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Experience Guides Executive Dean Tom Jelke
Dr. Tom Jelke, Executive Dean of the Fall 2017 Voyage is a seasoned Semester at Sea veteran. Jelke first set sail in the Summer of 2002, and the current Fall Voyage marks his seventh with Semester at Sea, and second serving as Executive Dean.
All that sailing has given Jelke a unique perspective on the community that forms onboard the MV World Odyssey, because while each voyage is unique, Jelke’s experience lets him see the similarities that stitch each voyage together.
“Every time, the important things that happen are all the same. People, their minds are expanded, and they get closer to strangers than they ever have before,” said Jelke, who is sailing with his wife Rebecca and sons Parker and Julian. “The places that you go to may be different than prior voyages, and the ship may change, and the people change, but the experience of going around the world or to different countries, sharing that experience with people, having your mind opened up, that kind of thing is consistent. That is what makes it a special experience.”
In his role as Executive Dean, Jelke—who when not sailing around the world serves as President of T.Jelke Solutions, a consulting firm that provides strategic planning to universities and student organizations all over the United States—has spent the past two years assembling an administrative team to ensure that special experience for everyone on board.
The administrative team (which includes the student life teams, field office, and other positions) don’t instruct on the voyage, but Jelke and his staff are crucial to building the sense of community that draws Semester at Sea Voyagers together.
“The administrative team, our focus is to make sure that the faculty and the staff are one unit and that everybody on board has a seamless experience. We already know that students are going to see things they have never seen before. Our job is to make sure that they can process it well and that they can understand what they are about to go through, and that we celebrate with them. We are going around the world. Not a lot of people get to do that, and it’s going to be a life-changing event for everybody on board.”
Jelke uses the words life-changing often when discussing Semester at Sea, and with seven voyages under his belt, he’s had more than his share of mind-blowing experiences abroad. But the reason he keeps coming back to Semester at Sea specifically is that for Jelke and his fellow voyagers, the journey doesn’t end during disembarkation.
Instead, he has seen firsthand that students who sail together continue to learn and grow as a tight-knit community long after the voyage is over.
“Just because you step off the ship doesn’t mean the experience is over, and I think my favorite part, even thought it’s sometimes the saddest part, is watching people go because you can see that they’ve changed and you can see that this isn’t the end for them,” Jelke said. “That experience is something that lingers with them because they keep remembering it and they take their memories and their expanded experience and you hear about that later on. You hear about the students that decide for graduate school they’re going to study abroad, or for work try and go to another country and do something different, or people that get into civil service.”
“It continues intellectually, it continues emotionally, and it is the type of community that keeps going.”