Alana McGillis F’13: A Williams-Mystic Imagination

By Emily Sun S’20

Emily is a student at Williams College. Her time in Mystic included long walks around the seaport, last-minute kayaking, and a wholehearted attempt at blacksmithing.

Alana McGillis F’13 has the kind of enthusiasm that comes through even over Zoom on a Monday morning. “I’m excited to talk to you,” she says when we meet, “just because Mystic’s the best thing in the world.” I couldn’t have asked for a better opening. For the next hour and a half, as we talk, Alana laughs easily and speaks openly, sharing stories from her time at Williams-Mystic and beyond. Though I’ve brought a list of questions to ask her, she ends up answering most of them for me, just in the course of our conversation — which covers her experience studying in Mystic, her work at the intersection of art and science, and more.

Alana is a freelance science illustrator whose many projects have included geology comics, museum exhibits, and even a hand-drawn zine. She’s also illustrated two children’s books (and is currently working on a third). It was Alana’s art that first got my attention, several weeks before we met; the illustrations featured on her website and Instagram page — from tremendously fun, brightly colored comics to intricate line drawings — have so much personality that as soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to interview her. As Alana tells me about her work, it’s clear she loves creating art — so I’m surprised to learn that it wasn’t always the career she had in mind. 

One of Alana’s two published books.

“I always loved to draw, but I [didn’t take many] art classes in college,” Alana says, “because I think I got it in my head from a young age that art wasn’t a practical career — like, you can’t just draw! — even though I wanted to very badly.” Meanwhile, another subject had caught Alana’s eye. As an undergraduate at Smith College, she took an introductory geology course, and “it just blew my mind,” Alana says. “I was amazed that you could spend your days studying things that just felt like having awe for the world around you.” But she didn’t know where to go from there. She wasn’t sure that a career in research or academia was right for her, and at the time, she tells me, it felt like those were some of her only options. “There are so many other cool jobs [out there],” Alana says now. “I wish I’d known [back then].” 

Enter Williams-Mystic. When I ask her how she first heard about the program, Alana grins before recounting a story that I can’t help but think sounds like it was meant to be. “It was my sophomore year,” she says, “and I literally found out the day that applications were due. I saw a poster, and I probably screamed a little, because it was the dream. I mean, Mystic was the coolest thing I could possibly imagine.” Growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Alana loved living near the water and being immersed in maritime history. She’d been sailing before — most memorably, as a 13-year-old on the Spirit of Massachusetts — and had been waiting for the opportunity to do so again. “So when I saw Williams-Mystic, I thought, this is my chance to get back on a boat — and also, I could do geology; I could do maritime history. I wrote to them that day,” she recalls, “and I said, ‘I don’t know how quickly I can get my recommendations in, but please!'”

Fortunately, there was still space in the program (which Alana says she couldn’t believe: “How would anyone not want to do this?”). After being accepted, but before her semester began, she reached out to professor Lisa Gilbert about the possibility of helping with Lisa’s research. “I wrote to Lisa the week that I found out that I was going to get to do [Williams-Mystic],” Alana tells me. “I said, ‘Hi, I know you do oceanography, and I’d really love to work in your lab!’ And I did end up getting to do that, which was cool, but I realized pretty quickly that my favorite part of geoscience was the part where you got to tell other people about it.”

“So I came back to Mystic over the summer,” she continues, “and [by then,] I think Lisa had kind of realized that I wasn’t happy doing the research. Like, [studying] porosity and permeability of rocks was interesting, but there were other things that I wanted to do. Lisa asked, ‘What do you want to be doing?’ And I said, ‘In my ideal world, I’d be drawing geology comics.’ And she was like, ‘Why didn’t you say so?'” Working with Lisa and Lisa’s husband, who is also a professional illustrator, Alana created her first of many science comics, this one centered on “a crime-fighting geologist who uses her knowledge to solve mysteries.” And that was just the beginning. With her experience from Williams-Mystic, Alana was able to get an internship at the Paleontological Research Institution’s Museum of the Earth, for which she still creates illustrations to this day. For example, “I’m working on an exhibit right now about women in paleontology,” she says, “and that all started at Mystic. They gave me the opportunity to imagine that as an actual career path, and not just in a fantasy world.”

When I ask her what she likes best about her work, Alana says it’s having the chance to work with scientists and learn from that collaboration. “[Scientists] have high standards,” she explains, “so even though my style is cartoony, someone can still say, ‘Excuse me, that snail is backwards,’ or ‘That’s not how those bones fit together,’ and I can adjust.” As a science illustrator, there’s always more to learn — which Alana says can be intimidating (“Sometimes I’m like, ‘I’ll never know the anatomy of all these things!'”), but is also incredibly exciting. And when an illustration turns out particularly well — “if I land it and they say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was thinking!’ — then that feels [so rewarding].”

As if being a science illustrator weren’t already cool enough, Alana also works part-time as a boatbuilding instructor. She’s been working with boats for years, ever since she moved out to California. “I got a job at a maritime museum through another Williams-Mystic alum,” she explains, “and [the museum] had a boatbuilding program that they were running with a school in San Francisco.” She started out by helping with boat maintenance, later worked as an assistant, and eventually became the lead boatbuilder for the program. Today, she teaches local middle- and high-school students as part of their math and science curriculum. The best part of the job, she tells me, is watching her students succeed, “especially if they’re not used to having someone be super enthusiastic about something they’ve just done. I get to watch them be proud — and there are so many opportunities for tiny successes. Like, if they cut something right, or they hammer something right, or they drill something right, I have the chance to say, ‘That’s great!'” 

Alana with one of her boats.

Another one of her favorite things about boatbuilding, she says, is that she gets to work with all kinds of students. Looking back on her own experience in boatbuilding school, Alana remembers how difficult it was to be the only woman — and the only young person — in that space. “So I really like it when I’m in my shop, and the teenagers there get to look at themselves and say, ‘I’m what a boatbuilder looks like,'” Alana says. “And I want that for science, too. I want to make things that let kids see themselves in the role of a scientist.” Though she’s previously created illustrations about historical figures, she says what she’d really love to make is “an exhibit or a book about modern scientists, people of all different ages and races and gender identities. That’s my dream project.” It strikes me that Alana is doing for others what Williams-Mystic, in part, did for her: helping them imagine the full extent of the possibilities that await them. 

