College of Marine Sciences & Maritime Studies

Immersive International Experience Made Pandemic-Proof By Innovative Faculty


“We firmly believe necessity is the mother of invention in times of a disrupted world,” Department Head and Professor Dr. Joan Mileski exclaimed upon relaying the Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Department of Maritime Business Administration’s (MARA) innovative restructuring of a study abroad experience in light of pandemic-related restrictions.

The trip was originally scheduled as part of a multi-disciplinary educational experience called the MARA-LIST-School of Law Maritime Global Engagement Initiative. Involving a group of MARA, Master of Maritime Administration & Logistics (MMAL) and Liberal Studies (LIST) students from Texas A&M-Galveston and law students from the Texas A&M School of Law in Ft. Worth, the initiative operated as a unique, experiential class and study abroad trip. The initiative was designed to teach trends and challenges associated with international trade, the resulting impacts on maritime transportation, and a well-rounded knowledge of international maritime law.

During the month of May, the students were scheduled to visit the International Maritime Organization in London, England; the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development in Geneva, Switzerland; and the International Maritime Law Institute in Msida, Malta. COVID-19 safety and travel restrictions forced the cancelation of the learning experience’s travel portion, but Mileski and the other faculty members decided to lean into the experience, anyway.

Initiative Poster
A poster advertising the MARA-LIST-School of Law Maritime Global Engagement Initiative.

Mileski, along with MARA Assistant Professor Dr. Cassia Galvao, Department of Liberal Studies Head and Professor Dr. Joann DiGeorgio-Lutz, and Texas A&M School of Law Global Programs Director and Professor Dr. Charlotte Ku, utilized the technology available to ensure students were still able to grasp the core concept and educational goals of the experience.

“The students were really engaged in the readings and materials, and Drs. Ku and Mileski’s original visit contacts still wanted to help, so we decided to go forward with our original plan, just in a virtual environment,” Galvao explained.

Galvao said one of the goals of the experience was to make students understand the cycle of solving issues in global maritime transportation.

“A lot of times, these things start as a discussion in UN offices or agencies and move to a policy level. Then countries are deciding how to solve the problem, and the next step is to create a regulation or law and then decide how it is enforced. We wanted them to be immersed in this process,” she said.

Ku agreed, emphasizing the importance of these students from different disciplines working together.

“Law, MARA and LIST students worked as a team to examine the business, policy and regulatory requirements of shipping and trade in order to sample the kind of situations they will encounter in their careers. They found it an eye-opening and demanding task, and all profited from an experience made richer because it crossed disciplinary lines,” Ku said.

Thus, the students were given three real cases.

One concerned the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, a comprehensive set of measures enhancing the security of ships and port facilities, developed in response to the threats to ships and port facilities in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States.

The second case had to do with emissions control regulations related to sulfate content in fuel utilized by cargo ships, introduced in January of this year. The third case concerns a future rule being proposed in 2024 about ballast water and the danger of offloading or unloading potential contaminates or invasive species in different waters around the world.

Students were given all the materials and references concerning these cases. They were tasked with writing both group and individual papers, as well as participating in very real-world scenarios.

For the scenario, students acted as consultants hired by Walmart, represented by Mileski, and Maersk, represented by Galvao, to advise the corporations on best business practices. DiGeorgio-Lutz and Ku helped facilitate, while real representatives from the World Trade Organization, International Maritime Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization and The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development presented critical information about the cases in reference to their respective organizations.

“We told them these organizations were concerned about how these new regulations might affect their business, so we asked them as business advisors or lawyers how to advise the companies,” Galvao said.

Further, Galvao said the video-based nature of the class actually allowed more students to participate.

“We even had a non-traditional, strictly virtual, student working remotely from a ship and he was able to contribute,” explained Galvao. “We recorded the sessions and he was watching on the ship late at night. He had technical expertise regarding ballast water that other students didn’t have, so he added great value to the class.”

Galvao said the academic team hopes to carry out the program next year and actually make the physical trip, sans global pandemic. That said, students like Elizabeth Wagner MMAL ‘20 still found great value in the course taught as it was.

“Even though we were not able to actually visit the UN organizations in person, I liked that we were still able to learn about them and visit with them via Zoom. I also enjoyed getting to work with individuals with different backgrounds than myself. It was nice to have exposure to students outside of my degree program,” Wagner said.

The learning experience was founded as part of a grant awarded in 2018. All four faculty members collaborated to submit an educational proposal to the A&M Abroad: Global Engagement Grant. Out of the thirty proposals submitted, only four were awarded, this initiative being one.

“We know the traveling abroad is the most attractive part of this, but the most important thing is the learning experience and the students learned how to interact with people from another campus, in other majors and people from across the world,” Galvao concluded.

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