When Learning Is a Voyage—Literally

EDITOR’S NOTE:  We officially changed our name from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) to University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) on July 1, 2019. News stories posted on the Global Media Center are now using the new UMGC name. However, because the transition to the university’s new name will take several months to complete, you may still see the UMUC name, logo and look on our website and other materials through early 2020.

UMGC Professor Carl Berman will spend the next four months teaching oceanography aboard a floating university as part of the Semester at Sea program. This is the first of three stories that will follow his experience.

At University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), Carl Berman is accustomed to teaching students long distance. For the next four months, not only will he be teaching his students face-to-face—every day—but he’ll also be eating with them, going on field trips with them and living under the same roof.

Well, “roof” might not be the correct term since Berman, and more than 400 students, will be aboard a ship at sea.

An avid adventurer, Berman, is seen here, on a Segway tour of St. Petersburg, Russia. Note the Segway handlebars in the foreground.

Berman, who teaches general biology, a biology lab course and meteorology at UMGC, is one of 26 faculty members in this fall’s Semester at Sea program aboard the academic ship World Odyssey. The program offers 30 for-credit undergraduate courses through Colorado State University.

The ship sets sail from Amsterdam on Sept. 6. Twelve ports and one Panama-Canal transit later, the voyage ends at San Diego—two days before Christmas.

“Our ship is the most unique floating campus in the world,” said Layne Hanson, vice president of public affairs for the Institute of Shipboard Education, which operates the Semester at Sea program. “The seven deck, 590-foot ship is where you learn, live, travel and reflect on your global study-abroad experience.”

Students are enrolled in a range of courses and onboard classes are supplemented with in-port guest lectures and subject-related shore excursions. An enhancement for students in marketing could be a trip to a local factory. In Morocco, students might make a three-day camel trek into the desert to learn more about women in development, or human origins or social sustainability.

Faculty members on the ship travel with their families. Berman’s wife, Joyce Gioia-Herman, a business entrepreneur, has been hired by Semester at Sea to teach a business management course: “Creativity, Innovation and Value Creation.”

Berman spent the weeks and days before the sailing at his home in Austin, Texas, determining how to ship heavy books overseas and calculating what he should pack in rolling duffle bags for countries as far-flung as Brazil, Croatia, Poland, and Trinidad and Tobago. He needed a yellow fever shot, malaria pills and, in the case of Ghana, a visa.

“This week we begin the task of seeing if we can fit four months-worth of medications and clothing into the bags we were told to use. [I’m] looking forward to seeing the result!” Berman said a week before he was slated to fly to Europe to meet the World Odyssey.

As the Semester at Sea Braun-Glazer Oceans and Sustainability Scholar for this fall sailing, Berman’s work will focus on the linchpin of the journey: ocean awareness and sustainability. He will lecture on the global ocean system, oceans and human movement, Mediterranean fishing and overfishing, coral reefs, climate change and marine stewardship. In port, he will lead students on excursions and give presentations to partner institutions.

“We are trying to raise the consciousness of the students so they are better stewards of the world,” he explained.

He is also one of three professors jointly teaching Global Studies, the only course mandatory for all students. One of the three professors will examine the history of every country the ship visits. Another will discuss each country’s cultural issues. Berman will talk about their relationship with the ocean.

Berman has been familiar with Semester at Sea ever since he taught at California State University, Monterey Bay some years ago. He also knew the program, in operation since 1963, would provide a much different teaching experience than he is used to at UMGC.

“This is not a job that you check out of at the end of the day,” Berman explained. “There is a community that is created on the ship. It goes beyond the job and into the living part of the experience, especially for families aboard. There will be both professional and personal interactions.”

In addition to the students and faculty, some of whom have taught aboard before, there will also be lifelong learners on the ship, usually 25 to 30 older adults who join for segments of the voyage. They are often retirees or professionals on leave.

“We increasingly have lifelong learners who are mid-career and are taking a sabbatical and bringing their families,” Hanson said. “There are also alumni who sailed as students 25 years ago and now are coming back as parents with their children.”

The rest of the shipboard community is made up of staff, crew, counselors, and an onboard physician.

Hanson said Semester at Sea diverges from a traditional study abroad program—and not just because it unfolds on a ship. “If you’re going to study abroad, you go to one country. You go to Spain, or you do a semester in Italy or France,” she said. “Semester at Sea is different. It is comparative international education, not immersive international education.”

A marketing course may address the industry in India and the way it is both similar to or different from marketing in China or South Africa or Spain. Business students not only learn how each of the countries they visit handles a business problem, for example, but they start to see the nuances of each culture.

“With Semester at Sea, students learn through the lens of the courses they take, and they learn about these subjects globally because—literally—we circumnavigate the globe,” Hanson added.

Berman acknowledged that it will be a learning experience for him, too. Faculty on the ship often make new connections and partnerships with colleagues around the world. They may also become aware of new areas where research is needed in their field.

“Faculty also tell me that this experience taught them to be a better teacher because they were so involved with the students. When they live with students, they see their struggles, their happiness, who they are friends with and what they worry about,” Hanson said. “It gives them a better sense of their students.”

 

About the Cover Photo: Picture of the academic ship MV World Odyssey courtesy of the Institute of Shipboard Education, which operates the Semester at Sea program.