Alana credits the program for doing exactly that. “My whole career path — boatbuilding and science illustration — Mystic was responsible for both,” she says. And when she wasn’t busy sailing or drawing, Alana’s time in Mystic also included singing sea shanties (on their recent pop-culture comeback: “My brothers called me and said, ‘Hey, guess what? That thing you did — it’s cool now!”), reading Moby Dick aboard the Charles W. Morgan (“I would go there and think, ‘Ooh, I’m reading to the ghosts on the boat!'” Alana tells me, laughing), and traveling to Hawaii for a field seminar (“I stepped on a sea urchin, which was awful, but [the trip] was so worth it, so much fun,” she says). By the time I get to the question on my list about what made Williams-Mystic so different from a typical semester at college, I almost add, “besides everything!”

“Mystic is so different from regular college,” Alana agrees. “I think, especially if you’re the kind of student that doesn’t do well in traditional classrooms, it’s incredible. Like, I was not a great student. I didn’t have excellent grades, and I really struggled with traditional school, [because] I’m a very visual and hands-on learner. [So] Mystic was just the ideal scenario to see ideas concretely, to have so much project-based learning and freedom to study your own things.” For example, for her history project, Alana looked into a shipwreck that had taken place in her hometown, and for policy class, she researched beaches in the area that were being shut down due to shark sightings. “For all of the classes,” she says, “to go into the archives, to be out in the field, to go see in the real world the things that got you interested — that was awesome. It was just the best experience. It made me who I am and is the reason why I’m doing the things I do.” 

Before our conversation ends, I ask Alana one last question: what advice would she give to her past self, or to future Williams-Mystic students? “As much as you have passions, communicate them,” she says. “I think you can get really far by letting people know [what you’re interested in] and pursuing it. Take advantage of as much as you possibly can while you’re there, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask for permission to do things, because you’ll probably get it. It’s a community that wants you to succeed.”

Adventuring through Storytelling: Svati Kirsten Narula F’11

Svati said that what makes a good story “changes depending on where you’re working and who you’re pitching to.” The key to the strongest stories, she notes is, “Being able to say something surprising about something that affects a lot of people and they don’t realize it…”

Written by Hayden Gillooly S’19

Hayden is a senior Geoscience major at Williams College, with concentrations in Spanish and Maritime Studies. She is a Spring 2019 alumni of the Williams-Mystic Program.

“Williams-Mystic made me reconsider what I wanted to do and opened up the idea that anything I could do could be interdisciplinary. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do [after graduation], and journalism is very interdisciplinary because you can write about human interest, crime, science. There are a lot of different subjects that you have to put your feet into. And you hop around as we did during Williams-Mystic.”

Svati Kirsten Narula, F’11, loves storytelling and is magnificent at it. She’s written a diverse range of stories including one about the 38th voyage of Mystic Seaport’s very own Charles W. Morgan, what it’s like to live in an underwater habitat , and the potential of oysters to help protect coastlines from the impact of hurricanes. Though Svati doesn’t just write about topics that connect to the ocean, she feels that if she “hadn’t gone to Williams-Mystic and seen how maritime topics and ocean can be connected to everything,” that she “would not have written so many ocean stories in my first year of journalism.” She added, “I did a couple of stories about the intersection of economics and the ocean, and I don’t think I could’ve pitched those stories if I hadn’t been to Williams-Mystic.” Svati has worked at The Atlantic, Outside Magazine, and Quartz, and is currently the Digital Editor for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. In writing stories, Svati deeply appreciates and loves “the intersection of adventure and science.” 

When asked about her favorite Williams-Mystic memories, Svati, like most alumni of the program, couldn’t choose at first. “A real big highlight for me was my west coast seminar which was California. I loved caravaning up and down the coast and belting out music and becoming close,” her smile grew while talking, and I was reminded of my fond memories singing in the vans with my own classmates. It seems that there are threads throughout all semesters; moments that stand out for us all as special, fun, and impactful. “That was the trip where I bonded the most with my fellow shipmates. And getting out and running on the sand every beach stop. And seeing professors’ personalities when they’re driving you in the car.” 

For Svati, these bonds forged in Mystic, CT, and across the country on field seminars, have remained strong. In fact, she FaceTimes frequently with one classmate, though they have not seen each other in person in 10 years. “It’s been really gratifying to stay in touch with several of my shipmates from F’ll,” Svati says. “They were some of the strongest friendships I made during my college years.” We discussed how Williams-Mystic allows students to build relationships at an almost unparalleled depth, due to the fact that you travel, live, and learn with each other constantly. Williams-Mystic classmates see all of each other’s highs and lows, and support each other through it all. Svati added, with a tinge of nostalgia, “I almost wish all four years of college could have been like that.” 

Svati said that what makes a good story “changes depending on where you’re working and who you’re pitching to.” The key to the strongest stories, she notes is, “Being able to say something surprising about something that affects a lot of people and they don’t realize it,” such as “how horseshoe crab blood is important for the creation of vaccines and modern drugs.”

“There was one story that I wrote that went viral, about the history of exploding whales, based on the news that one dead whale was possibly about to blow up on a beach in Ireland. It was easy to make the connection between this event and the famous Oregon whale explosion of 1970, which there’s video footage of, so I wrote the story up in just 30 minutes and it ended up doing much better—as far as getting read and shared on social media—than other stories I had worked for days or weeks on.” 

In April 2015, Svati was at Base Camp at Mount Everest for a journalism project when an avalanche ravaged the mountain following an earthquake. In fact, Svati brought her Williams-Mystic duffle bag on her trip (which was unfortunately lost during the fiasco)! At Base Camp, Svati was given a glimpse into a unique culture and world of Everest climbers and enthusiasts; people who dream their whole life of conquering the enormity and standing at the top of the Earth. She described that “growing up, I loved reading stories about mountain climbers but never thought I could be a part of that world. Mount Everest base camp has its own rules and cultures and the people there have different priorities than people in New York City where I was living.” 

Though she felt like “an outsider in a harsh place,” Svati said that “it was amazing to have Everest looming over you. You begin to understand why people want to climb it. A lot of people want to climb it and don’t need to go there first to know that. For me, being in the present and trekking through that little bit of Nepal, and the local food and breathing that high thin air is kind of intoxicating in its own way. And it’s cool that storytelling allowed me to do that.” 

