Charting a new course for Semester at Sea
Asia/Pacific voyage marks U.Va.’s debut as academic sponsor
By Carol Wood
Photos by Aaron Raymond
Semester at Sea, the world’s first and oldest shipboard education program, set sail on its summer voyage on Saturday, June 17, with a new academic partner—the University of Virginia.
Since the partnership was announced last December, the Institute for Shipboard Education—Semester at Sea’s parent organization—and the University have been working together in preparation for turning over the academic reins in time for the 65-day voyage to, among other places, China, Japan, and Vietnam. Fall and spring study-abroad voyages are 100 days long and go around the world.
While a U.Va. dean will not be in place until next summer, there are clear signs aboard the MV Explorer that change is afoot: a U.Va. orange stripe now graces the ship’s blue hull; University of Virginia signs are placed throughout the interior academic spaces; the University library’s online resources are accessible; the bookstore window contains an all orange-and-blue display; and, most important, the University’s honor pledge is prominently posted in each of the nine classrooms.
The launch of the new partnership between ISE and the University last week brought University President John T. Casteen III to the ship’s San Diego berth where he was given an in-depth tour of the ship. Casteen said he was impressed by both the stature and seriousness of the faculty members and the itinerary laid out for the summer ahead. The faculty, he said, “seemed to me to be soundly focused on their academic missions on the ship.”
He also called the itinerary “impressive for its use of the places visited as elements of courses that focus on U.S./Asian interactions. The cities were chosen by someone who has good sense about emerging markets, about cultural resources, and about fit with topics in the ship’s global studies curriculum.
“Finally,” Casteen added, “the ship and its crew and officers are impressive. I left feeling that our students and faculty members who participate will find exciting, productive work on the ship, and that ISE will take good care of them.”
After six months of hard work on the part of ISE and University staff, the transition was going smoothly and a number of key issues had been addressed, including some raised by members of the U.Va. faculty regarding the program’s academic rigor.
This was something that ISE dealt with head on. In fact, increasing academic rigor was one of the primary reasons ISE was so attracted to a partnership with the University, said Les McCabe, ISE president. “We’re in your hands academically,” he told U.Va. officials again last week. “It’s up to the University to decide how quickly to make changes. We’re depending on the University’s reputation and academic quality to take Semester at Sea to another level.”
|Don Gogniat, the summer voyage’s executive dean, welcomes parents to an orientation session in the “student union
Leigh B. Grossman, vice provost for international affairs, who has shepherded this joint academic partnership since its inception, credits a number of key people in the University community for helping to make the partnership possible. Dudley J. Doane, director of summer and special academic programs; Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs, and Karen Ryan, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences worked hand-in-hand with the University’s faculty, particularly in the College, to review the current curriculum and make necessary adjustments.
“Our faculty have been evaluating proposed courses, asking hard questions and requiring revisions of syllabi as needed,” Doane said. “The response of the staff in the many administrative offices tapped for assistance has been equally constructive. Collegiality has been the norm as we have worked together to build an infrastructure to support the new partnership.”
|John Tymitz, chief executive of ISE, speaks before the start of the summer voyage.
The official launch of the partnership drew the attention of many in the University community, some of whom flew to San Diego to show their support. Those on board included Gene D. Block, vice president and provost, and three of the University’s deans: Arthur T. Garson Jr., vice president and dean of the School of Medicine; B. Jeanette Lancaster, dean of the School of Nursing; and James H. Aylor, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Between events, Garson, already enthusiastic about the possibilities for Semester at Sea, began testing out an idea with his fellow deans for an innovative session that would bring together the deans of every University school to teach on a particular issue.
“I can envision many interesting opportunities,” Garson said. “We don’t have to look far to think about how to create exciting learning experiences for our students by combining Semester at Sea with our own faculty expertise.”
During the three-day faculty orientation aboard the Explorer in preparation for this summer abroad voyage, Patricia M. Lampkin, vice president for student affairs, presented a session on the Honor System, explaining how it would be incorporated into Semester at Sea and how it would be introduced this summer. Lampkin stayed on for the first leg of the journey to further explain the Honor System to both faculty and students, and to help set up a student panel to handle potential honor violations.
On board for the full session will be Barbara S. Selby, a University librarian, who began her work long before she set foot on the ship. Selby said she has worked with her library colleagues as well as with members of ITC over the past few months in order to be able to deliver access to all of the University’s library resources to the program’s faculty and students. There also are 12 U.Va. undergraduates among the 280 students who enrolled from 142 colleges and universities across the country.
|Sal Moschella hangs new signs throughout the Explorer. The honor pledge was also hung in every classroom. U.Va. will enforce the Honor System onboard the ship. U.Va. students who are found to have violated the Honor System will face the same single-sanction system applied on Grounds. Non-U.Va. students who violate the Honor System will not receive credit for the program.
