday was easily my favorite day of the trip! We started off the morning by going on an exclusive tour of the Panama Canal. During our tour, we got to see some of the existing locks that move the boats through the canal. The locks are a device used to move boats through stretches of water of different levels. The lock itself is a large chamber that allows water to be added or removed so that the boat’s level of water will match where it is trying to go. The locks at the Panama Canal were built to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal and instead use a man made lake, called Gatun Lake, which is higher than sea level. The locks allow the boat to go from sea level to Gatun Lake and then back down again to see level. While we were there we got to see multiple lock chambers fill up with water so that two large boats could reach the height of Gatun Lake, which was an incredible experience. I wish I could have stayed there to see boats going through all day.
Besides the existing locks, we also got to see the current construction on the Panama Canal. Since the canal was built 100 years ago, some of it is outdated. Boats have continually gotten larger, so the Panama Canal Authority decided to add a new set of locks which will allow for larger boats to pass through the canal. The new ones are also quicker and even more efficient because they reuse water. It was crazy to see the size of the the locks being built and I hope that one day I can come back and see them being used.
Another exciting part of Friday was the closing lunch. The speaker this year was Grant Imahara, who was one of the hosts of Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters.” It was fun to hear about his experiences working as part of the Mythbusters team and all the crazy stunts, explosions, and contraptions he contributed throughout the years on the show. Afterwards we waited around to meet him since he graduated from Viterbi with a degree in electrical engineering.
Our final day in Panama (Saturday) was used to explore Panama City since the conference was officially over. One of the places we went was Panama Viejo, which are ruins of the first city built in Central America. The city was built in 1519 and flourished until 1671 when it was abandoned after Henry Morgan, an admiral from England, and his men invaded. There are plenty of structures still standing to this day, so it was amazing getting to walk around and explore the different buildings. My favorite was the large tower which was part of the main church in the central plaza. The tower has stairs so that you can climb all the way to the top to see stunning views of the new, modern skyline.
We also explored the historic district of the city, called Casco Viejo, which was established after Panama Viejo was invaded. Casco Viejo contains narrow streets lined with churches, plazas, and restaurants. I personally was fascinated by the architecture here because within one building you can see the portion built originally in typical latin style and then the portion added later on which has a extreme European influence.
Finally, we went for a bike ride at the Amador Causeway. The Amador Causeway is a road that connects Panama City to four small islands near the entrance to the Panama Canal. It was relaxing being near the water and enjoying the beautiful fews of the ocean. I also got to try out riding a tandem bike for the first time which was quite an adventure.
Overall, I had an absolutely amazing time in Panama. I’m so fortunate that I was selected to represent USC at the conference. Being able to see the Panama Canal and explore Panama City was a once in a lifetime trip. I’m so appreciative of all the amazing opportunities available to students at USC, and getting involved in clubs and organizations is a great way to get exposed to these opportunities. I would strongly recommend joining organizations that fit your interests as they will help make your college experience extremely unique and memorable. And if you are interested in civil engineering you should definitely look into ASCE, since every year there is a national conference. Next year it will be in New York City so I am hoping to be selected to go once again!Meet Kelly