A difference between Svati and the climbers was that “The climbers there were more prepared to possibly die, so they weren’t as shaken up as I was by the earthquake and the avalanche. Many people went right back the next year. They had their dream disrupted by a force of nature totally out of their control, and they jus twanted to go back and make their dream happen. At first, I thought they were totally crazy, but now I, too, would go back if I could.” Svati explained that the experience of being at Mount Everest during an avalanche highlighted life’s fragility, but that the rush of being in the face of such beauty has encouraged her to be more adventurous and seek out new experiences. She said that it’s important to her “to try and collect as many experiences as I can” and that “to get experiences, you have to be open and cultivate openness.” 

When asked about the role that storytelling and narrative play in increasing engagement with sustainable behavior and raising awareness about the urgency of climate change, Svati responded, “I think it’s huge. So many people will never get the opportunity to see trash in the ocean up close because not everyone lives close to the ocean. The vast majority of us won’t have a chance to see how sea ice is melting. I interviewed a scientist recently who is studying arctic sea ice up close. Most of us get our ideas about this topic from storytelling in the media—that’s all we have for those of us that can’t experience things first hand. I’ve seen the photographs, and the articles, but asking people who have experienced it firsthand again and again is how we get closer and closer to understanding things.” Svati then reflected on a phrase from Williams-Mystic Marine Policy Professor Katy Robinson Hall S’84, that has resonated with her: “we protect what we value and we value what we know.” 

Svati closed our conversation by saying that “A sense of adventure could mean saying yes to a new job or choosing to move across the country. It doesn’t have to be traveling to Mount Everest.” Hearing stories of Svati’s bravery made me think about how we all need to have our own Everests: the passions and goals that ignite a fire within us and encourage us to lean into discomfort and newness with grace. What’s yours? 

A Virtual Science Research Experience and Building Community During a Pandemic

Hayden Gillooly S’19, Williams College ‘21

Hayden is a senior Geoscience major at Williams College, with concentrations in Spanish and Maritime Studies. She is a Spring 2019 alumni of the Williams-Mystic Program. Hayden is enrolled at Williams remotely in her hometown of North Adams, MA this semester, adapting to new ways of learning sparked by the pandemic. She is writing a thesis with Professor Lisa Gilbert at Williams-Mystic titled, “The Changing Climate of Maritime, Experiential, Place-Based Education in the Time of COVID-19.”

Since fall 2019, I looked forward to Summer 2020 in Mystic, CT working with Professor Lisa Gilbert and labmates in the Marine Geosciences Research Group (MGRG). I was eager to have meals together while discussing our projects; go on adventures, and soak up all that the Mystic Seaport Museum has to offer. It sounded like a dream summer, so I was undoubtedly disappointed when I found out that our summer work would have to be done remotely. “How would we build a research community virtually?” I thought, while admittedly tearing up a bit. Having never created a community virtually, nevermind started a friendship with someone from square-one virtually, it was hard to wrap my head around the possibility of having these ‘out of the classroom,’ connections via Zoom.

After our initial MGRG Zoom meeting, all of my worries dissipated. Lisa said that the thread that linked us all together, among our academic interests, was that we were all kind people. She said that was a prerequisite for working in her lab, and from the very first moment I saw the other four students’ bright smiles and enthusiasm, I could tell that this was true. After our first meeting, I ran downstairs after to my mom, and started speaking very quickly (as I always do when I’m excited) about how neat everyone seemed, and how it everyone was excited to be a part of the group and grow and learn in whatever way possible; even if those ways would be different than how we were expecting pre-COVID. 

During our first week of work, my research mates and I went in with full force, scheduling get-to-know-you Zooms, where we just talked for hours about everything from majors and paths that lead us to our schools, to hopes and dreams and bucket lists. Over the next 10 weeks, we philosophized over what it meant to have a meaningful life, and about chasing our wildest, greatest passions. Our friendships evolved smoothly and naturally; it was quite magical, actually, feeling these relationships take shape over a computer screen, from hundreds of miles and states apart. In fact, when I met Maggie and Jenn in person later in the summer, it felt completely natural, as if we were picking up where we left off. It felt like we already knew each other. Because we did! 

Lisa assigned us what she called, “Paper Discussions” each week. She chose a paper for us to read and discuss with one of our labmates via Zoom. Sometimes the paper lined up with our own topic, other times, that of our labmates. These meetings served as a perfect starting point for getting to know each other, and was always something that I looked so forward to. After a few weeks of working together, we all had a strong grasp of each other’s projects, to the point where we frequently exchanged articles, podcasts and relevant resources with each other, accompanied by messages saying, “this reminds me of your project!” It always made me smile to know that someone else was thinking of my project as well. Other students’ projects ranged from creating earth science systems thinking modules for a site called Teach the Earth, to analyzing the differences between in-person and virtual communities and ecosystems; to studying intra pillow hyaloclastite to analyze its porosity and biomass within the cracks. 

I am thankful that Lisa was intentional about not only giving us a rewarding research experience independently but how she so acutely recognized the value of community and learning from the people around us. Having an interdisciplinary range of projects made for fascinating conversations, with intersections between education, literature and hard science. 

Even some projects, which at first seemed to have little overlap with mine, encouraged me to think about the world from a different perspective. Much of my thesis topic’s progression has been shaped by conversations with Lisa, Lily, Jenn, Cam, and Maggie.

It was everyone’s intentionality that made all the difference. Had we all worked on our own projects, without regard to the potential connections with our labmates, I believe that my summer work could have felt incredibly isolating and unfulfilling. Having to share progress and thoughts with others helped motivate, even on long days when I felt a little lost or overwhelmed. Our excitements all grew, not only for our own work, but for each other’s projects as well. We all became a small ecosystem, as Lily’s project could argue. And through the lens of Cam’s project, we were truly a system, each understanding our role in the larger picture: MGRG. Jenn and Maggie’s projects made me think about all that happens in between the cracks (both physically in the basalt of course, but mostly in the cracks of life). The kinds of learning that happen in the cracks of structured meetings and work. 

