Dean Toni conquers the sea of academic application

Brazil’s iridescent coastline – Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Thorpe

Semester at Sea (SAS) has been an unparalleled opportunity to discover new cultures around the globe, while simultaneously studying more in-depth these places and people. We take what we have learned within the classroom walls of the MV World Odyssey and witness the reality behind the words in our textbooks.

Academic Dean Toni Zimmerman explained that SAS is a program committed to global comparison. She has been a faculty member at Colorado State University for 27 years. Zimmerman runs the undergraduate program that trains people working to become family therapists. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Ohio University, a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Radford University in Virginia, and a PhD in family therapy at Virginia Tech.

“We are not immersive,” Zimmerman said. “We are helping you compare your own society, culture, and background to the ones you keep seeing. It is this global comparison on all different things such as economics, history, culture, religion, and gender. It is also a global appreciation for the differences and similarities.”

As Zimmerman highlighted, SAS is not only about traveling throughout 12 countries, but it is also about applying what students learn in their academic classes and making connections between the two. Zimmerman believes students make a commitment to experience what they study in the classroom when coming back and reflecting on those experiences.

“The travel and reflection should be connected to the course,” Zimmerman said. “It should be this three-part thing that repeats itself: study, experience, and reflect.”

Zimmerman traveled on the Spring 2007 and 2010 voyages as a faculty member, and she was the mental health counselor for the Summer 2013 voyage. Zimmerman shared that she could not have been more excited to receive the role and responsibilities as the Fall 2016 Academic Dean.  

“I am thrilled to be the dean of SAS because part of what I got to do was help hire the faculty,” Zimmerman said. “I feel like we have a fantastic faculty. I tried really hard to look for international individuals with diverse experiences from all over the world. I wanted to bring together people who are very student-oriented.”

Going into the semester, Dean Toni explained that she had many academic goals for the students of the Fall 2016 voyage.

“My goal from the beginning was to put together a faculty that was really strong in their disciplines and who could take the courses and make them fit the ports,” Zimmerman said. “Whether you are taking classes in political science or history or human sexuality, you are teaching your content but also pertaining the information to Ecuador and Peru and all of the other places we went to. It had to stay very itinerary-focused.”

Zimmerman said that she searched for ship faculty members who strive for inclusive excellence and truly understand diversity.

“Race, gender, socioeconomic class, and religion play into all of this,” Zimmerman said. “I wanted them to be people that would add to the shipboard community in a positive way. Those were my goals: to hire an excellent faculty and to nurture that faculty to do their best.”

Zimmerman describes how the most important aspect of SAS is the ship- the MV World Odyssey.

“Having the ship from day one to day 104 has been an encouragement for people to continue getting to know each other and not have closed-off friend groups too soon,” Zimmerman said. “The extended family dinners and the mix-it-up lunches help get people out of their comfort zones, while getting to know others that are different from themselves. I think inclusive excellence in which we are getting to know each other is something really important and also something to work on. I think this voyage has done a good job at this, but it is not easy and always needs to be worked on.”

Prior to this voyage, Zimmerman shared that she had never traveled through Latin America and was excited to explore what each country had to offer.

“Spending time in Peru and Ecuador, I feel like I have a much deeper appreciation for those cultures and that part of the world,” Zimmerman said. “It has truly had an immense impact on me.”

Zimmerman explained that it has been a blessing to experience SAS again with her husband and two daughters.

“My most memorable ports on this voyage were those I did impact programs for–the Berber village homestay in Morocco and the Peru homestay,” Zimmerman said. “It was amazing because you were able to be intimate and interact with the people who lived there. I felt the same way while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, visiting the Tostan NGO in Senegal, and attending the Brazil drum programs.”

What Zimmerman said she will miss most about the ship is being steps away from everything.

“I love that within steps we can have lunch, go to a lecture in Kaisersaal, or go get a haircut at the salon,” Zimmerman said. “I love that our community is a small floating community. Everything we need is right here in the middle of the ocean.”

Although the transition from the ship life to the reality of back home can be tough, her advice for students experiencing the last few days on the ship is to take adjusting one day at a time.

“Attend everything you can and help yourself transition because it can be tricky,” Zimmerman said. “If there is anything you wanted to say to anyone, whether it is to show gratitude or repair a conflict with someone, do it now and get it done. Last impressions are as good as first, so leave gracefully and gratefully.”

As we leave the ship gracefully, SAS students will be grateful for the academic team that guided us throughout an extraordinary voyage and helped us discovery a new appreciation for different cultures’ contributions to this extravagant world.

Written by Tayler RV, Staff Writer