The Inner Voyage is Often the Most Challenging

rocky_one.jpgMany college professors explore the world from the podium. Not Rocky Rohwedder - he has taken his lectern on a global excursion.

Rohwedder, a professor and past chair of the Environmental Studies and Planning Department (pictured at right, teaching about renewable energy in Cadiz, Spain), has taught and conducted field research in more than twenty countries around the world, as a faculty member on three voyages of the Semester at Sea (SAS) program.

"I've witnessed first-hand the myriad of environmental and human challenges facing many countries, as well as some promising approaches to solving these challenges," he says.

He, his wife Shawn, and their young son Ryder J. Rohwedder, returned home in January from a 110-day voyage around the globe with SAS, which began in Nova Scotia and journeyed to Spain, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China, and Japan.

"Everyone of course takes away their own unique lessons from a voyage around the world combined with field studies in a dozen countries," says Rohwedder. "The most challenging aspect for me is what I'll call the "inner voyage. You can't travel around Ghana, India, South Africa, and Vietnam and not be impacted by the faces of poverty."


rocky_two.pngSAS takes college students and faculty aboard the MV Explorer, a 590-foot passenger ship specially outfitted to serve as a floating university. Together, they sail from port to port around the world, coupling field assignments and service-learning with rigorous coursework.

Left: Photovoltaic Farm near Seville, Spain. Photo by Keri Oberly.

Operated by the nonprofit Institute for Shipboard Education, SAS is academically sponsored by the University of Virginia. The program has educated more than 50,000 students and traveled to more than 60 countries since 1963.

Rohwedder, whose primary teaching and research areas are environmental science, sustainable development, green technologies, and digital communications, teaches courses aboard ship for the University of Virginia's schools of architecture, education, planning, and engineering.

rocky_four.jpgHis first SAS experience was during the spring of 2007, during which he had the privilege of teaching alongside Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The grandfatherly Tutu formed a special relationship with then-infant Ryder Rohwedder, the voyage's youngest shipmate.

Currently, Rohwedder (at right, teaching on a photovoltaic farm near Seville, Spain - photo by Keri Oberly) is working on a book titled "Ecological Handprints," which explores methods and models for meeting basic human needs while lowering humanity's ecological footprint.

A reframing of the ecological footprint concept, "Ecological Handprints" demonstrates interrelated approaches toward sustainable living, examples of which he found during his travels with SAS.

In Ghana, children play on energy-generating merry-go-rounds and swings, used to charge LED lanterns for nighttime studying. In Kenya, off-the-grid huts use simple solar panels to provide basic lighting.

rocky_three.png"Through my case study research on Ecological Handprints, I've directly witnessed model programs designed to both lift humanity and lower our footprint," says Rohwedder.

His sea legs are now rooted on the terra firma of Sonoma County -- though he has recently been hired, along with social activist Julian Bond and others, to serve as a lecturer on a winter break voyage up the Amazon -- but the "inner voyage" never truly ends for Rohwedder (at left, boarding the MV Explorer).

"I think we all come away with the same awareness," says Rohwedder. "Everywhere there are good people, who love their families, love their country, love their land, and have much to teach us."

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