GW one of five finalists for Semester at Sea sponsorship

Six representatives from the Semester at Sea program came to campus Thursday to discuss GW’s potential affiliation with the ocean-bound study abroad program.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and several other administrators sat down with the members of the Institute for Shipboard Education, which runs Semester at Sea, to address the program’s academic, financial and safety aspects, said Peter Konwerski, executive director of administrative partnerships. GW is one of the top five schools vying to affiliate with Semester at Sea after the University of Pittsburgh cut its ties with the program next spring.

“There was an open dialogue and a good exchange of information,” Konwerski said. “We came (to the meetings) willing to ask some tough questions.”

Konwerski said the University is still researching Semester at Sea to determine if the program is a good fit for GW. He added that Semester at Sea’s worldwide itinerary might especially appeal to the GW community, but University officials must first decide if the program’s academic rigor meets GW standards.

“Academics is the most important (factor) because that’s why we’re here,” Konwerski said. “For what you’re paying (for tuition), you deserve the best academic experience you can get.”

Les McCabe, president of the Institute for Shipboard Education, said GW’s philosophy on international education would make the University a good match to sponsor the program.

“It’s a school of national and international reputation with very strong international programs and studies,” he said. “(GW) has high-caliber students that we’re interested in attracting to the program.”

The Semester at Sea’s academic sponsor is responsible for all of the program’s educational elements. The host school selects an academic dean for each voyage who hires faculty members and ensures all of the courses offered meet the standards of the home school, McCabe said. If selected, GW would provide Semester at Sea with a dean, registrar and librarian on ship. The academic sponsor is also responsible for granting course credit to Semester at Sea students.

McCabe said 15 to 20 schools were initially interested in the program. Semester at Sea officials whittled that number down to five top contenders. The University of Nebraska and the University of Arizona are among the finalists seeking the program’s academic sponsorship.

Institute for Shipboard Education officials have toured four campuses so far, and will visit the fifth school next month, McCabe said. He said the program hopes to contract its new academic sponsor within the next 45 days.

The University of Pittsburgh has sponsored Semester at Sea since 1981 and will back two more voyages this fall and next spring before the program moves to a different university. Pitt broke off ties with the program in May, four months after its cruise ship was hit by a 50-foot wave in the Pacific Ocean.

Konwerski said Semester at Sea’s safety and security issues were the first thing University administrators asked about when they began looking into the program this summer. In August, two teams of GW representatives visited the Semester at Sea cruise ship to observe its operations.

Assistant Vice President for Emergency Preparedness John Petrie, a former naval captain, was on board the MV Explorer ship and sailed from Ireland to Bilbao, Spain, where he analyzed “various operational and navigational systems, crew and staff training during a voyage, redundancy planning for any situation or crisis, as well as access, delivery and security provisions for guests and cargo both on the ship and in port,” Konwerski wrote in an e-mail last week.

Konwerski visited the ship with two other GW administrators when it docked in Nassau, Bahamas, Aug. 26, to witness the program’s administrative procedures and student services.

McCabe added that Semester at Sea will work with its new home institution to make any necessary changes to the program.

He said, “Any program of this type should be evaluated and assessed for improvements and enhancements.”

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