Chapman, Catalina Museum Create ‘University by the Sea’

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Chapman University and Catalina Island Museum officials pose for a photo on June 6 after they signed a memorandum of agreement to execute an educational partnership.
— Photo courtesy of Catalina Island Museum ©

A unique collaboration between an Orange County university and a Catalina Island historical institution will create a new “university by the sea” educational program.

Chapman University and Catalina Island Museum signed a memorandum of agreement on June 6 to execute an educational partnership between the two, officials announced in a press release last month.

Newport Beach resident Dr. Donald Wise, a board member and trustee of the Catalina Island Museum, called it a “monumental event” and a “win-win” for both the island and the university.

“We are very fortunate to have a very savvy and brilliant Board of Directors that understands the cumulative positive effects of such a venture,” Wise wrote in an email. “The excitement at our end remains enthusiastic and robust as to creating this new and very special relationship with Chapman University.”

Officials are considering classes in English, history, art, world languages, and through the Center for Cultural and Curricular Studies, Dean of Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Jennifer Keene explained in the announcement.

“There are numerous possible curricular collaborations between Chapman and the Catalina Island Museum,” Keene added.

Officials hope to have classes start as early as January.

Chapman officials are excited about the collaboration. It has “great potential to demonstrate the real-life applicability” of various degrees, Chapman University President Daniele Struppa said in a prepared statement.

Avalon on Catalina Island.
— Photo by David Mark / Pixabay

“As a university, we seek to connect all of our students with unique opportunities for internships and study,” Struppa added. “We see many possibilities for this relationship.”

Located in Avalon, Catalina Island Museum’s exhibitions include art, history and culture. Its collection concerning the history of Catalina includes artifacts from more than 8000 years of human settlement on the island.

Museum officials are also excited about the agreement with the university, Museum Executive Director Julie Perlin Lee said in a prepared statement.

“This is an aspirational relationship for us because it shows that we at the museum are establishing significant links with higher education for the first time in Avalon,” she commented.

It’s a new chapter for both entities, Wise added.

Wise said he had a “vision for an educational joint-venture with a major university, to-be-determined, and the museum,” last year. It made sense, he explained in an email, so he reached out to officials at Chapman.

He was prompted to pursue this partnership after witnessing firsthand how much students can take away from this type of education.

Wise was involved with the Southern California Marine Institute from 1997 to 2002, including as a member of the Board of Directors for three years, he explained in an email.

SCMI is a consortium of several major universities, colleges, and foundations in Southern California.

Their mission is to foster marine research and education, focusing on urban impacts of the greater Los Angeles region on the coastal ocean, according to its website. The association seeks to improve scientific understanding and the development of solutions that will enable coastal waters and watersheds to thrive, adapt and become resilient to ongoing environmental stressors.

Chapman University recently partnered with Catalina Island Museum to create a “University by the Sea” program.
— Photo courtesy Chapman University

SCMI also enlightens young students of all ages through various programs focusing on marine ecology, biology, oceanography, and more.

It may be the first time the “wide-eyed young people” see their first whale or dolphin, Wise noted.

Other educational programs include field research, comparing mainland and island marine environments, demonstration cruises, and more.

“I saw the difference these experiences made in the lives of these students,” Wise said. “This program with Chapman University will take these types of experiences to the next level. The new venue will elevate the museum to be the center of learning for people of all ages while bringing higher education to Avalon.”

Classes will be held at the Catalina Island Museum, Wise confirmed.

“We are under contract to buy the vacant land site next to the museum to build a new facility that will provide teaching facilities and classrooms to provide educational opportunities to the community, visitors, scholars, researchers and students,” Wise wrote in an email. “This will include an auditorium for both teaching and artistic endeavors such as plays and performances, city mandated student and visiting professor housing, as well as much needed additional museum quality safe and dry secured storage.”

The program will evolve over time, Wise pointed out. It will provide classes at both the undergraduate and graduate student level for Chapman University students and both internship and other classes to be created for Avalon students, he explained.

“Over time we hope to also create five to six full-ride scholarships per year for gifted Avalon high school seniors to attend Chapman University,” Wise confirmed.

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