Schreyer Honors College (SHC)at Penn State

Natural Disasters in a Developing Country - Thailand Study Tour

May 7

Leave for Thailand

May 29

Return to United States

  • Time

    Two-credit spring course with one-credit Maymester travel, 2019

  • Location

    Bangkok and other locations, Thailand

  • Eligibility

    Scholars in all majors

  • Credits

    Three honors credits

  • Application Deadline

    To be announced later this fall

Program Summary

Bangkok flooding
2011 flooding in Bangkok

With the 2nd largest economy in southeast Asia (behind Indonesia), Thailand plays a leading role in driving development and forging regional policy. Its capital, Bangkok, is a global megacity with an estimated 10 million inhabitants in the metropolitan region and a current growth rate of over 2%/year. This generally positive economic outlook may obscure a more fraught future. Thailand has major vulnerabilities related to natural hazards. Although it is generally a tectonically quiescent region, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (with almost 10,000 confirmed dead or missing in Thailand) demonstrated a substantial (and under-appreciated) risk associated with its location surrounded by major plate boundary fault zones. It has also experienced moderate (but damaging) earthquakes within its borders; has evolving problems of groundwater degradation by saline incursion from both natural (sea level rise) and man-made (agricultural) causes; suffers from severe flooding in Bangkok and other major cities, and is seeing detrimental effects from climate change and sea level rise in coastal regions. In this course students will develop a background in the underlying causes and impacts of these natural hazards, with a focus on implications for the Thai society and its future.

During Maymester, the class will travel to Thailand and see first-hand the intersection between natural hazards and societal well-being. Specific topics for this field excursion may include analysis of the tsunami hazard along the Andaman Sea coast, earthquake potential in northwestern Thailand and Bangkok, the causes and consequences of brine degradation of the groundwater resource, the causes and impacts of significant flooding, and effects of climate change on coastal regions. All of these vulnerabilities will be placed in the context of a rapidly growing, mixed industrial/agricultural economy, in a largely Buddhist country and society.

Integrated into the Thailand trip will be visits to a range of historic and cultural sites including multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites.

This course will collaborate with faculty and students at Kasetsart University (KU) in Bangkok. KU is the #2 ranked university in Thailand (with ~70,000 students), and has a “land-grant” style history somewhat similar to PSU. Furlong has a strong research and educational collaboration with Prof. Passakorn Pananont at KU, including joint research projects, and educational/outreach activities (several short courses taught to both professionals and teachers in Thailand and the southeast Asia region). Most recently we collaborated on a short-course for Thai high school science teachers on earthquake and tsunami science, which was financially sponsored by Thai research and educational funding agencies. Results of our joint science research have been published in major international geoscience journals.

While in Bangkok, we will be based at KU Home, a university-run Hotel (Guest House) on the KU campus, nearby to the Earth Sciences department. During overnight travel outside Bangkok, we will stay at hotels or other guest-house facilities. Students will share rooms, but each will have their own bed. During the duration of the Maymester travel, classroom/writing days will be interspersed with site visits and travel. While on campus at KU, students can access their PSU accounts via their eduroam login. This will allow students to incorporate their experiences and observations into their analysis of interactions between hazards and society. The intent is for the course to be academically self-contained - most work will be accomplished during the trip.

While in Thailand, we will meet with and where possible travel with a peer group of Thai students. This will allow the PSU and KU students to develop longer-term links, and help the PSU students to better understand Thailand, its culture, and its people. Additionally we will arrange opportunities for our students to meet with policy makers and other leaders in the areas we are studying.


Dr. Kevin P Furlong is professor of Geosciences at the Pennsylvania State University. He received his Ph.D. degree in Geophysics at the University of Utah, and BA’s in Geology and Mathematics from Middlebury College (Vermont). Kevin’s expertise is in plate tectonics, earthquake seismology, thermal geophysics, and natural hazards. He has over 140 publications in refereed literature. Dr. Furlong is a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Geological Society of America and has been recognized at Penn State for both his research and teaching contributions. In 2002 he was awarded the Eisenhower Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest university award for teaching presented at Penn State. He was a Fulbright Senior Scholar to New Zealand (2002-2003), and has been a visiting professor at Utrecht University (Netherlands, 1989), Middlebury College (1994), Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand, 2002-2003), University of Canterbury (NZ; Erskine Fellow, 2010), and the University of Waikato (NZ, 2011)

Course Details and Assessment

GEOSC 397 (honors), spring 2018 for 2 credits; GEOSC 499, summer 2018 for one credit (honors credit waiver for international study); for a total of three honors credits.

Students will be assessed on several aspects of their course participation and activities. Each student will identify a research topic, whose preparation will be a focus of their pre-Maymester activity, and will be explored during the trip, culminating in a research paper incorporating pre-trip and trip materials. Students will share their research with each other throughout the course through presentations, discussions, etc. Additionally during the trip students will be expected to communicate their experiences to the broader PSU community and others (via blogs, videos, or other activities). We will also involve our group in outreach activities developed jointly with our Thai colleagues, allowing the PSU group to serve as exemplary ambassadors of Penn State.


For Schreyer Scholars at University Park in all majors and semester standings. The selection process will emphasize a mix of students from across majors and colleges. Interested Schreyer Scholars at other campuses should contact Dr. Stoller for more information about the spring course and whether it might be possible to complete outside of University Park.

Estimated Costs (Subject to Change)

  • Transportation to/from Thailand; there will be a recommended flight but participants can make their own arrangements as long as they arrive within a time window to be specified
  • Required one credit of summer tuition and fees; for Schreyer Scholars, the SHC will provide a grant to cover tuition differential for out-of-state students
  • $1800 additional program fee; Schreyer Scholars will receive a $500 refund via scholarship for this fee (Note: This fee is subject to change through Fall 2018)

Application Deadline & Process

Please complete the application form and return by e-mail attachment to both Professor Kevin Furlong and Dr. Richard Stoller by 5:00 PM on Friday, November 30, 2018. After decisions are made in early December, accepted students will have through the end of drop/add for the spring 2019 semester to finalize their participation.

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