As if Semester at Sea weren’t already cool enough, you should look at the roster of all the past and present notables who have sailed the open seas with the program. This past Enrichment Voyage, I was able to meet such acclaimed participants—from Valerie Biden-Owens to Tony Robbins’ son Jairek—but few people have quite as multifaceted a background as the man, the myth, the legend himself: Dr. Lloyd Lewan.
What makes this dashing dude from Denver such a fascinating story? Well, not only has Lloyd sailed as executive dean for more than 20 voyages throughout his career—but his history with the organization spans a half century; he was, after all, one of the original founders. (The lovely lady sitting with us above is none other than Betty Waldron, who along with her husband Dr. Milt, has nearly as lengthy a relationship with the program in various roles.)
The first attempt at a floating university was all the way back in 1877, but it failed. In 1926, the “true father of Semester at Sea, James Lowe, believed ships and ideas could be married,” Lloyd recalled, and so Lowe founded the University Travel Associates. Holland America gave the organization an old coal-burning ship called the SS Ryndam, and around 500 students sailed—for seven-and-a-half whole months. Then, the program stopped until 1958 when the University of Seven Seas was established; its first voyage took place in 1963.
The program ran under the auspices of Chapman College, where Lloyd taught. “I was just a so-so college professor. I was so bad, they made me a dean. I was so lousy, they put me at sea!” he joked. (Lloyd is rarely serious, I should note. I only wish I could share a fraction of the seafaring tales he shared at his story hour—they would shock you, I’m sure!) That was in part thanks to his Chapman colleague Dr. M.A. Griffiths, academic vice president of World Campus Afloat, who sent Lloyd to serve as one of the first deans.
The program ran several voyages under the name World Campus Afloat until 1970 when Holland America decided to no longer participate. So C.Y. Tung from Hong Kong, who Lloyd had never even met at the time, stepped in and bought the organization a ship: the Queen Elizabeth I. The QEI burned in a harbor in Hong Kong in 1971, and Tung purchased yet another ship, the Independence, which was renamed the Universe.
In 1975, Chapman decided holding onto the program was too financially risky, so they severed ties. Since neither were working at the time, Dr. John Tymitz and Griffiths opted to form a 501(c)3: the Institute for Shipboard Education.
The program has been through several academic sponsors and a couple of different ships since that time, but in 2004, it found a new home, the University of Virginia, as well as a new ship, the MV Explorer.
Lloyd has made several notable friends throughout his years with Semester at Sea, a few of whom include Fidel Castro, Desmond Tutu (who sits on the ISE board), Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Bill Cosby, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mikhail Gorbachev.
“The genius of Semester at Sea,” Lloyd told the audience, “is the juxtaposition of what the students gain in the classroom and what they experience in port.”
“The dream is alive—it’s alive and well—but most importantly we’ve just scratched the surface,” Lloyd concluded. “The world is interdependent; you cannot remain neutral of that reality.”