There were in fact some silver linings to a virtual summer; one of which was having the opportunity to attend virtual conferences. The unexpected transition from in-person to remote for these conferences made them incredibly accessible to people who may not have been able to otherwise attend due to possible time or financial constraints. 

In June, I attended an event called “Building a Meaningful Remote Internship Experience,” through the Society for Women in Marine Science (SWMS). There were about 60 attendees, composed of both mentors and mentees. Strategies were shared for building communities, as well as the challenges and opportunities that a virtual environment presented us. One main takeaway from the event was that in a virtual mentoring space, we often miss out on spontaneous updates with our mentors. I wanted to change this, so I sent Lisa an email with the subject line, “A Little Victory!” and wrote, “In the SWMS meeting from the other night, something that stuck out was how in a virtual internship experience, we sometimes miss out on sharing the exciting moments of research and discovery, and may tend to just touch base with questions or concerns. So I just wanted to share with you that I just found an article that is so relevant to the ideas I’m grappling with for my thesis, that it literally made me smile!” 

In July, I attended the Earth Educators’ Rendezvous 2020 (EER20), which is a conference that includes panel discussions, talks, poster presentations and workshops. At the two poster sessions that I attended, I was the only attendee, and had the opportunity to ask in-depth questions of the researchers, and connect their work with my thesis topic. It was so wonderful to be able to discuss my project with a wide range of faculty from universities across the country, and hear their encouragement. One faculty member I met, Professor Steven Semken at Arizona State University, is an expert in place-based education, and shared relevant articles with me; I realized after our conversation, that I had actually read many of his pieces, which were incredibly formative in my understanding of this type of education. Attending EER20 reaffirmed my desire to pursue academia, not only for my unwavering love of learning, but also because of the incredible networks and communities in the field. 

In one of our last MGRG meetings, Lisa invited an alum from the research group, Caroline Hung who graduated from Williams College in 2019, to join us. Caroline is a Ph.D geochemistry student at UC Riverside. Caroline is so passionate about what she studies, and it was incredibly inspiring to hear about her experiences, especially since a research article from her Geosciences thesis was recently published.

After we wrapped up our MGRG summer work, we had a Zoom meeting with all of the other research students who worked with Williams College Geosciences professors this summer. We all shared our project topics, and had the opportunity to ask each other questions. It was a lot of fun to hear about what everyone has been working on, and to see the diverse range of topics. My favorite part, however, was realizing that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves. We are now a part of a whole network of students and faculty who all love Geosciences and education. 

We often grow when we least expect it. Summer 2020 ended up taking a drastically different shape than how we were expecting, but it was rewarding in more ways than I could possibly measure or explain. Summer 2020 showed me the immense potential of human relationships. It showed me that no matter how different two people or projects seem at first, there are always possible grounds for understanding and connection. Maybe it just takes an ice breaker like, “What song has been on your playlist recently?”, but after that, you realize that you’re both just people trying your hardest to contribute in a meaningful way to the scientific community and the world at large. And that is often enough commonality to build a friendship. 

Setting Sail, Take Two: Kathryn Jackson’s (S’17) Offshore Voyage Journey

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

When Kathryn Jackson (S’17) began her Williams-Mystic semester, the opportunity to sail in the Caribbean aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer was one of the experiences she most looked forward to. Her class’s sailing voyage had just begun when an unfortunate event altered Kathryn’s experience.

KJ
Kathryn after breaking her elbow.

“Day two was fine. That night at 11:30 our watch was striking the JT [jib tops’l] and I fell and broke my elbow,” Kathryn said. The ship’s crew stepped in to care for Kathryn, determining that Kathryn would need to depart the ship to recover. Two days later, the Cramer had returned to port so Kathryn could board a flight home, where she would spend the rest of class’s offshore voyage.

As Kathryn made the journey from the ship to shore aboard a small boat, she still couldn’t believe that her offshore voyage was over.

As it turns out, there was one last, almost magical experience in store.

‘The third mate, the medical officer, [ Williams-Mystic oceanography professor Lisa Gilbert (S’96)] and I were sitting on the rescue boat looking at a rainbow right over San Juan harbor and then two dolphins [surfaced] under the rainbows,” Kathryn recalled. It was precisely the kind of moment that Kathryn had been dreaming of since her semester began. This was also the moment she realized, without a doubt, that her elbow was broken and her voyage had to end. 

Throughout the rest of their voyage, Kathryn’s classmates made sure to include her in their experiences. They kept a journal for her, for instance.

“The class carried a cardboard cut out of my head around on the ship and even tried to take it snorkeling,” Kathryn said. “There is a photo of our whole class on the beach in St. Croix where it looks like I was there.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 12.59.01 AM
S’17 on the beach in St. Croix. If you look closely, you can see the cardboard cutout of Kathryn.

Kathryn was invited to join a future semester’s Offshore Voyage to make up for the journey she had missed.

In the meantime, though, there was the rest of the semester to complete. Kathryn enjoyed the academics of the program. She especially relished exploring topics from different perspectives.

“I loved the policy class. I liked picking my own [research] project and thought the interviews were eye-opening because you were talking to people from both sides and made you think about your stance,” Kathryn said.

For Kathryn, it’s small moments with her classmates such as late-night study sessions that stand out. She felt close to her professors, too, and appreciated being able to talk with them about anything and everything. 

Kathryn completed her Williams-Mystic semester. She graduated from Millersville University with a degree in Marine Biology in 2018.

But her Williams-Mystic experience wasn’t quite finished yet. Two years after her own semester began, at the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester, Kathryn was able to return to William-Mystic for the Spring 2019 students’ Offshore Voyage — also in the Caribbean aboard the Corwith Cramer. 

Initially, Kathryn felt nervous about her return, and about sailing with a class that was not her own. From the moment she stepped aboard, though, she was welcomed into the group. From there, much of the programming felt familiar.

S'19
Kathryn, third from right, with some of her S’19 shipmates

For Kathryn, the first three days of the voyage felt like a “refresher.”

“I remembered a lot more than I thought I would,” she reflected. “But then day four came and it felt different.”

With new challenges came new accomplishments.

“When our watch struck the Jib and I went out on the bowsprit to furl it, I felt so accomplished. … I am so thankful and blessed to have been able to sail again,” Kathryn said. “I am forever grateful to Williams-Mystic for giving me the opportunity for a second time.” 

