All aboard! UH Hilo Professor Jean Ippolito has a Semester at Sea to teach art, brings home wealth of knowledge

Professor of Art Jean Ippolito taught intro art courses and a class on women in art history during a Semester at Sea voyage to India, Kenya, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal.

Group photo in front of The Treasury in Petra. In background is very large carved sandstone structure with tall pillars and carved figures.
UH Hilo Professor of Art Jean Ippolito (left in blue jacket) gathers with her Semester at Sea students for photo in front of the Treasury of the Pharaoh, in Petra, Jordan. (Courtesy photo from Jean Ippolito)

By Susan Enright.

A professor of art at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo says her Semester at Sea teaching experience last spring enriched her knowledge of art and has enhanced her classes at UH Hilo.

Professor Jean Ippolito pictured in black rimmed glasses.
Jean Ippolito

Jean Ippolito, who came to UH Hilo in 2003, explains that the voyage’s original itinerary was shifted a bit because of the COVID surge in Japan and China just before planned launch, bringing her some disappointment.

“Originally the voyage was scheduled to begin in Tokyo, Japan, and go on to Korea, and then back to Kobe, Japan, then on to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia,” she says. “As an Asian art specialist with the ability to speak Japanese and some Mandarin Chinese, I felt that my contribution to the voyage would be substantial.”

But the change was a blessing in disguise, with the voyage spanning three continents and bringing unexpected professional enrichment and personal growth.

The new itinerary brought a focus on the Mediterranean area of Europe and included India, Kenya, Jordan, a Suez Canal transit, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. Although Ippolito did not feel as useful to the voyage as she would have liked, she says she brought back from the trip a great deal of knowledge and experience that will forever enhance her understanding of the areas visited, which she says she will apply to her UH Hilo survey of world art courses.

Ippolito taught three classes on the voyage. Two were introductory courses to the visual arts, one with field work in Mumbai, India, and the other with field work in Aqaba, Jordan. The third course was an advanced class on women in art history, with field work in Piraeus, Greece.

“I feel that I gathered more material and gained more knowledge in the area of women in the arts, the upper level course that I taught on the ship,” she says. With this new found inspiration, she hopes to teach the class as a special topics course at UH Hilo.

“Through this journey around the Mediterranean sea, I gathered information, knowledge, photographs, and personal experiences that I will continue to incorporate into my world art classes,” she says. “Since I am an Asian specialist, I have travelled through much of Asia, especially Japan and China, but I have only been to Europe a few times. Most of the ports that we visited were a first for me.”

Student on the dock look at the large Semester At Sea cruise ship.
UH Hilo Professor of Art Jean Ippolito’s Semester at Sea teaching voyage began on Jan. 5, 2023, aboard MV World Odyssey, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where Ippolito boarded the ship with family members. She brought along her two children: Ben, who just turned 14 as he was boarding the ship, and Lena (standing at far left), who was eight at the time. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)

UAE to India

Large stone carving of two figures.
The Shiva with three faces at the Elephanta Cave Temples in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)

The voyage began on Jan. 5, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where Ippolito boarded the Semester at Sea ship MV World Odyssey with family members. She brought her two children: Ben, who just turned 14 as he was boarding the ship, and Lena, who was eight at the time. A friend joined the family to caretake the children during the voyage.

First stop was Mumbai, India.

“My first field class excursion with students was to Elephanta, which is an island in the bay of Mumbai, with ancient Hindu cave temples that date from as early as the 2nd century BCE to about 750 CE,” she says. “We also visited some Buddhist cave temples that date even earlier at Kanheri, just north of Mumbai.” She describes these experiences as personally and professionally “enlightening.”


Next was Mombasa, Kenya. Interestingly, one student in the professor’s upper level women in art history class was from Kenya. Before reaching each port, Ippolito would do her best to taper course presentations for the port, and she had discovered a contemporary woman artist of Kenya that caught her eye; Ippolito showed the artist’s work in class, which piqued the student’s interest.

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga pictured with blue turban. Woven netting is hanging in the background.
Kenyan artist Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, whose work inspired a Kenyan student in Jean Ippolito’s Semester at Sea art class. (Photo via Gakunga’s website)

The artist’s name is Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, and she uses naturally corroded roofing materials from her own local village area in Kenya to make fiber-like wall hangings. The evolution of the material from oxidation over time, alluded to the migration issues affecting much of Kenya and Africa in recent decades.

The Kenyan student, who had already chosen a research topic for the class, quickly asked if she could change the topic to this artist, as she could relate to the content of her work. The student had some wonderful insight into the regional interpretations and meaning of the artwork and she shared this with the rest of the class.

Ippolito says this experience—seeing the woman artist inspiring her student—has enriched her own work and the courses she teaches at UH Hilo.

