geography professor

Geography professor Timothy Beach speaks about the importance of wetlands in Mayan agriculture Thursday evening. Beach said that he hopes to eventually get wetlands in Belize established as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

Based on his years of field study in Belize, geography professor Timothy Beach discussed the chronology and formation of ancient Maya and wetland agriculture on Thursday.

Beach, along with his team of graduate students, has conducted studies on wetlands to better understand their significance to the Mayan civilization. Through his research, Beach and his team also work to raise awareness of the impact human activity has on the natural sites.

At the event, which was part of the Mesoamerica Colloquium Series and hosted by the Department of Art and Art History’s Mesoamerica Center, Beach said that human activity greatly affects the wetland ecosystem. Because of this, he said it is important to preserve the Central American wetlands and to add them to the UNESCO World Heritage list, which would designate them as culturally or physically significant.

“Humans are now the largest geomorphic agent on earth,” Beach said. “One of my hopes is to get some of these Mayan wetlands on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”

Beach’s field research analyzed the geomorphological data in the soil of both Central American wetlands and tropical forests. The soil layers he analyzed showed evidence of past human activities, such as digging irrigation canals, farming and raising water tables.

Beach said he hopes this data will better answer the fundamental question of how important subsistence agriculture was to the Mayan civilization.

During his lecture, Beach said that understanding the roles and methods of Mayan farming will allow society to better understand and learn from Mayan civilization and the value it placed on wetlands and forests.

“Are [species in tropical forests] the economic species that the Mayans looked for and intended to keep?” Beach said. “If they were a really productive society, then why don’t we recreate them?” 

Geology graduate student Natasha Sekhon attended the lecture.

“It is interesting how geosciences and geography are interrelated, and you have a lot of relations you can make to [the findings],” Sekhon said. “It is very fascinating.”

Beach’s lecture also touched on other parts of his research, like soil layering and erosion in the former Mayan lowlands and perennial wetlands of Central America.

Tianyi Sun, a geology graduate student, said she attended this lecture because parts of the lecture covered information pertinent to her classes. 

“We were talking of C3 and C4 plants in class, and I was told that I could gain other ideas or concepts that are relevant in my own studies and interests, and I did,” Sun said. 

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

After a 21-year career at Georgetown University and being named the University’s 2014 Professor of the Year, geography professor Timothy Beach began his UT teaching career this fall.

The award process at Georgetown is decided by the student body. Once a professor receives a significant amount of student nominations, they are put on a ballot, which is then voted on by the student body. Beach said he was honored to be nominated alongside some of the best educators he’s worked with.

Beach said he made it a point to meet and remember all of the students he taught at Georgetown. When asked about how and if he will change his teaching style, Beach made it clear that even though his class sizes will most likely be larger at UT than they were at Georgetown — where a large class was around 60 people — he believes he will continue to practice teaching at a more personal level.

“Teaching style should not vary,” Beach said.

Beach said, although it’s easy to get excited about one’s own research and higher level aspects of a subject, his job as a teacher is not to put on a show, but rather to help students become as passionate as he is. 

Despite knowing he was leaving the following semester, Beach said he did not let his teaching suffer.

“You should work as hard at the place you’re leaving as the place you’re going to,” Beach said.

Beach said his philosophy behind his consistency is to keep momentum going during a transition, so it will be easier to pick up where it was left off. 

Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, UT Department of Geography and the Environment chair and Beach’s wife, said she is proud to welcome such a well respected educator and researcher to the geography department at UT.

“[Beach’s] honor verifies my expectation that we hire the very best educators and researchers in the [department] at UT,” Luzzadder-Beach said. “His award is a recognition long overdue for someone who was among Georgetown’s very best teachers for the past two decades, whose classes grew from a handful of students to having dozens on the waitlists.” 

Another one of Beach’s new colleagues, meteorology professor Troy Kimmel, said he believes Beach will be a great fit at UT.

“[Beach] will round out the department,” Kimmel said.

Although Beach enjoyed his time at Georgetown, he said he looks forward to utilizing the resources UT has to offer.

“I had an incredible experience at Georgetown and can’t wait to have an incredible experience at the University of Texas as well,” Beach said.