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Meet Marti Fessenden, Semester at Sea’s Spring 2019 Executive Dean
Returning to the Semester at Sea team for her fifth voyage, Executive Dean Marti Fessenden comes to the Spring 2019 Voyage ready for the adventure ahead. She brings more than 30 years experience in law, higher education administration, and non-profit leadership to her role as executive dean. Marti’s college administration career began at Emory University where she held several campus-life administration positions before leaving to start her law career in Philadelphia. Throughout her years in legal practice, Marti concurrently remained involved in non-profit leadership and higher education.
Marti has a wealth of international travel and study abroad experience and will have visited more than 35 countries at the conclusion of the Spring 2019 Voyage. For fun, Marti is an NCAA and high school women’s lacrosse official, where she attempts to chase amazing lacrosse athletes up and down the field. She is happy to be sailing with Semester at Sea again with her wife and 15-year-old daughter along for the adventure.
Get to know Marti even better below!
Q: Could you describe what the role of an executive dean does on the voyage? What does your day-to-day look like?
The executive dean is the chief administrator for the voyage with oversight responsibility for all aspects of the shipboard campus and program. During days at sea, I meet daily with the deans and leadership team so that all of us remain informed and actively engaged in sustaining an exceptional living-learning community. I am accessible daily to all students, faculty, and staff through participation in classes, programs, mealtime conversations, and field programs. The meaningful chance interactions that happen within the community, whether on the ship or in-country, are part and parcel to Semester at Sea’s experiential education model.
Q: This is your fifth voyage. What motivates you to continue sailing around the world with Semester at Sea?
The uniqueness and power of the program. You would be hard-pressed to find Semester at Sea alums who left any voyage thinking, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” In fact, oodles of voyagers would love to sail again if they could. Our alumni network is so engaged and supportive, which shows what a strong impact the program has on people’s lives!
Q: What is the most memorable experience you’ve had as Executive Dean on your previous voyage?
There are too many to count! I really don’t have a most memorable moment but I do have the overwhelming feeling of gratitude for sharing these experiences with students, Lifelong Learners, and my faculty and staff.
Q: If you were to describe Semester at Sea in one word, what would it be and why?
Transformative. The secret sauce is the ship, which I affectionately describe as the “13th country that you didn’t see coming.” All students are thrilled when they look at the destination countries visited on Semester at Sea itineraries (and they should be), but the magic happens in the bonds of friendship formed while sailing. Having the close community on-board gives those relationships space to allow for growth and cultural understanding.
Q: When choosing a study abroad program, students have a lot of options. What do you see as the value of Semester at Sea’s comparative approach to international education versus an immersive one-country model?
I want to start by saying any and all quality study abroad programs are valuable. Given the impact of globalization, some sort of study abroad experience is increasingly becoming central to higher education’s mission. But when you consider the one-of-a-kind comparative approach of Semester at Sea, it allows an instant and intensive examination of distinct but connected peoples, cultures, economies, and worldviews. And what makes that examination so special is that it takes place on a ship, where students, faculty, and staff have become close by living and sharing together. It’s a recipe for incredible success in international education.
Q: What is it like having your family sail with you?
We feel like the luckiest family in the world to be able to experience this together. All three of us can hardly contain our excitement! We have our own mini intra-family comparative education experience as we share our perspectives with each other throughout the voyage and after. There have been many times when our daughter’s perspective has been enlightening to both of us and we all learn from one another.
Q: Describing a program like Semester at Sea can be challenging because it is such a unique experience. When people ask you how your voyage went, what do you tell them?
We’ll tell anyone who will listen that our voyage was incredible! Each and every voyage genuinely is incredible. Traveling within the countries is the easiest part of the voyage to describe because it is the part of the experience to which most people can relate. It’s not uncommon though to lose folks when we wax poetic about the community, although I’ve met plenty of alumni who are happy to talk about that.
Q: What is your advice for students sailing on this year’s voyage?
Just dive in. Show up at embarkation open and excited to learn. These will be some of the most interesting and exciting 106 days of your life!