Gaither Serving as Executive Dean of Semester at Sea

Kenn Gaither, assistant professor in the School of Communications, will be serving as executive dean during the spring session of Semester at Sea, a 100-day educational and study abroad program for students. The University of Virginia sponsors the floating university that is open to students nationwide. Gaither has participated in the program seven times previous to this spring’s semester voyage.

As executive dean, Gaither is responsible for the programming aspects of the voyage. He will oversee the ship and the various departments, while serving as a liaison between the ship-board community and the institute for ship-board education. He is the ultimate decision-maker for issues that arise aboard the ship.

About 750 students will participate in the program, and they will earn 15 credits that can be transferred back to their undergraduate institution. They will be leaving Jan. 17 from the Bahamas. During the course of their travels, they will visit Puerto Rico, Brazil, South America, Mauritius, India, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Vietnam before returning to Miami May 9. While the students are at sea, they will take classes every day. At port, students will go on field trips that complement their course study.

“The ship typically goes to places not common to study abroad,” Gaither said.

Students chosen for the trip must have good academic and behavioral records at their institutions. Most students have a GPA of higher than 3.0. Faculty members apply to UVA and are chosen by the academic dean of a particular semester at sea.

The vessel that carries the hundreds of students, about 65 faculty and staff members and crew is retrofitted so that it feels like a university campus. It is equipped with eight classrooms, two dining halls, a library, computer labs and a student union.

“It’s a transformative experience,” Gaither said. “How can students not be affected by going to 10 different countries in a span of 100 days, seeing cultures that are dramatically different and dynamic. That’s one of the strengths of the program.

“Many students have never seen a world like this before. The magic of the program occurs from leaving the Bahamas to what happens in the next 100 days. They’re part of a community, and the heart of that community is the academic programs and the shared experiences.”


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