The Search for More: Susan Funk’s (F’77) Williams-Mystic Story

Throughout her semester and at moments after it ended, Susan realized how much the accessibility of the Williams-Mystic professors adds to each student’s experience in the program.

“They’re not just there to grade you. They’re there to be your partner in learning,” Susan said.

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

Susan Funk _MAM
Susan Funk (Photo Credit: Mystic Seaport Museum)

You’re looking for more out of your college experience. More challenges. More questions. More big-picture thinking. More solutions. You’ve chosen to change your major from science to American history and you enjoy learning about how people interact with different environments. Your junior year, your advisor tells you about a program he believes pulls together all of your interests.

Welcome to the Williams-Mystic story of Executive Vice President and COO of Mystic Seaport Museum, Susan Funk.

When Susan’s advisor told her about the program, then recruiting students for its very first semester, he assured her that participating would be worth the risk.

“He said any program run by [Williams-Mystic founder and historian] Ben Labaree would be of the highest quality. There was a flier about the program but that’s all we knew about it because it didn’t exist yet. It was a concept rather than something you could go and observe and talk to other people about,” Susan said. She decided to take the risk and apply to the program.

Susan remembers why she chose to come in the program’s very first semester, the fall of 1977, rather than in the spring of 1978: She wanted to sail off Georges Bank in Massachusetts.

“I thought: Well, there’s a good chance that in my life I’ll have other opportunities to sail down in the Caribbean, but I don’t know that going on the fishing grounds is something that I’ll ever get to do again,” Susan said. “We also sailed into Nantucket, coming in on a traditional schooner into that old port. That was really memorable.”

Throughout her semester and at moments after it ended, Susan realized how much the accessibility of the Williams-Mystic professors adds to each student’s experience in the program.

“They’re not just there to grade you. They’re there to be your partner in learning,” Susan said.

The collaborative approach of Williams-Mystic, Susan believes, influences how students approach the world — not only as they return to their home campuses but also as they shape their careers. Right after college, Susan spent time working different jobs to figure out where and how she wanted to build her career.

Susan followed in the footsteps of one of her Williams-Mystic classmates who had gone to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to be an observer for the Law of the Sea Conference discussions and negotiations.

She spent eight weeks living in Geneva, going to strategy sessions with the American team and listening to all of the discussions about the law of the sea. During her time at Williams-Mystic, Ben Labaree had made sure that the F’77 class learned from professionals about topics as diverse as manganese nodules, whaling, shipping lanes and more. Now, in Geneva, these very topics were being discussed and Susan had a chance to apply her knowledge from the program.

After finishing her time in Geneva, she took a job on demonstration squad at Mystic Seaport Museum for the summer.

Susan remembers one of her first days aloft on the Charles W. Morgan as part of the demonstration squad.

“I arrived a day early for training, and the supervisor suggested that I seek out the riggers to see if I could be of help in their work on the Morgan. The riggers said that if I was willing to work aloft, they had some simple tasks I could do.  Of course, I said yes!  It was amazing.  A beautiful, sunny day, the chanteyman was singing down on the wharf, and I was at the end of the yard mouthing sister hooks.  This was the right place for me to spend a summer.  And although I knew I had learned a lot from Williams-Mystic, working as an interpreter taught me so much more,” Susan said.

Susan’s work on the demonstration squad led to several different positions in the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Interpretation Department. Early in her career, she also spent time working in admissions for Williams-Mystic. Susan gained insight into other nonprofit organizations through serving on the Boards of Trustees for the New England Museum Association, the Pine Point School, and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Each opportunity, Susan said, has helped her learn more, take on responsibility, and grow as a professional. A highlight of her Mystic Seaport Museum career is the 2014 Charles W. Morgan 38th voyage. Particularly, she remembers being on Stellwagen Bank and seeing numerous humpback whales, including a mother and calf. From handling sail underway to rowing in the whaleboat this experience reflected the importance of interdisciplinary thinking as we explore the past, present, and future.

These experiences reaffirmed for Susan just how unique Mystic Seaport Museum and Williams-Mystic are — particularly in transforming students’ paths long after they leave campus. She stays in contact with her classmates. “We agree that we are incredibly fortunate to be members of the first class and to continue our close friendships and ever-evolving discussions,” Susan said.

When Science and Art Come Together: Ann Prince’s (S’78) Williams-Mystic Story

“I feel like it was yesterday that I studied at Willams-Mystic. Time goes by so fast. Williams-Mystic was the absolute best thing I could have done.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

In the late 1970s, Ann Prince was a student at Bates College. The dean of her college was good friends with a man named Ben Labaree, a history professor at Williams College. Ben, as it happened, was in the process of starting the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program. Ann saw posters up on campus, talked to the dean at Bates, and decided to apply.

After receiving admission to the program, Ann never looked back.

Her semester began soon after the infamous Blizzard of ’78. Ann recalls staring out the windows of her train car, with snow piled high beside the tracks, on her way to begin the spring semester.

Then entering the second semester of her sophomore year, she wondered how Williams-Mystic was going to affect her educational experience and her life. Williams-Mystic went on to deeply influence her college experience. And the connections she formed there remain strong to this day.

Ann was studying art and biology at Bates, and wanted to work in the environmental field. Williams-Mystic was a perfect match for her — not just academically but also based on her childhood growing up near the water.

“I grew up in Maryland and my parents had a little yacht that we would sail on the Chesapeake,” Ann said. “My father was the skipper and my mother was first mate on The Katydid.

“I loved being at Mystic so much. I loved marine ecology and my favorite class was maritime literature. I read all of Moby-Dick and other Melville books. I even read other books because it was fun,” Ann said. “I took boat building as a maritime skill and grew very fond of the environment in the beautiful coastal town. I would wake up at 6 a.m. to go on an hour-long run along the waterfront and then have breakfast before going to our 8 a.m. class.”

During Ann’s semester, Ben Labaree and his wife Linda were wonderful supporters of all the Williams-Mystic students.

“Ben took on teaching the maritime history and marine policy course. He was awesome. When you are a kid you do not realize that the sacrifices people make. He brought his two young boys and his wife and moved from Williamstown to Mystic. What a nice man and so good to all of us,” Ann said.

