Wayland's Hawaii Campus takes learning to the seas

It's not uncommon for universities to go to great lengths to make education accessible for students. But recently, Wayland Baptist University's Hawaii Campus overcame a water barrier to take education to the students.

Robert Kessler, an adjunct professor with Wayland, recently returned from 18 days aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Kukui, where he taught personal finance to 11 of the crew members while on a regular patrol about 10 miles from the Hawaiian shore.

The trip was a learning experience as well for Kessler, who is retired from the Army after 24 years of service. The typical classroom was traded for the ship's galley, where classes were held between meals. Coast Guard officials were flexible with schedules and other duties in order to allow their sailors to attend the classes. Even the ship's captain, who holds a master's degree, took the class because of interest in the subject.

"During the rest of the day, I'd be available to visit with the guys if anyone had questions or just wanted to visit," Kessler said, adding that many took him up on the offer. "Quite a few guys were surprised when we got into things like debt ratios. Investments was another subject that opened everyone's eyes, too."

When he wasn't teaching, Kessler said he'd prepare for the next day's lessons or just take in the sights around the 250-foot ship, as they conducted daily maneuvers, boarding of ships entering Hawaii harbors, and drug and illegal immigration interdictions.

Dr. Steven Reid, dean at the Hawaii campus, which is located in Aiea, said the university began offering classes at Sand Island Coast Guard Station in Honolulu last year and this venture provided another opportunity to offer education.

"We will continue to seek creative ways of meeting the unique educational needs of the military to the extent we can. We see this as an extension of existing programs in Hawaii," Reid said. "I have already committed to teaching on the next cutter going to American Samoa and Fiji."

Reid said students aboard the ships can take the courses for credit toward an associate's or bachelor's degree or just for continuing education. Plans are already underway to offer more classes on ships departing on longer patrols, with destinations including Alaska, Guam, American Samoa and other islands during the coming year.