In mid-July, David Gies, an academic trailblazer and esteemed Spanish professor who is set to be the University’s first academic dean, will join the voyage for a week to take a close look at how things work in advance of directing next summer’s trip.
In preparation for the students’ arrival, faculty and staff boarded early, creating a sense of excitement—and just a bit of anxiety. Meetings with two academic deans, faculty, and staff ran from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and covered topics from academics and student life to field trip procedures and health and safety issues. Crewmembers bustled from one end of the ship to the other, some working the labyrinths of the engine room, others shouldering box upon box of food and supplies that would sustain the ship throughout the voyage.
The exhaustive, two-hour tour revealed the complexity of the undertaking and the attention to detail that must be attended to in order to get underway.
Making their way from the engine room, through every hidden nook, and on up to the bridge, Casteen and company were treated to an insider’s view of the daily workings of the 25,000-ton, four-year-old vessel. They met with engineers and mechanics, cooks and general crew members, all of whom talked first about how to ensure the safety and security of the students who would be coming aboard in a few days time.
The two deans, meeting with parents the day before students boarded, echoed the emphasis on safety, but soon turned to the purpose of the voyage—academics and the expansion of each student’s view of the world.
Donald Gogniat, the executive dean for the summer voyage, and a four-term Semester at Sea veteran, is passionate about the experience and its impact on students. Most recently the former campus executive officer at Penn State York, Gogniat said that Semester at Sea is life-changing for a majority of students. To the parents he advised, “You will quickly see the change in your sons and daughters when they return…. And you will be able to see them grow like bamboo.”
U.Va.’s Grossman believes Semester at Sea has the ability to offer students—especially those who might not otherwise have the confidence to travel on their own to foreign cultures—a unique way to explore the world.
“For the student who comes from a family that has not traveled, is concerned about discrimination or safety, or a student who wants to see a number of countries in a short period of time, this program offers an important addition to our study-abroad opportunities. ... These students will, during the summer, have a regional experience or, during the semester, have a round-the world experience,” she said. “This comparative global education will allow them to see, smell, hear, feel, taste and touch many differences knowing that the safety and permanence of their onboard home remains the same. This is a fantastic means to see global differences and hopefully be, for many, a foundation which compels them to continue to pursue international study and career opportunities.”
Daily life aboard the Explorer has been compared to a residential college experience, a place where students and faculty live and learn together—in the same way that Jefferson envisioned the Academical Village.
All meals are taken jointly, offering students a chance to extend discussion beyond the classroom. In addition, faculty members often bring partners and children—this time numbering 20—adding to the community feel of the experience. There also are a number of spots for senior travelers—42 made the summer trip—and many students will “adopt” a grandparent or two throughout the voyage.
There are such strong connections established that a good number of students take more than one journey and some return to work either full time on staff or to become life-long volunteers. There are even some parents who have signed on as a result of their children’s extraordinary experiences.
Twenty-three years ago, Milt and Betty Waldrun agreed to finance one daughter’s desire to go around the world for a semester 23 years ago—at first somewhat reluctantly. Her trip turned out to change not only her life, but theirs as well.
The Boulder, Colo., orthopedist and his wife have since sailed with Semester at Sea about a dozen times, the last in 2005 when they shared their 50th wedding aboard the Explorer. Milt Waldron has volunteered as the ship’s doctor for nine round-the-world voyages, and acts as an on-going medical consultant, helping to set up the current clinic, which includes separate rooms for surgery, intensive care, and X-rays. Betty Waldrun has been pulled in to any number of tasks—from helping organize the bookstore to overseeing the senior adult programs.
Both extol the virtues of the program and its long-term impacts on the students. “You have to take the journey at least once,” Milt Waldrun said, “then you’ll begin to understand the pull.”
Throughout the recent preparations for the coming voyage, “community” was a recurring theme among University of Virginia administrators who talked a great deal about the importance of the academic community, the student community, the community of honor and trust —and the hope to build with ISE the same kind of community.
For its part, the leadership team of ISE responded in kind.
John Tymitz, ISE’s chief executive, first sailed with Semester at Sea 34 years ago when he and his wife were both young faculty members. He looks to the partnership with U.Va. to further strengthen the program and to add a new level of rigor and commitment that will assure that the program prospers for many more generations.
“But right now,” he said, “we’re focusing on the next five years of tremendous growth and on building a solid partnership with the University of Virginia. That will be our legacy.”
Itineraries • Summer 2006 – Summer 2007
June 17 - Aug. 21
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Aug. 27 – Dec. 7
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Port Suez (Adabiya), Egypt
Transit Suez Canal
Feb. 3 – May 14
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Cape Town, South Africa
Port Louis, Mauritius
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
June 17 – Aug. 21
Balboa, Panama (Panama City)
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala