The Spring 2024 Voyage has set sail! We’re already off to a busy start: classes are in session, student organizations are forming, and the debate between “Berlin or Lido?” is already echoing in the deck halls. As the community begins to settle into its sea legs, we connected with the person that unites all of the forces on this voyage: Executive Dean Marti Fessenden.
Executive Dean Marti will be sailing with Semester At Sea for the sixth time on Voyage 133. She has decades of experience in law, higher education administration, and nonprofit leadership. Her last voyage as Executive Dean was in 2019, and we’re more than excited to have her back on board.
Tell us about your role—what is the Executive Dean responsible for?
There are two parts. One was what I did getting ready to get here, and that was to be with the VOLT (Voyage Leadership Team) and get them acquainted with this magical thing we do. Now we’re at the part for me to sit back and watch them lead and build this community. The staff and faculty are creating an environment that students will never forget. We’ve got the professional piece together, so now it’s all about the students. Part of that is when the students start dropping by and talking about what’s happening, and how excited they are—it’s beautiful.
You mentioned the magic of this experience. What would you say makes it magical?
A lot of students pick this because it’s an amazing itinerary. For instance, on this voyage, we’re going to four African countries. That’s very special, and there’s a lot for us to learn about when the majority of us on the ship are white. There’s a lot of introspection to think about, and for our African American students, to consider what that means for them. So they think about the itinerary, and maybe that’s why they choose the voyage, but the magic sauce is what happens on the ship. You’ve noticed that all of us who stand before you are talking about this living-learning community and the intentionality around that community. The students, Lifelong Learners, companions, staculty (staff and faculty); everybody buys into this. They get on this ship and they’re like, “This is a special place and I have a part in making it special.”
It’s what happens on the ship that sneaks up on people, and that to me is the magic sauce.
What advice do you have for voyagers?
It’s to be all in. That’s right from the classes—Global Studies, for example. I mean I’m hoping they dive in. This course is going to be awesome, and it sets the stage for so many other things. My advice is just to be all in, and say, “Yes.” Anybody that wants to have a conversation, anybody that wants to sit with you, say yes. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the Lifelong Learners are dive-bombing tables like, “Can I sit with you,” and the students are saying, “Yes, come on in.” I want that energy and openness to be there the whole voyage.
What are your hopes for current and future voyagers?
The feeling on the ship is unparalleled. You will talk about this for the rest of your life. So what I hope is that voyagers can transition this back into their lives; and put this piece of the puzzle into a place that elevates their desire to improve the world. It sounds like pie in the sky, but there are a lot of alumni out there changing the world, making a difference, having so much more cultural understanding, and shedding their ethnocentric view. So for me, it’s integration. I want them to integrate what they’re about to experience in the next four months; have it be part of them, and have it be part of their choices going forward.
Now onto the stuff about you—what do you do for fun?
If you had a podcast, what would the topic be?
What are you grateful for?
Ha! Look at that, we worked this out, didn’t we? I’m most grateful for the ability to do this. It takes a lot to leave your job and do that, but who gets to do this? How lucky are we? I’m most grateful for being here.