By Jonah Grinkewitz

Old Dominion University is part of an urban, coastal region where water impacts everything from transportation to housing to the economy.

The University is also a worldwide leader in maritime studies, with research hubs like the  International Maritime, Ports and Logistics Institute in the Strome College of Business and the planned  School of Supply Chain, Logistics and Maritime Operations.

Building on these ties, ODU’s Annual Campus Theme will focus on “Blue Connections” – a term that refers to the crucial role oceans and waterways play in society and the global economy. This multidisciplinary initiative will combine academic courses, research projects, art exhibitions and other events to engage students and the Monarch community in a collective learning experience about a timely, relevant issue.

“Annual Campus Theme brings the campus together, allowing opportunities to form meaningful connections with students and faculty both in and out of the classroom,” said Marissa Jimenez, executive director of ODU’s Academic Success Center, which organized this year’s Annual Campus Theme.

To support the initiative, ODU’s Office of Academic Affairs funded coursework and research projects exploring the theme. Last spring, faculty were invited to submit proposals in three categories. Courses that were updated received $1,000, new courses developed for the spring 2024 semester received $5,000 and ongoing interdisciplinary research projects received up to $10,000.

Overall, 23 proposals were accepted in areas from art to journalism to environmental ethics.

Jonathan Lopez, a professor of sociology and criminal justice, will have his fall Introduction to Sociology (SOC 201-S) students collect items that are most likely to be found polluting rivers and oceans. Students will then turn the items into percussion instruments and collectively write a song reflecting on the ways we depend on water, culminating in a performance at the end of the semester.

Annette Finley-Croswhite, professor of history and director of ODU’s Center for Faculty Development, created a new course (History 396) for the spring that explores the maritime history of the Holocaust. Students will retrace the routes ships took to transport Jewish refugees away from Nazi-controlled territories in Europe and to safer environments beginning around 1938 and continuing to the establishment of Israel in 1948. The course will examine bodies of water as avenues for escape but also as treacherous paths where legal and political conflicts and the hazards of maritime travel condemned many fleeing antisemitism to their deaths.

The “Blue Connections” Mural Initiative research project will bring together members of the ODU and Hampton Roads communities through the Maritime Initiative to create a public mural that will investigate the past, present and future of maritime waterways. Led by Natalia Pilato, assistant professor of art, and Elspeth McMahon, ODU’s inaugural vice president for Maritime Initiatives, the project aims to uncover the region’s rich maritime history. It would culminate with a mural for the proposed School of Supply Chain, Maritime and Logistics.

In addition to research and coursework, there will be events, performances and exhibitions. In the spring, the Barry Art Museum will open an exhibition that juxtaposes historical maritime paintings with contemporary art and artifacts addressing the ecological, historical and cultural aspects of Norfolk’s maritime history.

On Sept. 15, the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries will host an exhibition of new works by native Hawaiian artist, illustrator and visionary Solomon Enos exploring the intersection of climate change, indigenous traditions and fantasy.

To view a full list of courses, research projects and events tied into the Annual Campus Theme, click here.