ASU Online student receives life-changing Semester at Sea scholarship

March 26, 2024 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
Read on to learn about the scholarship opportunity that took one ASU Online student on a journey at sea that included stops for skydiving in South Africa to diving in the waters of Vietnam and beyond.

Jesse Marquez had no idea when he joined Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management as an online student that he was mere months away from the experience of a lifetime.

The Los Angeles-area Uber driver had tried out college once before. That was more than a decade ago when he made significant headway on a mechanical engineering degree before financial obligations prompted him to swap school for work.

Then in 2022, the opportunity to go back to school presented itself in the partnership between Arizona State University and Uber and Marquez enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science in international trade.

At Thunderbird, Marquez learned about the Karen J. Simon ‘83 Semester at Sea scholarship, which aims to provide Thunderbird undergraduate students with the opportunity to travel and study abroad through the Semester at Sea program.

ASU Online student Jesse Marquez takes in the view in Gibraltar.
Mr. Marquez takes in the view in Gibraltar.

“If you’re in Thunderbird, you have a global mindset,” Marquez said. “So what better way to see the world firsthand?”

Marquez applied and had the opportunity to take courses aboard a “floating campus” as they sailed to countries around the globe.

“You visit anywhere from 10 to 12 countries within a semester,” he said. “It’s a week at sea and then a week in port at the country you’re visiting. While you’re at sea, you have homework and regular in-person classes. Then, when you’re in port, you can do field programs or explore on your own.”

Winning the scholarship opened up experiences for Marquez that wouldn’t have been available to him otherwise.

“Growing up as the child of immigrants, I always felt like one foot was in the United States while the other was in Mexico,” he said. “I’ve always seen myself as a communicator, a bridge. With international trade, I think I could be that for the US and another country, or be that for Mexico and another country.”

His semester, already a global learning experience, became a lesson in current affairs when earthquakes canceled their stop in Morocco and the conflict in Gaza prompted their vessel to divert from going through the Suez Canal to rounding the tip of Africa instead.

“It changes your view,” Marquez said. “You hear in the news that this earthquake is happening, this war is happening. But then to actually see how you’re forced to reroute, that made it very real for me.”

Nevertheless, the semester also provided experiences to last a lifetime.

“I did individual travel,” he said. “I went skydiving in South Africa. I drove. I tried to get cars in every country that I could. I tried to get lost in the middle of nowhere. I got to swim in bioluminescent waters in Vietnam.”

The opportunity to participate in Semester at Sea as an online student wasn’t something Marquez ever imagined he could have when he decided to go back to school.

“Being able to visit so many countries as an online student, being that I’m not on campus, it’s surprising to be able to participate in a program like that,” Marquez said. “I’m so lucky to be here. From just being an Uber driver to all of a sudden thinking about these high-level issues around the world; and understanding them. That is a tool for transformation.”

Transformation is exactly what he hopes to accomplish in his community. Online coursework allowed the first-generation student to continue working and volunteering while he completes his studies.

“Post 2020, I saw a lot of suffering in my community,” Marquez said. “That was a very, very difficult time for me. I had to do something, and what I decided to do was try to make a difference and a positive impact in any way I could.”

For him, that meant joining Rotary International and Kiwanis International. Since becoming an online student, Marquez has been able to continue attending his local meetings and even sit on a committee for granting scholarships to high school students embarking on their college journeys.

“I’m sitting there and I’m like, I should be an example, I should have a degree,” he said.

It was just one more sign that it was time to go back to school, even though he was working, running a business and supporting his family.

“One of the benefits of being an online student is that most of the classes are asynchronous,” Marquez said. “I’m able to have that flexibility both with Uber driving as well as with other commitments that I have. I’m able to schedule and work around that. Going to school online is a great option for those with busy schedules.”

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