When the MV World Odyssey set sail from Hamburg, Germany, on Sept. 10, a new era in global education got underway. The first Semester at Sea voyage in partnership with Colorado State University carries about 550 students and 54 faculty and staff from colleges and universities around the world, all teaching and learning in accredited CSU courses in fields from anthropology to oceanography.
And when the ship docks in San Diego in December, after visiting ports of call in 12 countries on four continents, all will disembark with a greater understanding of not only the world’s diverse cultures, but also what it means to be a global citizen and how the university’s land-grant mission of access and service can help shape the future.
“It’s life-changing, for both the students and the faculty,” said Alicia Cook, senior academic officer for Semester at Sea.
Semester at Sea launched its maiden voyage in 1963. Since then, it has been sponsored by 5 universities around the country – most recently by the University of Virginia – but 2016 marked the first year that the parent nonprofit Institute for Shipboard Education entered into a full academic partnership — with Colorado State.
“What we were looking for in an academic partner was a good school with good academics and a willingness to collaborate,” explained Loren Crabtree, President and CEO of Semester at Sea. “Semester at Sea and CSU share a dedication to teaching and provide students with a global perspective. I think it is a great fit.”
Under the partnership, Cook reports both to CSU Provost Rick Miranda and Crabtree, who once served as CSU provost himself.
Since the partnership was finalized in June, Cook has been recruiting faculty, who have been developing and adapting syllabi that not only meet all CSU academic requirements but also take advantage of the unique opportunities of the floating campus.
Sailing for years
While the partnership is new, CSU students and faculty have been sailing with Semester at Sea for decades, bringing their experiences and expanded perspectives back into the classroom.
Cook, who taught in the College of Health and Human Sciences for nearly 30 years and has sailed on several voyages as faculty since retiring in 2004, said one of the most valuable aspects of participating in a voyages is that for more than 100 days, faculty, staff, students and about two dozen “lifelong learners” – mostly retired professionals who can join the voyage – live, eat, study and learn together.
“It’s a 24/7 learning experience,” she said. “You’ll just be walking down the corridor, talking with a professor about a lecture, or what you learned in port that day. It’s much deeper learning.”
Some CSU faculty have been on board for many voyages. In fact, three generations of the Griswold family have sailed since 1979 – William as a professor of history and wife Jean as staff; their children David and Ruth and now granddaughter Maia as students. William and Jean feel so strongly about the importance of international education that they have established the Griswold Scholarship awarded annually to undergraduates through the Office of International Programs at CSU.
Access to experience
Part of the land-grant mission is providing access to education to all. Being part of a Semester at Sea voyage is an additional expense for students; program fees cover a semester’s tuition plus all room and board, courses onboard as well as academic field classes, and shipboard services and academic advisement.
Semester at Sea awards $4 million in financial aid annually; more than $150,000 in scholarships per semester is reserved for students from Colorado State who might otherwise not be able to make a voyage. Merit-based scholarships are also available, and all financial aid students receive from other sources for study on campus can be applied to the cost of the voyage.
“We want the universities to recruit the best students who will learn the most, regardless of their ability to pay,” Crabtree said. “The financial aid component also benefits the shipboard community by increasing the diversity of life experiences among the student population.”
The itinerary for the Fall 2016 voyage includes ports of call in the Mediterranean, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, with passage through the Panama Canal. The Spring 2017 voyage will cross the Pacific for stops throughout Asia and Africa before arriving again in Hamburg.
Some of the world’s greatest leaders have boarded the Semester at Sea ship as visiting lecturers. Voyagers have heard from Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Corazon Aquino, Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa, among others, as they sailed between ports.
Staff in Fort Collins
Each time the World Odyssey sets sail, in addition to a new cohort of students who experience 15 weeks like no other in their college career, it carries a different set of academics and staff, all directed from Semester at Sea’s new headquarters on Centre Drive in Fort Collins.
Semester at Sea staff began moving to Colorado in June, where they shared office space with the CSU Foundation until their new quarters were completed in August. Not all of Semester at Sea’s employees decided to move from Virginia, and several of the 45 positions have been filled locally, including by CSU staff and alumni.
“We are very excited to be part of the Semester at Sea family now,” said Provost Miranda, “and look forward to many years of incredible international experiences for students, faculty, and staff from all over the globe. And especially from Colorado State.”