Over the summer of 2017, seven Mercyhurst University students spent three weeks aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara on Lake Erie. Part of an immersive history class, this experience taught them skills that they never would have learned in a classroom.
In a ceremony on Oct. 23, President Michael T. Victor honored the students — Alex Feasly, senior History major; William Riva, sophomore History major; Cedrick Chan, junior Exercise Science major; Donald Bryant, sophomore Communication major; Ella Santillano, sophomore Applied Forensic Science major; Logan Ford, sophomore Intelligence and Political Science double major; and James Wallace, senior Intelligence major — with a pin ceremony for having taken part in the program.
Benjamin Scharff, Ph.D., who in his introductory speech was described as the “spark to a quickly lit, fast-burning fire,” was the driving force behind this program. In keeping with the Mercyhurst mission to provide real-life learning experience for every major, he and the Erie Maritime Museum worked together to develop this program for students interested in nautical history.
“Waves of the Past, Leaders of the Future,” offered at the 200 level, fulfills REACH and elective requirements. After its success last summer, the program will be offered again in the spring as a Mini 4 and the summer as a Mini 5.
The course is unique in that it offers a variety of different learning opportunities to students. While Scharff said that the course’s “emphasis was always on the sailing experience,” students also learned about the region’s current and future states, visited five cities, seven vessels of historical relevance and four museums and developed strong friendships both with fellow classmates and the crew members who trained them.
A typical day began with wakeup at 7 a.m. Breakfast was served at 7:30 a.m., and muster was at 8 a.m. At this time, the students would break up into “watches.” When a group of students was on duty, they were stationed on the main deck, doing jobs such as acting as lookout or steering the ship. When off duty, students worked on required readings and relaxed.
Riva said that in addition to learning how to sail, the main takeaway from the program was teamwork.
He also said that an interesting aspect of this course for him was learning about what life was like in the 1800s aboard a ship.
“There is a lot of history to be learned and a lot of connections and friendships to be made with fellow students and trainers,” Riva said.
Riva described the program as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something he would do again if he was given the opportunity, and he urged students to try it out.
By Lauren Ganger
The U.S. Brig Niagara is the ship that students spent three week on while taking the “Waves of the Past, Leaders of the Future” history course during the summer of 2017.
LEFT: Sophomore Logan Ford climbs on the U.S. Brig Niagara’s mast. RIGHT: The ship sailed with 11 students, stopping in five cities.