Ann said Linda cared about each and every student even after they completed the project. For 30 years, after she completed her MST in environmental studies, Ann was a writer and editor for the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Linda and Ben continued to support her endeavors.

“When I worked at Audubon for all those years and wrote articles for Sanctuary magazine, Linda would sometimes write me a note or give me a call to say that she liked it,” Ann said. “It really meant a lot.”

After finishing her career with Massachusetts Audubon, Ann began to teach reading and literacy to young children in Brockton, Massachusetts. She continues to work as a freelance editor.

Ann has also begun exploring a new genre of writing: song lyrics. She had not touched an instrument in many years when she began picking up the guitar again, as well as playing some piano. Then, she decided to try her hand at songwriting.

“One of my new songs is called ‘Over the Ocean,’” Ann said. “From the surface, you might not know it is a commentary on the politics of the time.”

Some of the music Ann creates is connected to her experience as a Williams-Mystic student. Her class has kept in touch over the years.

“I feel like it was yesterday that I studied at Willams-Mystic. Time goes by so fast,” Ann reflected. “So profound was the influence of that semester that I will never regret choosing Mystic instead of going for a year abroad. It was the absolute best thing I could have done.”

Click play below to listen to Ann’s song titled “Over the Ocean,” which was inspired in part by her time at Williams-Mystic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History and the Sea: Drew Lipman’s (F’99) Story

“You become very aware of your impact on the planet. That circle of blue is what the planet truly looks like.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

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Growing up around boats and sailing set Drew Lipman (F’99) up for a career involving the ocean. While a student at Vassar College majoring in history, he also developed an interest in environmental history.

He saw advertisements for Williams-Mystic and kept the program on his radar.

“I looked up Williams-Mystic and Sea Education Association. Williams-Mystic had a more humanities-based approach and I was excited about using the museum and its archives,” Drew said.

Drew’s semester began with a short orientation. Soon, the group was embarking on their Offshore Field Seminar.

“We were around for a week and then headed out onto the SSV Corwith Cramer,” Drew said. “We went from Woods Hole, Massachusetts through the Cape Cod Canal and then into the Gulf of Maine. We ended in Rockport, Maine.”

Drew remembers bonding with his watch and the mate who was in charge of his watch.

He still thinks about this offshore experience regularly. After you have sailed offshore, he reflected, it is hard not to become invested in the environment.

“You become very aware of your impact on the planet. That circle of blue is what the planet truly looks like. I loved my time at the sea,” Drew said.

As he expected it to be, the maritime history class was a highlight for Drew.

“A close second was marine ecology with Jim Carlton. I loved the field seminars in particular: the marsh, the rocky intertidal. Being able to see ecological principles at work was exciting,” Drew said. In this class, he discovered how much he enjoyed doing fieldwork.

His Williams-Mystic courses also helped Drew gain a new perspective on his history major. Prior to Williams-Mystic, Drew thought maritime history was elite naval history and white-bearded men.

“Maritime history includes Native maritime history, Black maritime history, female maritime history and so much more. The way it was taught at Williams-Mystic, especially using the museum, showed [that maritime history] is one of the most interesting approaches to talk about the origins of capitalism and race. It was intellectually exciting.”

Visiting the West Coast and Nantucket as a Williams-Mystic student helped Drew learn to appreciate place-based education.

“In Nantucket, we stayed in a field station run by the University of Massachusetts. You could see evidence of climate change in 2000,” Drew said. “While we were there, we measured the shoreline in Williams-Mystic students all linked together to the end of the point. We also went to a cranberry bog and the island’s famous whaling museum.”

Drew’s Williams-Mystic experience inspired his senior thesis topic and, in the summer of 2001, and did a research project with Williams-Mystic history professor Glenn Gordinier about Watch Hill, Rhode Island. It was a wonderful experience and got him ready for graduate school.

Williams-Mystic also provided Drew with a link to the Pequot War, a conflict between Pequot Indians and English colonists that culminated in a massacre of Pequots at a fort in what is now Mystic, Connecticut. During the first year of his Ph.D. program, Drew realized how much Kieft’s War, a war that happened in the neighboring Dutch colony just a few years later, was linked to the Pequot War. He wrote about the connection between the two wars for his master’s thesis and then decided to make the topic his dissertation. Throughout this work, Drew was able to draw on his Williams-Mystic experience.

Once Drew got a job, he revised his dissertation into a book called The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast. The book argues that Natives fought for space and independence through fighting on water and connecting with Europeans creatively and commercially.

Drew is now working on his second book, which focuses on “Squanto” and the Mayflower pilgrims.

“Squanto is a real person named Tisquantum and the reason that he was able to help the Europeans was that he had been taken as a slave by an English fisherman six years earlier. Patuxet, the later site of Plymouth, is where he grew up,” Drew said. “This story is well known, but I believe I’ve found some interesting new wrinkles in the story. It’s also just an irresistible epic. A young man encounters European ships, journeys to Spain, England, the Newfoundland, then comes home to find most of his home community had died in an epidemic. And his legacy was complex: though the Mayflower passengers celebrated him, many of his Native allies accused him of betraying them. Piecing together this story anew has changed how I think about this pivotal moment, and hopefully will change readers’ minds too.”

Place-based education is a big tenet of any Williams-Mystic experience. For Drew Lipman, place-based learning has paid off in an unexpected way, leading him to pursue a career studying the very places he encountered during his semester.

 

 

Collaboration Is Key: Julie Shapiro’s (S’02) Williams-Mystic Story

Williams-Mystic helped Julie Shapiro (S’02) see that learning and working in an interdisciplinary way was what was best for her — and helped set her on a career path at the intersection of science and policy.

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

Julie Shapiro’s (S’02) Williams-Mystic adventure began in the Williams College cafeteria.

It was December 2001. The whole country was reeling from the lasting effects of September 11. Julie made it through the semester and felt like she needed a change in her college experience.

In the cafeteria, she was talking to another student when he said Williams-Mystic had a few spots left for the Spring 2002 semester. An ambitious English major, Julie was enrolled a few weeks later.

For Julie, her semester at Williams-Mystic helped her go from feeling disconnected from her studies to feeling invigorated and engaged by academics.

