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January 19, 2006


Bon voyage to Semester at Sea

To the editor:

The recent announcement by the Institute for Shipboard Education that it had established a new partnership with one of the nation’s pre-eminent universities (University of Virginia) comes as no surprise to those of us from Pitt who have been closely associated with this program over the years. The fact that an institution as highly regarded as UVA would eagerly embrace the Semester at Sea (SAS) program demonstrates vividly how well SAS is perceived throughout the higher education establishment, a fact that we “Pitt shipmates” have known for a long time.

As one who has had the good fortune to sail on three voyages, two as executive dean (fall 2004 and fall 1995), I have seen firsthand what Vice Provost Grossman of UVA refers to as the “profound changes” students undergo when they participate in Semester at Sea. They return to their homes and their campuses as changed individuals who have been humbled by what they have learned, seen, and done, and who have gained deeper insights about the peoples of the world and the challenges these people face in their daily lives. For a number of student participants, career aspirations change as a result, and others gain the confidence to go abroad again, frequently as part of human service programs, because of the seeds that have been planted within them during their Semester at Sea experience.

During my 30-year career at Pitt-Bradford, I have been proud of the many gains that have been made by the University at all campuses and within all units. But in terms of undergraduate initiatives, there are few activities that have been more noteworthy or which have made me more proud than the fact that this University has served as the academic sponsor for Semester at Sea, the most unique and visible study abroad program available to students today. By serving as sponsor for a quarter of a century, Pitt’s name has been made known in parts of the world where few American universities, beyond a handful at the top, have any name recognition at all. And the service work that many of our students have done while in port, as exemplified on my most recent voyage in fall 2004 (e.g., building a house for a family in a South African township through Habitat for Humanity, visiting with children in orphanages and assisting with the construction of an elementary school library in India, participating in home stays and learning about family life in Japan, etc.), have reflected positively on the University of Pittsburgh, even though the majority of students came from other universities and colleges. Regardless of where these students have come from, however, all have been Pitt students on Semester at Sea, all were issued “University of Pittsburgh” transcripts upon successful completion of their voyage, and in a sense all became Pitt alums for what most of them would describe to friends and family as the best semester of their undergraduate years, if not the best experience of their lives.

While both the Institute for Shipboard Education and the University of Virginia have come out the big winners in this transition, those of us who work with students at the University of Pittsburgh can make sure that our current and future Pitt students win as well. We can do so by encouraging them to consider Semester at Sea as one of several serious options as they begin to formulate their study abroad plans. In this way, a steady stream of Pitt students can continue to benefit from this one-of-a kind program that fosters greater international understanding while educating them in a variety of cultures at the same time.

On behalf of the hundreds of Pitt faculty, staff and students who have participated in and supported Semester at Sea over the past 25 years (close to 50 from Pitt-Bradford alone), I extend a fond farewell and “bon voyage” to our ISE/SAS colleagues as they make their transition from Pitt to UVA, and likewise from Pittsburgh to Charlottesville. I want them to leave the University of Pittsburgh knowing that many of us here have found their presence with us to have been a shining star in the history of this fine University, and that we regret seeing them go. We as a University are and will remain greatly diminished by their departure, and by the loss of the exceptional program of international education they oversee.

K. James Evans

Vice President and Dean

Student Affairs



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