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All Hands on Deck Donor Profile: Cindy Zomchek & Jim Shirley

SAS Offers a Family Affair

For Cindy Zomchek and Jim Shirley, Semester at Sea (SAS) represents more than a voyage or vacation cruise. It has been and continues to be a way of life and a family affair.  

Zomchek initially learned about SAS when she was a resident hall director at the University of San Francisco in 1984. “I went to a regional conference and overheard two people talking about this program that offered a voyage around the world, and I asked them to tell me more. My interest was piqued, so I applied the next year, and got hired as a resident director for the Fall 1986 Voyage.”

“From the moment I saw the ship and sailed on that voyage, I have been involved. I fell in love with this program and it changed my perspective and gave added value to my whole world,” Zomchek says. After her initial voyage in 1986, Zomchek accepted the Director of Student Life position in fall 1993.

Zomchek and Jim Shirley married in 1999 and the SAS bug got him, too, he says. “Cindy was already involved with SAS and it was clearly her passion. I was sad that, in my college days, I never considered studying abroad. SAS presented a new approach to life for me.” So he and Cindy encouraged Jim’s oldest daughter Courtney (who was in her early 20’s) to sail on the Fall 1999 “Road Rules” Voyage before graduating from college. Jim signed up for his initial trip as a partial voyager in spring 2000. “I hadn’t traveled much before then, but it was evident that a strong community was being built on that ship, and I was hooked.”

“Just after Courtney returned from her voyage, Jim’s youngest daughter Addie, who was 13 at the time, sailed with me as a dependent,” Zomchek recalls. “We felt it was important for the girls to broaden their horizons and experience firsthand the program we were so passionate about.”

Shirley appreciated what his daughters experienced. “It was the safest environment for them and my 13-year-old daughter blossomed more on the voyage than any other time in her life. The crew adopts everyone on the ship as their family and goes above and beyond to create professional relationships that show the voyagers are cared for. My daughters both felt that.”

Zomchek continued as a staff member on several voyages, taking on the role of Director of Student Life and Dean of Students with additional voyages in spring 2000, spring 2004, summer 2005, fall 2008, and spring 2010. Zomchek most recently served as Lifelong Learning Coordinator in spring 2015. But, even when she wasn’t in a paid position, she understood the importance of giving back as a volunteer, a donor, or as an active member of the alumni boards. She credits Shirley for her continuing efforts. “Collectively, I was away for the equivalent of more than two years on voyages while he managed our home front. Without Jim’s support, I couldn’t have sailed on any of those voyages.”

Shirley says it was easy because of the value SAS provides. “It opens people’s minds and creates a cross-cultural awareness, as opposed to our narrow view in our own little world. It’s life-changing to be able to experience so many different cultures and perspectives. I’m an old construction guy and very conservative, so this was an eye opener for me. Semester at Sea is the true definition of a global community.”

Zomchek and Shirley have brought several of their nine grandchildren to the ship and hope they’ll choose to sail on voyages in the future. They also remain committed to providing financial support to SAS along the way. Their plan is to continue that effort in a meaningful way, Shirley says. “An important part of our estate planning is the creation of scholarship options that will last.”

Zomchek agrees. “Everybody I’ve sailed with generally says SAS is one of the most life-changing, impactful experiences they’ve ever had. It creates understanding and a human connection that is invaluable in our world today. We want others to have the means to enjoy this incredible opportunity.”


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