Many students have heard of Semester at Sea from classmates for years, but that’s not the case for every student at every school—notably at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). For example, Inita Knox, of Florida A&M University, and Kelsey Riley, from Xavier University of Louisiana, are the first students from each of their universities to sail on Semester at Sea. Likewise, both are also the first recipients of a full scholarship from the Tom Joyner Foundation's unique partnership with Semester at Sea, designed to increase global exchange opportunities for HBCU students nationwide.
The Tom Joyner Foundation, an educational non-profit, strives to promote education for black students by funding scholarships at HBCUs. Joyner, a well-known national radio host in the black community, is now extending his outreach to Semester at Sea, providing HBCU students the global perspective they may miss at their home campus. “I think the Foundation took this as an opportunity to give HBCU students an international educational experience,” Knox said of the scholarship. “If you study abroad, this could not only be a chance for personal growth for you but, looking further down the line at career goals, this could make you more competitive. SAS takes you out of your comfort zone, submerging you in so many different cultures.” The Foundation has a long history of funding scholarships at land institutions, and has plans to share the Semester at Sea experience for many years into the future.
Knox and Riley are joined this semester by other HBCU students from Dillard, Morehouse, and St. Augustine, a North Carolina school that sent its first ever students abroad just this semester. According to Knox, only 4% of African-American students study abroad each year. The shortage may stem from finances, limited knowledge of opportunities abroad, or, in Riley’s eyes, the unique family situation of most students. “From what I’ve experienced, a lot of African-American and Latino students are often first generation college students,” she stated, “so a lot of things you do are new to your family, let alone traveling.”
Although each port has been an experience for Knox and Riley, neither of whom had left the country before this semester, both found their time in Africa strikingly significant. “Being in Africa was a lot for me,” Riley stated. “Having grown up in my primarily Afro-centric church and attending an HBCU, just seeing it all was really phenomenal." The experience of visiting Ghana and South Africa was equally powerful for Knox. “My experience in Africa—it was humbling,” she reflected. “I’ve always been interested in African-American history, and I was taken aback by actually standing in the slave dungeons and cells. It was challenging to be able to walk the same paths my ancestors did and walk through the ‘Door of No Return’ (pictured on right) knowing that they never did.”
“All in all, it’s been a great experience,” Knox said of the voyage thus far. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and some of the avenues I need to explore. I’ve done some things in port that I never would have done with my friends at home. I went to Trafalgar Falls in Dominica and sat in the natural hot springs. I slept on a hammock in the Amazon. It’s about exposure to new things, new possibilities and learning how to just act on a moment’s notice and not to allow that opportunity to pass you by.”
“Tom Joyner Scholars provides an opportunity for students at HBCUs, who typically do not have the funds, to attend Semester at Sea," Riley summarized. "Providing us with a scholarship is not only an opportunity to travel, but also to enrich the community and provide a different perspective.”
Both students plan to carry the experience beyond this semester and share their experiences on their home campus, encouraging their classmates to seek out Semester at Sea and hopefully see the world from the deck of the MV Explorer as well.
Click here to learn more about the Tom Joyner Scholars. Scholarship applications are now available for the Spring and Summer 2013 voyages.
40% of SAS students receive financial aid. Click here to learn about all scholarship opportunities.