Holland-America Line History – In 1926 the University World Cruise set out from the New York harbor (Hoboken) aboard the Holland America Line Ryndam for a seven month odyssey that visited 35 countries

A History of Shipboard Education


Nearly 100 years ago, the idea for a floating university that would travel the world became the passionate pursuit of James Edwin Lough, a psychology professor at New York University. He believed changes needed to be made to traditional teaching methods of American universities and soon became a leader in a new educational movement. Travel and first-hand experience, he felt, must be part of every scholar’s education and he set out to find others who shared this vision.


One of Lough’s most significant counterparts was Constantine Raises, a Greek student who supported the effort and assisted with necessary academic and itinerary preparations. Although the program was successfully planned, enrollments fell short of expectations and the sailing was postponed for one year. Embarrassed, New York University dropped its sponsorship of the program and James Lough took a leave of absence.

Despite the setback, Lough’s original vision eventually led to the successful maiden voyage of the SS Ryndam on September 18, 1926. Departing Hoboken, New Jersey with a capacity 504 students and a faculty and administrative staff of 63, Lough sailed as Dean and Raises served as Voyage Director. Because the program was no longer sponsored by a single school, colleges and universities were eager to participate, and applications poured in.

It was an exciting sailing. Imagine: the glorious SS Ryndam decorated with flags from stem to stern; thousands lining the Fifth Street pier to see off their loved ones; excited students waving from the decks-many got so caught up in the spirit of the moment that they tried to book passage themselves.

The students, representing 143 colleges, came from 40 states as well as Canada, Cuba, and Hawaii. During the 7 ½ month voyage, the ship covered 41,000 miles and visited 35 countries and more than 90 cities, including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Colombo, Bombay, Haifa, Venice, Gibraltar, Lisbon, and Oslo.

Public Rooms aboard the MS SEVEN SEAS – UNIVERSITY AT SEA

As the ship set sail, Lough tried to describe what lay ahead: “This shall not be a mere sightseeing tour, but a college year of educational travel and systematic study to develop an interest in foreign affairs, to train students to think in world terms, and to strengthen international understanding and good will.”

Upon their arrival home and again years later at their 1976 reunion, the students aboard described the sailing as “the greatest educational experience of our lives.”

Although the voyage was a great success, the concept of shipboard education did not fully take hold until the 1960s when it was resurrected as the University of the Seven Seas by a visionary California businessman named Bill Hughes. In February 1963, a charter contract was signed with the same shipping company that had provided the SS Ryndam—Holland America—and preparations begun to create a university aboard the newly named MS Seven Seas.


The stars aligned for the future of shipboard education on that voyage. Although the university was authorized by the state of California to issue transcripts and award diplomas, it was never fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. This prevented the university from assuring students that their credits would be transferable to, or even recognized by, any other school. However, a meeting on that voyage with prominent Chinese businessman C.Y. Tung ensured the continuation of the concept in spite of the demise of the University of the Seven Seas.

Eventually Chapman College in Orange, California provided the program with academic credentials and the new life it needed as World Campus Afloat. In 1970, the prophetic meeting of Bill Hughes and C.Y. Tung led to a profound and important relationship with the Tung family which continues to this day. C.Y. Tung provided the program with the ship and ship management expertise to launch the program into a new era. His fond saying that ships could transport more than cargo, they could carry ideas helped to bolster the stature and reputation of both shipboard education and global, comparative study as rigorous academic pursuits.

The program continued to gain momentum through the 1970s and 1980s. The University of Colorado-Boulder became the academic sponsor in 1977 and in 1978, a watershed year, both the non-profit Institute for Shipboard Education was formed and the program took the name Semester at Sea. In 1981, the program was brought to the University of Pittsburgh where it remained for 25 years.

In 2006, the program found a new home and academic sponsor at the University of Virginia. The institution’s belief in and support of Thomas Jefferson’s “Academical Village” made it the perfect fit for the program, which is now the premier global comparative study program in the world.

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