Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Executive Director of the Lory Student Center Mike Ellis took the 2018 Spring Semester to voyage around the world as the Dean of Student Life on the Semester at Sea ‘s ship The World Odyssey
by Jayla Hodge
Running a building as large and as functional as the Lory Student Center is no small task. While the responsibility is held by many departments, the symbolical captain of the LSC is its Executive Director. Mike Ellis has served as the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Executive Director of Lory Student Center for more than 18 years. He is an essential part of the LSC and Colorado State community, and this past semester, he made a bold move – to voyage around the world with Semester at Sea.
Leaving a landlocked mentality, his home, and his role at Colorado State behind was no easy feat. While it was a smooth semester here at the LSC without the director, he was still missed. Now he has returned home with new experiences, lessons, and tales from 11 countries, 14 cities and four continents. And he is ready to share.
Life at Sea
In the beginning of January, Ellis, with his wife and son, packed their bags, locked up their house, and said goodbye to their dog. After a year of preparation, they were on their way to San Diego to embark on a Semester at Sea voyage.
“My interest was the opportunity to travel all around the world with students. I had the opportunity to listen and see the world through the eyes of students, students from different parts of the world themselves,” he said.
He would also play a responsible role onboard The World Odyssey as the Dean of Student Life, a job with duties not much different than his back at the LSC.
“The skills and experiences I have were all transferable. The ship itself is like a Lory Student Center but on the water,” Ellis said. “The mission on the ship was to welcome, engage, and affirm every single student, and I like to think that’s the same mission for the Lory Student Center, that every student that comes through the doors is welcomed, affirmed, and engaged in some capacity within the CSU community.”
The voyage was 101 days and approximately half of that was spent on the ship covering about 28,000 nautical miles. The other half was in port at 13 land locations.
“People start to refer to the ship as a port, it becomes the ’14th’ port in a way. The ship itself definitely became a favorite port of mine. The comfort, the people, and the learning that occurs with this incredible group of people from across the world make it amazing,”Ellis said.
Letting go to Embrace Life
Letting go and living in the moment was a central theme in Ellis’s journey. He even partook in the King Neptune Day celebrations and a line crossing ceremony that involves the tradition of shaving your head when you cross the equator. He didn’t just shave his own head, but the heads of other students. Talk about letting go.
Even with so much adventure and excitement, there are always challenges that come with big adjustments.
“The biggest challenge for me was just being away from the normal everyday life. There is a period of time where you just have to let that go. Just allowing myself to be immersed in the moment and not think about what’s happening back at home, on campus, or what’s going on in the Student Center. It was not an easy thing to do.”Ellis said the experience of visiting the Great Wall of China really embodied the essence of his travels.
“We were hiking with a group of students for two days along the Great Wall. It was incredible. As we stood on top of it, I just pinched myself and said, ‘Wow, am I really standing here?’ It was something I never thought I would do in my life,” he said.
Lessons From the Voyage
Coming from a small community like Fort Collins to larger cities and countries around the world such as Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, Japan, Morocco, and Portugal as a bit of a culture shock for Ellis. During his time as a seafarer, he said he came across both positive and negative experiences.
“There were experiences where you would have this mix of emotions – watching happiness in people’s eyes and knowing the privilege we have living in the U.S. that we don’t always recognize until you go to a place like that, and see children living in proverty,” Ellis said. “It’s hard trying to figure out how to carry that, especially in a way that actually makes a difference.”
There were students from 48 states and more than 35 countries. For students, coming from different cultures and walks of life, the power of the trip was to see and experience a wide range of cultures, and for them to grasp the privilege of being able to do so from a ship like The World Odyssey, Ellis said.
“Just the ability to be on a ship of that magnitude sailing around the world brings with it privilege that we had as participants and voyagers on the ship that others living in those countries did not have. I think whether students want to acknowledge it or not, they had to by just being present. That also includes nonstudents like myself.”
“It is possible for anyone that has the desire, ambition, and creativity to put together resources to sail around the world. You have to do it; you have to experience it. The vitality and perspective, it’s an investment worth doing.”
The biggest lesson of all: You never know as much as you think you know about people and places until you get there and experience it. Ellis emphasized that everyone, and particularly students, should take the opportunity to travel and to truly expand their world perspective.
“Going back to the Great Wall story. It was a relatively short time and there were millions of people involved. You could read about [the Great Wall] all you want, but until you get there and see it you don’t comprehend the magnitude,” Ellis said enthusiastically. “I think this is true with so many different things, whether it is the Great Wall or children playing in Ghana, to see and experience the people, to touch it, smell it, to hear it, just everything. You can’t get it any other way.”
Details of the Voyage
The ship, The World Odyssey, consisted of nine decks, including an engine room, kitchens and storage, the Captain’s Bridge, recreational areas, meeting rooms, and sleeping cabins. Just imagine – the LSC on the water – only with sleeping cabins and surrounded by the sea! CSU’s Principles of Community served as a grounding philosophy for the Student Life team, with a goal of “welcoming, engaging, and affirming” every single student on the ship, not unlike their mission at the LSC.
By the numbers:
- 101 days
- 536 students
- 77 faculty and staff
- 177 crew
- 13 ports, 11 countries, 14 cities and 4 continents
- Students from 48 states, 33 countries and 193 universities
- $2.5 million in financial aid awarded
About the Lory Student Center
The Lory Student Center is proud to foster an environment that honors and respects all members of the University community, and creates a friendly, inviting destination for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests. We are proud to be the gathering place for the campus community, and to offer vibrant social, educational, recreational, and cultural activities that stimulate discussion and debate.