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Stetson business profs join Semester At Sea

Gary Oliphant, left, with students in Beijing, China’s Tiananmen Square in 2012. Rebecca Oliphant is pictured wearing sunglasses, third from right.

Gary Oliphant, left, with students in Beijing, China’s Tiananmen Square in 2012. 

Two adventurous Stetson University business professors have embarked on a round-the-world voyage aboard a sea-going university campus in the company of extraordinary global leaders. Rebecca and Gary Oliphant are now in the Eastern Pacific spending their sabbaticals as sea-going faculty on the 590-foot MV Explorer. They and their 635 students on board will call at 16 ports in 12 countries over 106 days.

It’s just the kind of international experience that the School of Business Administration encourages for students and faculty. In the last three years, the school’s study opportunities abroad increased sharply as student groups visited more than 15 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas, some multiple times.

Both Oliphants joined the voyage with great eagerness.

“Very, very excited,” said Gary, just before leaving DeLand. “How many times do you get to go on a voyage around the world? How neat is that?”

“I’m excited more than anything,” said his wife, Becky, sweeping aside anxieties. “I know nothing about ships, but I am constantly looking for new experiences and this definitely fits the bill.”

Gary joined Stetson’s faculty in 1995, a year before his wife. While at sea, he will teach classes on emerging markets, consumer behavior and project management. Becky’s classes will be on organizational behavior and international marketing.

Both professors are especially enthusiastic about meeting government and business leaders from so many countries who spend time with MV Explorer passengers. They’ll also work with a remarkable array of international entrepreneurs — such as the founder of Priceline and WordPress, a Google vice president and especially South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu — who mentor the students on board.

A man of immense moral authority, Tutu was a leading figure in the fight against Apartheid, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and has been recognized with many of the world’s highest humanitarian honors. Tutu, who lectured at Stetson in 1991, will lecture and mentor for more than half the voyage.

The Semester At Sea program seeks to instill greater global understanding through experiencing the perspectives, similarities and interdependence of humanity’s communities and cultures. The Oliphants embrace that notion.

“I believe in a borderless world and global citizenship,” said Gary, who chairs the Decision and Information Sciences Department. “What happens in one country has an impact on other countries. My biggest joy is to go somewhere I have never been and to immerse myself in that culture and customs. This trip will bombard my senses.”

Experiences during this voyage will enrich their future classroom lessons in innumerable ways, the two said.

“Unless you actually experience that which you think you might know, you can’t really know,” said Becky, a marketing professor who leads the International MBA Program. She has organized and led student groups to dozens of destinations on three continents and is a dedicated advocate for student travel.

“When you visit another country you see what we have here that we take for granted, but you also see how happy and great other places and people are as well,” she said. “That is perhaps the biggest thing I have learned from traveling. We don’t have the lock and key for everything in this country. Some of the poorest countries have the happiest people.”

International travel is a powerful catalyst to enrich students’ lives, said Gary.

“It expands your world view — you come back a different person,” he said. “It challenges your beliefs and value system, it increases independence and maturity and prepares you for this increasingly global world.”

Travel holds all those benefits for faculty, too, he said, and helps them understand and relate to diverse and multicultural classrooms: “How can we ask students to be global when we are not?”

Vicarious voyagers can follow the Oliphants around the world by checking the blog, “Dr. Becky’s Travels,” being kept especially for two classes at Southwestern Middle School in DeLand. From the first entry: “I have all my shots (yes there are a lot of them). I have my malaria pills, my seasickness pills, my sense of adventure and my sense of humor and flexibility.”

The Semester At Sea program is administered by the Institute for Shipboard Education, an educational nonprofit founded in 1963 and based in Virginia. About 40 faculty members sail with the Oliphants from Ensenada, Mexico, to Japan before slowly skipping down the long edge of Asia then springing across the Indian Ocean to Africa, edging north around that continent, passing through the Gibraltar Strait and debarking in Barcelona, Spain, on April 25.

By Ronald Williamson