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July 18, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU professor spends semester at sea

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Abbas Noorbakhsh, Slippery Rock University School of Business professor, has found the perfect sabbatical: He'll use his time teaching three, semester-long business courses to some 75 engaged, challenging students - aboard the seven-deck, 25,000-ton, nine-classroom cruise ship MV Explorer as it sails the Atlantic Ocean.

The classes are part of the Semester at Sea floating college program operated by the University of Virginia.

As part of the assignment, Noorbakhsh's students, along with some 600 other U.S. and international students, will spend their academic time on the Atlantic Ocean. The embarkation will be from Southampton, England, moving on to:

•St. Petersburg, Russia,

•Gdansk, Poland,

•Rostock, Germany,

•Kiel Canal Transit, Germany,

•Antwerp, Belgium,

•Le Havre, France,

•Dublin, Ireland,

•Lisbon, Portugal,

•Cadiz, Spain,

•Casablanca, Morocco,

•Dakar, Senegal,

•Takoradi, Ghana,

•Tema (Accra), Ghana,

•Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,

•Salvador, Brazil,

•Bridgetown, Barbados,

•Havana, Cuba, and ending at

•Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"It was by chance that my roommate while I was in China was from the NYU and had been involved in the Semester at Sea program. He gave me the details about the program, and I thought it would be the opportunity of a lifetime, so I followed up," Noorbakhsh, who has been at SRU since 1990, said.

The program, titled "Atlantic Exploration" runs Aug. 23-Dec. 8.

While aboard the MV Explorer, the SRU professor will teach "International Financial Management," "Managerial Finance" and "International Economics" courses as one of 35-40 faculty members on the ship. Students participating in the program take a full semester's worth of classes, then use the various port stops to back up and expand their classroom learning, similar to SRU's spring break study abroad programs that involve classroom work on campus, then a 10-day international visit related to the course.

The syllabi for Noorbakhsh's courses have been approved and are posted for students to review before they sign up for classes.

In cases where the ship stops at more than one port in the same country, the students and their faculty instructors can travel inland, arranging to meet and re-board the ship at its second port-of-call, Noorbakhsh said.

The college course portion of the operation requires a staff of 15, including a dean, but the ship carries a crew of some 200 to maintain operations, including housekeeping, dining facilities and overall operations.

As part of their learning experience, Noorbakhsh's students will take part in "field experiences," including a visit to the Hamburg Stock Exchange during the stop in Germany and the International Economics class will go to Brussels for a visit to the European Parliament.

"We have arranged guided academic tours and lectures as part of the visits," Noorbakhsh said. "My International Economics class students will visit some of the multi-national corporation headquarters in Rio de Janerio, Brazil."

In addition to traditional students, the shipboard classes are often joined by "lifelong learners," Noorbakhsh said. "They are often retired executive officers or government and community leaders who are interested in both continuing their education and sharing their wealth of experiences as part of the class. Those running the program say the lifelong learners, who don't take the classes for college credit, provide great opportunities for the students to network and bring lively discussion to the class. Their tuition often helps subsidize the students' costs."

As part of the field experiences, students are expected to write and submit papers about the experience. "Because the students who participate in this program are 'go-getters,' and because they will be visiting various locations, I expect the classroom discussions to be very lively. I am looking forward to that," Noorbakhsh said.

In addition, the program often includes visits to cultural locations not directly associated with a class, but located near the various ports for the students to join.

"Sometimes the visits are related to social activities, and that can be a big part during our stops in Africa," Noorbakhsh said.

Technically the SRU professor has been hired as one of the three business faculty for the fall semester voyage by the University of Virginia to teach the classes. Participating students will receive University of Virginia credit for their coursework, which they can then transfer to their home university.

"They look for faculty who are not only available, but who have a global understanding, have traveled extensively and who may speak other languages. Faculty from all over the world apply for the teaching positions. I applied about a year ago, and it was a relatively big pool," Noorbakhsh said.

"The fact that Slippery Rock University granted me a sabbatical for the project and the fact I have traveled extensively might have been instrumental in my selection," he said.

"Because of the course itinerary, the on-board classes and the variety of participating students, the project becomes a teaching ground for global understanding," Noorbakhsh said.

The Semester at Sea program offers courses in art, history, mathematics, anthropology and other academic areas, like a liberal arts college, he said. Students order their textbooks in advance and many include digital e-text versions so they can easily carry them off the ship.

The MV Explorer has a 7,000-book library as well as computer labs.

Noorbakhsh said because the ship is at sea, Internet and online-type connections are "limited and expensive. But we will have email."

In addition to the ship's classroom, there is a University Union area onboard where students can gather and relax. Faculty offer guest lectures as part of the extra-curricular activities.

He said that he is encouraged by the student engagement factor, finding that students are already emailing him about such ideas as starting an investment club as part of their studies.

Student costs for the program range from approximately $24,000-$30,000 depending on accommodations. Loans, financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.