“My geosciences degree came after my semester at Williams-Mystic,” Julie said. “I came back to Williams for my senior year and was in almost all geosciences classes with a little bit of English.”

Williams-Mystic helped Julie see that learning and working in an interdisciplinary way was what was best for her.

During her semester, Julie enjoyed sailing from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba.

“I probably won the award for being the sickest on the trip, but the whole journey was great,” Julie said.

From the markets to the waterfalls, the Pacific Northwest was another memorable time for Julie. In Mystic, she learned how to sail and remembers going on numerous runs through the town and on the museum grounds.

In her classes, Julie enjoyed diving into policy and science.

“The science piece of everything [at Williams-Mystic] helped me decide to add geosciences and, in turn, helped me explore a post-graduate fellowship,” Julie said. “The fellowship helped me see that I didn’t want to be a scientist but that I wanted to teach science and work in science policy.”

As her career progressed, Julie worked in science education and then chose to pursue a master’s degree in environmental studies. Now, as  Senior Policy Director at Keystone Policy Center in Keystone, Colorado, Julie works at the intersection of science and policy.

“Keystone Center is a nonprofit, non-advocacy organization that tries to help diverse stakeholders reach common ground on big issues like the environment, health, education, etc.,” Julie said.

Julie works on natural resources, agriculture, and emerging technologies, like gene editing, at the local, state, and federal levels. She has worked with governor’s advisory boards and has facilitated regional and national conversations related to landscape conservation. Internationally, she is working to bring people together to talk about what the future looks like for gene editing technologies like CRISPR.

At its core, the purpose of Keystone Center is to bring together diverse opinions and help people find common ground and shared solutions.

“Even if you don’t agree on everything, you can respectfully understand people and there may be things you can agree on,” Julie said. “We try to meet people where they are. Sometimes just listening, sharing and understanding is an important step towards having better solutions in the long run.”

From her love of interdisciplinary learning to her career path, Williams-Mystic has left its mark on Julie.

“To this day, I always look for chances to do field trips with the groups I work with and that principle is something Williams-Mystic instilled in me,” Julie said.

One of the First to Set Sail: Alex Agnew’s (F’77) Williams Mystic Story

“To be the first semester added an extra charge to the whole experience and I think everyone felt that way,” Alex said. “Everything was new and everything was different. At the Seaport everyone seemed genuinely happy we were there.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

It is a typical day at Vassar College in the spring of 1977. You’re minding your own business when all of a sudden Colton Johnson, the dean of students, pulls you into a meeting with a man named Dr. Ben Labaree. Dr. Labaree is in the process of recruiting students for the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, which got its start on a Dunkin’ Donuts napkin in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and is about to embark on its first full semester: Fall 1977.

This is how the Williams-Mystic journey of Alex Agnew (F’77) began.

“I was literally shanghaied in the hallway by the dean of students because he was going to have a meeting with Ben Labaree, the founder, and there were no students at the meeting,” Alex said. “He literally said, ‘hey you, come over here,’ and we had tea in the Rose Parlor at Vassar. It was a strange coincidence that I happened to run into them.”

Alex was a first-year student at Vassar and was looking for a change in his college education. Going to Mystic and being one of the first students to participate in the program seemed like a good fit for him.

“When I got there, I was surprised that half of the students were not sailors and had no previous demonstrated interest in anything marine,” Alex said. “As I thought about it, I realized there are not programs like this in many different topics; there are not a ton of choices. It is as much about experiential learning as it is about sailing.”

Alex remembers being incredibly excited to be among the first students to do the program.

“To be the first semester added an extra charge to the whole experience, and I think everyone felt that way,” Alex said. “Everything was new and everything was different. At the Seaport, everyone seemed genuinely happy we were there.”

Dr. Labaree made everyday experiences come to life for the students in the F’77 class.

“He loved to teach history but we all really got into the policy class and that was just so cool and creative on his part,” Alex said. “We would drill down into different topic areas. He would have speakers come and he seemed to know what was going to happen when they showed up. You couldn’t know what they were going to say. He did a fantastic job.”

The literature, history, and policy classes all stand out in Alex’s mind. He wrote his policy paper on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“It was a long effort to analyze it from a political point of view. The policy paper was the big thesis for our class,” Alex said.

Alex enjoyed being on the grounds of the Mystic Seaport Museum. On Sundays, he would work as an interpreter on the Charles W. Morgan. He also chose to take celestial navigation with Don Treworgy and Susan Howell along with his assigned maritime skill, boat building.

Sailing aboard the SSV Westward deeply affected the members of F’77.

“When we were sailing on the Westward, we caught and tagged sharks and went out into the Gulf Stream to do that. It was very rough; everyone was deathly ill. The only way to stay away from being deathly ill was to stay on deck,” Alex said.

The crew on their voyage was very knowledgeable. One of his classmates told him that the SSV Westward experience was as memorable and valuable to her as the rest of the semester.

After his Williams-Mystic semester ended, Alex still had two and a half years left at Vassar. Transitioning back to school in the spring of 1978 was challenging, as it is for many alumni. Alex used what he learned in the program to bring his campus community together.

“I began to think about all the stuff that we did at Mystic that was so much fun. It created this sense of wanting more productive and creative experiences in my life,” Alex said. “I determined I was going to start a newspaper and spent some of that spring planning that.”

The newspaper Alex started, “The Syllabus,” was all about academics and policy.

“We wrote about what professors were teaching, what students were learning, what research was going on,” Alex said.

This project had a connection to the experiential learning Alex experienced in Mystic.

“I realized that everyone else was doing really interesting stuff too. Williams-Mystic gave me the confidence to think I could do stuff like this,” Alex said. “There were 75 students writing for it and we published weekly.”

Alex also served on the Comprehensive Plan Committee and pushed hard for more experiential learning and a Great Books Program, much like common read programs that exist at colleges and universities today.

After graduating from Vassar, Alex worked for the Journal of Commerce and then went sailing for a year. The man who hired him was one of the founders of Tall Ships America, which would play a large part in his career.

“I crewed on yachts. I did 10,000 ocean miles and paid for the whole thing by trading my labor on the ship for room and board,” Alex said.

