Beyond The Hill : All aboard: Students at Saint Mary’s College in Maryland spend semester cruise ship
A group of students at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland are living life at sea, literally. The college, bordered on one side by the St. Mary’s River, is using the Sea Voyager cruise ship as a dorm for the second half of the fall 2011 semester.
A group of 350 students at Saint Mary’s were forced to move to hotels because of mold infestation in two of the college’s residence halls. The mold is a result of the one of the wettest Septembers on record for the region — 29 out of 30 days of September were either overcast or raining, said Joanne Goldwater, associate dean of students and director of residence life at St. Mary’s.
‘It is unheard of in the Mid-Atlantic,’ Goldwater said. ‘We just don’t get that kind of weather here.’
Two hundred and forty students live on the cruise ship, while the other 110 live in alternative on-campus housing, where rooms meant for two or three people have been transformed into rooms for three or four, Goldwater said.
Students were originally relocated to three different hotels. The hotels that could accommodate numbers of their size were all more than 10 miles away. Students would go back and forth between the hotels and campus with university shuttles.
The shuttles made it difficult for students to plan study groups, classes, extracurricular activities and time with friends, Goldwater said.
Having the students living off campus was disruptive to that lifestyle, Goldwater said.
‘We are a residential liberal arts college,’ Goldwater said. ‘If the students aren’t on campus, it’s not really the residential experience that they signed up for.’
The residence life department’s main priority was to find somewhere for the students to live that was closer to campus because of the difficulties, Goldwater said. They found this solution in the Sea Voyager, an opportunity they learned about from alumni of the sailing program.
Students such as Emily Burdeshaw appreciate being back on campus and the uniqueness of their temporary housing situation.
Burdeshaw, a residence hall coordinator on the ship, said she has enjoyed hearing the waves on the way to class and seeing the sun set on the river.
The students are not getting the same perks that cruise-goers usually get, such as nightly entertainment, pools, spas or high-end dining. Staff transformed the dining into a large study space and computer lab and created a social space and gym.
But, they aren’t living without any perks. The residents have stewards who change their linens and towels biweekly and provide laundry service as well. The ship also has a captain who oversees the operations of the ship.
The response to the cruise ship dormitory is overwhelmingly positive, Goldwater said. They even had requests from students living in regular dorms to switch to the cruise ship.
‘Most students were just happy to be back on campus again,’ Goldwater said. ‘Now they don’t have to miss their study groups, their activities — they’re back on campus with their friends and faculty.’
Students who were uncomfortable living on the water were given options for expanded housing on campus.Despite the positive response, Goldwater said that they do not plan on using the ship as a dorm once the mold issues are fixed, and students should be able to move into their regular residence halls at the start of the spring semester.
‘I don’t want to go through this ever again,’ Goldwater said. ‘This has been really hard on our students and our staff. I would like to not have to do it, but it is a creative problem-solving venture, and if we had to do something like this again, I could see us doing it if there was a ship available.’
Although students are only living on the ship for about a month and a half, they believe it will make memories that will last for a lifetime.
‘It’s definitely been an interesting experience,’ said Andrew VanDeusen, a resident adviser on the ship. ‘It’s something fun to talk to your friends about, or if you’re meeting people in the future you can say, ‘One time, I lived on a cruise ship.”
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