08/07/06 — He teaches college courses while sailing on deep blue sea

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He teaches college courses while sailing on deep blue sea

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 7, 2006 1:52 PM

Mick O'Donnell wouldn't mind teaching on dry land, but for now he is staying afloat by going wherever the Navy assigns him.

For more than 21 years in the Air Force as a flyer, O'Donnell retired in 1984. He later dabbled in teaching, but it wasn't until his wife saw an ad about traveling and teaching that he took it in a different direction.

Through a Navy contract with Central Texas College, military personnel can attend classes through PACE -- Program for Afloat College Education.

O'Donnell found he was qualified to teach political science, business, academic skills, English, math and reading.

Since he started in the program in 1995, he has added to his world travels. He leaves on his next assignment Aug. 13. For two months he will be on the USS Enterprise in the western Pacific Ocean.

"This trip will enable me to complete one goal that I have had. I will have completely circumnavigated the globe," he said.

Among the places he has been are Japan, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Ecuador and the Mediterranean.

The journey has afforded him many great experience and a wealth of memories.

"I was on the John F. Kennedy in Mayport, Fla. That was when Hurricane Bonnie was coming up the coast, and they had the hurricane evacuation," he said.

"As a result of being there, it fulfilled a wish of a great aunt of mine. I got it cleared to run a Eucharist service."

Aunt Alice, though deceased, had been a nun and her dream was for O'Donnell to become a priest. His dream, however,won out.

"She did not realize that I was praying that I would find the lady of my dreams," he said.

Split Croatia was also a fascinating place, O'Donnell said. While there, he took a picture of a giant 8-foot fish hook.

"My wife looked at it and said, 'My goodness; that's a J for Jesus," he said, prompting him to impose the Biblical message, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" onto the photograph.

The picture is now part of a religious-toned photo essay he is working toward having published.

Traveling for extended periods of time, however, does take a toll, so in late 2004, O'Donnell decided to give it up.

"I didn't like being away from my family," he said.

In late January 2005, though, he received an offer he couldn't refuse.

"I got a call from Norfolk that the Carrier Eisenhower was coming out of four years from a refit. They said they were looking for some academic skills courses -- two months to do that and the option for a second two months. But the ship would be in port most of the time, and I could go home on weekends," he said.

"It was probably the best time I have ever had."

Thinking he would not be able to top that, O'Donnell said he was "kicked back, fat and happy, spoiling my granddaughters" when the latest assignment came his way.

"Normally you don't teach more than four sections of anything. They needed five sections of American government" on the USS Enterprise, he said.

The route of travel is classified information, he said. But his schedule typically involves working with between 10 and 20 students, teaching three classes a week for 8 weeks.

The down side, he said, is the time away from his loved ones. He has two children and five grandchildren -- three grandsons in Cary, two granddaughters in Goldsboro.

"They're very much a part of our lives," he said. "My being out of the loop is going to be hard on them."

Wife Karin has been supportive, O'Donnell said. He always discusses the assignments with her before agreeing to take them.

Mrs. O'Donnell is also an educator. For five years, she taught in Wayne County before spending 15 years at James Sprunt Community College, then went to Johnston County. This fall, she will teach biology at Southern Wayne High School.

O'Donnell said he could never have anticipated the teaching job he found, but loves it nevertheless.

"I love the feeling of being in a classroom," he said. "This is an unbelievably unique thing. My one frustration is that it pays so well.

"I would love to get a (regular) teaching job, but cracking the door, getting my nose under the tent flap for the first time often seems to be an insurmountable challenge."