“I am hoping to offer the women in arts class as a special topics course, as I have a great deal of new material for it,” she says. “There were women artists of Greece, Portugal, Spain, and, even though we did not voyage to South America, there were students in my course from Chile and Argentina. They did research on women artists from their own homelands, so it was also a great contribution to the content of the course.”


Next stop was Aqaba, Jordan, and Ippolito’s second field class excursion was to Petra.

“What a dream come true to visit the golden Treasury of Petra,” she says. To prepare, she researched the Nabataean civilization of Petra. “They were the creators of the great carved temples of Petra valley.” The class also visited the Petra Museum where many of the artifacts are housed and kept protected from the elements.

Group photo in front of The Treasury in Petra. Very large carved sandstone structure with tall pillars and carved figures.
Semester at Sea class gathers for photo during field trip to Al-Khazneh (The Treasury), commonly known in English as the Treasury of the Pharaoh, in Petra, Jordan. At far left is UH Hilo Professor of Art Jean Ippolito, who taught the introductory art course. (Courtesy photo from Jean Ippolito)

Cyprus via Suez Canal

Port deck with white tables and chairs. In the distance, over the ship's railing and across the canal, is land with a large domed building.
The ship traversed the Suez Canal where Egypt passed on the port side of the ship. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)

After Jordan, the ship traversed the Suez Canal where Ippolito says they saw parts of Egypt pass before their eyes.

After emerging from the northern end of the canal into the Mediterranean sea, next stop was at Limassol on the island of Cyprus.

“What a great surprise Cyprus was,” says the professor. “Filled with Byzantine style churches and icons. There was so much to see, it was a feast for the eyes.”

Interior wall of extremely ornate church, gilded with gold, dozens of images of saints, large crystal chandelier high above.
Byzantine style church, Cyprus. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)


Then on to Piraeus, a port near Athens, Greece. The field excursion for Ippolito’s upper level women in art history class was to the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, and to the Contemporary Art Museum in Athens, where a large number of the participating artists were female. “So it was a great contribution to the course content,” says Professor Ippolito.

The professor also participated in several off-shore excursions to sites around Athens like Delphi, Corinth, and Cape Sounion, which provided additional material for her classes.

Group photo at the Parthenon in Greece
Professor of Art Jean Ippolito (back row left in blue jacket) gathers with her Semester at Sea class on women in art history as they visit the Parthenon, a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece. (Photo courtesy of Jean Ippolito)
Group photo of women students and their professor stand in front of sculpted female figures.
Prof. Ippolito (far right) stands with her Semester at Sea class on women in art history as they visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens. In the background are caryatids, sculpted female figures that serve as architectural support taking the place of a pillar. (Courtesy photo from Jean Ippolito)
Ruins of the ancient Poseidon Temple in Greece. A few pillars and walls of the stone structure still stand.
Prof. Ippolito also visited the Poseidon Temple ruins at Sounion, Greece. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)

Croatia, Spain, Morocco

On to Croatia.

Large castle perched atop a rocky cliff, bay with pier in foreground, red-roofed buildings to the right and people gathered above a sea wall.
Medieval castle at Dubrovnik, Croatia. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)

“Dubrovnik, Croatia, was such a pleasant surprise,” says Ippolito. “A medieval period walled city, the architecture and design of the city was worth exploring. Two monastery museums exhibited paintings by Titian and Artemisia Gentileschi as well as many other art treasures.”

Next was Barcelona, Spain, where Ippolito had a head turning experience that changed her opinion of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. “I was not a fan of Gaudi’s work before, but I am now,” she says. “To see it in person is to revel in its beauty and originality of design.” Also on the itinerary was everything from the Picasso Museum to street art. “Everywhere you walk there is art.”

Then on to Casablanca, Morocco, with the highlight of seeing the building designed by one of the most famous contemporary architects, Zaha Hadid, in the capital city of Rabat. “One of the students in the women and arts class chose Zaha Hadid for her research project and did an incredible presentation on her work for the class.”

Large, white, building with multi-layered roof that slopes all the way down to the ground. City is in the background, large parking lot is in the foreground.
The Grand Theatre of Rabat, a large performing arts center in the capital city of Rabat, Morocco, designed by Zaha Hadid. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)

Portugal and Germany

The penultimate port of the trip, but the last for art exploration, was Lisbon, Portugal, where Professor Ippolito, along with some of her students, joined a workshop for painting the blue and white tiles so famous to the country.

Building with façade of blue and white tiles, statuary displays.
Azulejo tile museum in Lisbon, Portugal. Jean Ippolito participated with students, staff, and faculty in a workshop on the blue and white tile painting famous to the country. (Photo: Jean Ippolito)

The final port was in Bremerhaven, Germany, where Ippolito and family disembarked the ship on April 20, 2023, and began the long return travel to Hawai‘i.

“I look back on the trip with grateful memories of all the new experiences I gained during the three-and-a-half month voyage,” says Ippolito. “But I am also grateful for the many new friends that my children and I made aboard the ship during our travels.”

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.