Following his year on yachts, Alex worked as a daily newspaper journalist. His experiences as a sailor and a journalist came together in 1984, when he started Ocean Navigator, a magazine on marine navigation and ocean voyaging. In 1991, the magazine began running a small tall ship called Ocean Star. In 1993, they started the magazine Professional Mariner and in 1998 Alex joined the Tall Ships America board.

In 2015, Alex and two of his sailing friends started Tall Ships Maine, an organization that believes the experience of sailing on board a tall ship as part of the crew for a week changes teens’ perspectives and helps them develop leadership and teamwork skills.

“The first year, we sent 17 kids sailing on tall ships. We sent 100 kids this year and work closely with the schooner Harvey Gamage, one of the most successful training vessels after the SEA vessels,” Alex said.

Participants go out for a week aboard a tall ship and, after their voyage is complete, can continue learning about sailing through Sea Scouts. Tall Ships Maine is trying to get the next generation excited about sailing and the maritime industry. Currently, the organization is working with 25 different schools and hopes to send 200 teens out to sea in 2019.

In many ways, Alex’s time in Mystic is connected to his career and current work in maritime education. He and some of his classmates had a mini-reunion a few weeks ago visiting the Westward (tied up at the dock in Portland, ME) and they are hoping to sail on a tall ship together again in 2019.

“These little Mystic connections are not done when you leave,” Alex reflected. “They continue to bear fruit over your whole life. I feel like I am right back in it in a way.”

Being your true self: Devon Parfait’s (F’18) Williams-Mystic Story

“Williams-Mystic has taught me how to be a better academic and about the value of real connections. It is so exciting to see so many intelligent and young minds care about so many different issues.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

Devon Parfait (F’18) first encountered Williams-Mystic at a geosciences conference in fall 2017. Little did he realize the type of educational experience that would await him less than a year later.

At the conference, Devon met two geoscientists connected to the program: Ronadh Cox, a professor of geology and mineralogy at Williams College, and Lisa Gilbert (S’96), Williams-Mystic’s oceanography professor.

Devon was at the conference in his capacity as the future chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimatcha-Choctaw Indians in Southern Louisiana. Ronadh Cox connected Williams-Mystic with Tribal Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar in 2014. Now, every time the program travels to Louisiana, Williams-Mystic students meet with Chief Shirell and other community leaders to discuss the effects of climate change on her community.

For Devon, taking on the role of chief is a major responsibility. He believes that his experience at Williams-Mystic will help equip him to assume the role.

Williams-Mystic also changed Devon’s perception of the world and of himself. Sailing on the SSV Corwith Cramer was a catalyst for this change in his life.

“I was able to be my true self,” Devon said. “I had a feeling of pure joy and happiness that I never could have gotten anywhere else.”

Devon said being disconnected from the world outside while on the ship made him feel as though he was truly living in the moment.

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Devon also enjoyed traveling to the West and Gulf Coasts.

“All of the field seminars were absolutely incredible, and I felt so safe and comfortable traveling with Williams-Mystic,” Devon said. “Being in the vans was fun and I was impressed by the ways the staff and faculty did their jobs.”

In the Pacific Northwest, Devon did not feel the need to worry about food and traveling; he felt like he could enjoy the experience with his classmates. Devon has a vivid memory of being on Agate Beach, Oregon with Lisa Gilbert and talking to her about school and how she decided to pursue her Ph.D.

The Gulf Coast Field Seminar, meanwhile, was a trip home for Devon.

“It was really cool to be in Louisiana with Williams-Mystic and it was really nice for my classmates and professors to have me as their personal connection,” Devon said. “They were then connected to me and Louisiana. It was a great way for them to see who I really was and where I came from.”

For his classmates and faculty, Devon said, the field seminar was an opportunity to see Louisiana through his eyes. For Devon, meanwhile, the field seminar was an opportunity to see his home through the lens of Williams-Mystic.

“It was incredible to be [from] where I was from and see all the negative impacts on the environment and how that affects the community,” Devon said. “It was valuable and there were things that I learned about my community and state I would not have known otherwise.”

Travel is a large component of the Williams-Mystic experience, but so is research. Williams-Mystic makes it possible for students to utilize their curiosity to complete research projects that matter to them.

In Devon’s maritime history class, he researched the changing role of doctors from the 1700s through the modern era and looked at how these changes affected medical practices at sea.

In his literature class, Devon chose to focus his Moby-Dick research paper on cannibalism, savagery, and sharks.

“The whole book is meant to change the readers’ perceptions and has so many different hidden meanings throughout,” Devon said. “I wrote about how these perceptions change the way in which we view who were the real savages during this time.”

Devon credits Williams-Mystic with creating the supportive environment that helped him write and organize his paper.

“For the Moby-Dick paper, I definitely tried to organize it too much at the beginning,” Devon said. “Random quotes and summaries of the chapters filled the boards in Carlton [the James T. Carlton Marine Science Center].”

Many of the summaries and quotes did not make it into his final paper. However, he learned more from this in-depth research than he would have had he not tackled the novel in this way.

The same can be said for Devon’s Oceanographic Processes project. The opportunity to take this class was one of the main reasons he wanted to attend Williams-Mystic. Devon chose to research coastal erosion at the Barn Island salt marshes and in the Mystic River Estuary. In fact, his research was one of the first Williams-Mystic student projects to compare the two locations. He studied mussels and Spartina, a common marsh grass, while also looking at biodiversity and erosion.

Finally, in marine policy, Devon delved into ways that the California State Lands Commission might incorporate the perspectives and needs of traditionally marginalized communities into the way the commission manages public lands in the San Francisco Bay area.

“The goal was to help create policy recommendations that would allow lessees to better define the environmental justice communities they work with using a combination of tools that are available,” Devon said.

Aside from the research projects, participating in nineteenth-century maritime skills classes is another component of Williams-Mystic’s educational model. Devon chose to take shipsmithing — a nineteenth-century style blacksmithing class.

“Shipsmithing gives you the opportunity to have something tangible to bring home from each lesson,” Devon said. “You can go in and relax and work and have a good time.”

All told, Devon credits Williams-Mystic for challenging him in ways he never could have imagined — and changing his life for the better.

“I would never exchange this experience for anything else in the world,” Devon said. “It has taught me how to be a better academic and about the value of real connections. It is so exciting to see so many intelligent and young minds care about so many different issues.”