Faculty Focus: Margarita Lenk – Semester at Sea

In Greece, students worked on case analysis in the open air of Pnyka, and presented their ideas in the same place where the world’s first outdoor democratic congress took place — in view of the Acropolis and the Temple of Athena.

Ahh… a study-abroad trip with classes set both on a cruise ship and on land in some of the world’s most famous and most beautiful locations. Sounds like a dream come true — and it is — but it’s also incredibly hard work.

Associate Professor of Accounting Margarita Lenk spent 18 months preparing to teach as a faculty member for her recent Semester at Sea. “That was intense,” she says. “Finding all the data required to explain how accounting, entrepreneurism and business ethics work in so many different countries.”

The Fall 2016 voyage took about 560 student participants from 70 countries, to visit nations all over the world. The itinerary included Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Brazil, Trinidad, Peru, and Ecuador – taking the group across the Atlantic ocean (during the U.S. presidential election), and through the Panama Canal.

Lenk taught courses in Financial Accounting, Entrepreneurship, and Business Ethics. And each class session featured direct ties, from lecture content to the country the students were about to visit.

The experience was both incredibly challenging and endlessly fascinating, for teachers and students alike. “Every day on the ship, there was intensive teaching from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” she says. “These classes are deeply integrated, and faculty are very intertwined with student life. So from a teaching perspective, it’s for professors who really enjoy that type of intensity.”

“Lifelong Learners” also joined in on the trip. These individuals use Semester at Sea programs as their own opportunities to travel, while giving back through guest lectures. On Lenk’s trip, these Lifelong Learners included Conrad Hermann (an investment banker from Silicon Valley), and Elaine Church, a retired PwC partner from Washington D.C., who worked on the U.S. Congress committee to create pension legislation.

Learning in Trinidad

On land, students had 5 days at each port, with on-site excursions led by the professors. Lenk herself led dozens of these excursions.

In Trinidad, for instance, she took her students to the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School for an accounting class and lecture from a top economist based there. “He explained to us,” she notes, “that the GDP in Trinidad is 300 percent higher than in other Caribbean islands, due to the fact that they have oil reserves there. However, they have recently learned that these reserves will only last ten more years.” So the students got to learn about, and discuss potential solutions to making up for the future loss of this valuable resource.

In addition, her class heard from the head of the nation’s accounting regulation board. “He talked to us about why they have adopted accounting standards there,” says Lenk. “And we also heard from a local sociologist who explained the ramifications on the people who live and work there.”

Students were then taken for a visit to the local KPMG office in Trinidad. “They gave us a four-hour presentation on professionalism, and it was very powerful,” she notes. “We were so honored that KPMG took the time to work with us there.”

Other Rich, Hands-On Learning Opportunities

Every port provided similar educational opportunities. Lenk says the Semester at Sea program currently has relationships built with 250 universities — so students are able to meet with important scholars and business people, everywhere they go.

In Greece, their Business Ethics field class took them to the ALBA Graduate Business School where the met with a top agricultural economist, Maria Ines Carpi. There, they learned about the country’s approach to issues of land and water use, pesticides, GMOs, the Russian embargo, and the growing popularity of fake “Greek” products (like yogurt).

In Morocco, students took on the role of advisors, helping six startup businesses prepare for their appearance at the International Renewable and Sustainable Energy Conference in Marrakech. “With the consultation,” Lenk says, “these entrepreneurs were completely prepared in all areas of business development: financial risk, operations, and more.”

Lessons for Life

For Lenk, other instructors, and hundreds of students, the Semester at Sea provided an unmatched learning and teaching opportunity. “The globalization of content, flipping the classroom, and the level of student engagement are things I’ll bring with me as I continue teaching at CSU,” says Lenk, noting that the insights she gained have given her ideas for new research as well.

Once she returned, she said, “It was really good to be home. It’s a long time to be away, and I’m always grateful to return to CSU.”

Some of the Sights from Semester at Sea

The Semester at Sea is all about having an intensive, immersive learning opportunity that offers students and unmatched opportunities to learn about the global economy. During the Fall 2016 semester, about 20 CSU students joined Lenk for the trip. Along the way, the group was able to see many world-famous sights. Here are just a few:

  • Greek islands and ruins
  • La Sagrada Familia Cathedral and other Gaudi architecture in Spain
  • Rick’s Café in Casablanca
  • The Atlas Mountains
  • Machu Picchu, Peru
  • Galapagos Islands
  • Iguazu Falls and the Amazon River in Brazil
  • Playa Santa Teresa in Costa Rica