All aboard! CSU professor leading fall voyage of Semester at Sea

Where can you experience 13 cities and 12 countries in 104 days, all while earning a semester’s worth of credit toward your degree? Semester at Sea, a floating campus aboard a 575-foot ship, offers a global perspective to students embarking on this unique study abroad program, now the academic partner of Colorado State University.

June 1 marked the start of the exciting partnership between the Institute for Shipboard Education, parent organization to the Semester at Sea program, and CSU. Seasoned voyager, professor in human development and family studies, and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar Toni Zimmerman sails with CSU’s first Semester at Sea in Fall 2016 as academic dean.

“ISE is pleased to have Toni Zimmerman as the academic dean on the first voyage under the new CSU/ISE partnership,” said Alicia Skinner Cook, senior academic officer for the Semester at Sea program and CSU professor emerita. “Her enthusiasm, commitment to students, and collaborative spirit are unmatched.”

A seaworthy dean

Zimmerman set sail on her first Semester at Sea voyage in Spring 2007. She wanted a chance to teach abroad and saw this as an amazing opportunity. Hired as faculty aboard the ship, Zimmerman taught three courses that she tailored to emphasize a comparative learning lens.

Toni Zimmermanin Morocco
Toni Zimmerman

“It took a tremendous amount of preparation because you have to apply the topics you are teaching to new locations, but I loved the preparation and the process of learning,” said Zimmerman. “It brought together many things I love: teaching, global learning, and social justice.” She enjoyed the living and learning environment with the students aboard the ship and became a passionate advocate for the Semester at Sea program.

Three years later, Zimmerman applied for another voyage and navigated the globe again in Spring 2010. She knew through experience that she could both give and receive in terms of her teaching. “It was equally as wonderful as the first voyage; I learned and grew so much and loved watching the students grow!” she said.

Zimmerman found that her interactions with students and staff from all over the world enhanced her teaching back at CSU’s campus, giving it a broader, global perspective.

In Summer 2013, Zimmerman, who is a professor in CSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program, joined Semester at Sea as a mental health professional. Throughout her time with Semester at Sea, Zimmerman has also volunteered as a member of the faculty and staff council within Semester at Sea’s alumni association councils.

Exploring new horizons

ISE was previously associated with the University of Virginia, but when Zimmerman heard CSU was in the running to become Semester at Sea’s new academic partner, she couldn’t have been more thrilled. “With CSU being a place focused on global social justice, I felt this was going to be a great fit,” said Zimmerman.

It took a tremendous amount of work to transition the Semester at Sea program from Virginia to Fort Collins – not just the geographical transition, but also solidifying the academic courses for the students on the ship. When the program was looking for someone to serve as academic dean for the first CSU voyage, Zimmerman’s sturdy sea legs made her a logical choice to captain the educational side of the ship.

“I’ve been blessed to be part of the transition. So many people between CSU and Semester at Sea are collaborating to bring this to life,” said Zimmerman, “and I am so, so fortunate to be asked to be the first academic dean of Semester at Sea at CSU.”

Semester at Sea consists of a 14-week term with about 50 days onboard the MV World Odyssey where students take courses that have been tailored by faculty to incorporate country-specific content.

“The Semester at Sea curriculum, composed of CSU courses, is innovative and incorporates active learning methodologies,” said Cook. “The program cultivates intercultural competence and global learning for students through a wide range of high impact experiences both in and out of the classroom.”

For example, every course features a field class, where the students and one faculty member explore a topic in port together. Students spend about 50 days on land in various countries where they engage in experiential learning and explore different cultures.

CSU will be well represented on the voyage when it sets sail Sept. 10 from Hamburg, Germany, for the Mediterranean, then on to Africa as well as Central and South America. Twenty-four CSU students will be among the 500-plus from the U.S. and around the world sailing on the Fall 2016 voyage. In addition, five CSU faculty, one CSU librarian, and several CSU staff will be part of the more than 100 international faculty, staff, and crew on this journey of a lifetime.

The Fall 2016 voyage will also feature two CSU special guests serving as interport lecturers. Mary Vogl will join the voyage prior to the stop in Senegal and Mohammed Hirchi prior to Morocco. They will share their expertise and knowledge of these unique ports with the students on the ship before docking. Both are faculty in CSU’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

Learn more about upcoming voyages with Semester at Sea, as well as financial aid information, at The CSU Education Abroad office is also an excellent resource for interested students and has information on Semester at Sea financial aid designated specifically for CSU students.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Melissa Leavenworth contributed to this story.