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 Maritime Studies 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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. 

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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.”

Alejandro Flores Monge’s (F’18) Williams-Mystic Story

Alejandro Flores Monge always knew he wanted to be an advocate for the environment. Williams-Mystic’s interdisciplinary curriculum and marine policy class helped him see how he could connect this goal to his other interests.

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. 

Since early in his educational career, Alejandro Flores Monge (F’18) has been looking for ways to challenge himself inside and outside of the classroom. Williams-Mystic is just the most recent step in this process.

A sophomore at Williams College, Alejandro plans to double major in environmental studies and art history. He hopes to focus on Latino/Latina studies to complete his degree.

Alejandro was born in Colorado and spent his childhood growing up in Colorado and Mexico. In seventh grade, Alejandro was required to do future education planning on a career preparation website.

“While I was digging through the website, I began to understand the distinction between the educational approaches of liberal arts colleges and larger universities,” Alejandro said. “I enjoyed the liberal arts approach more and eventually wanted to attend a university that was focused on it.”

Alejandro attended United World College in New Mexico for high school. He believes his passion for environmentalism came from this time in his life. His high school education had numerous liberal arts components too.

While searching for a college, he was drawn to Williams College because it paired a liberal arts curriculum with a strong environmental program.

“I was also very satisfied with the curriculum,” Alejandro said. “Another large factor in my decision-making was Williams College’s dedication to sustainability.”

The summer before he started his first year at Williams College, Alejandro visited Mystic with other incoming first-year humanities and social science students. He thought the area was beautiful but did not initially think of incorporating the maritime world into his environmental studies education.

“At the time, I was more focused on urban areas, water resources, and urbanizing arid environments,” Alejandro said.

As he made his way through prerequisites for his major, he heard more about Williams-Mystic from professors and the Williams-Mystic admissions team. By the fall of his sophomore year, he was ready to give it a try.

As a Williams-Mystic student, Alejandro has connected with his professors and believes the program operates under an effective model of interdisciplinary education.

From day one, he has also noticed Williams-Mystic’s commitment to building and strengthening communities — especially on field seminars.

Going into the program, Alejandro expected sailing aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer in the Gulf of Maine to be rough and cold. In fact, F’18’s Offshore Field Seminar was warm and sunny. Learning to sail the Cramer together, Alejandro feels, helped him and his shipmates foster community. He doubts they would be as close to each other without having worked together to sail the Cramer.

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Alejandro, at far right, along with his housemates during F’18’s Pacific Northwest Field Seminar.

Back in Mystic, Alejandro soon found his marine policy project particularly invigorating.

Before his semester began, Alejandro assumed Marine Policy would be much like the political science classes he’d already taken at Williams. He quickly found out that nothing is quite comparable to the Williams-Mystic policy class experience — especially when it comes to the policy research project.

For one, Alejandro got the chance to connect with Williams-Mystic alumnus Jonathan Labaree (S’84) via Labaree’s work at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). GMRI seeks to improve shellfish aquaculture while minimizing harm to coastal ecosystems. This involves finding solutions that are sustainable not just for the ecosystems in question but also for the people who rely on coastal ecosystems to make a living.

As part of Alejandro’s research, he evaluated a variety of ecosystem models — including not just biological models but also economic, social, and even mathematical ones — to help determine the point at which shellfish farms start to have significant impacts on riverine ecosystems.

Alejandro’s policy research also led to some complex questions: How many aquaculture farms will riparian landowners tolerate? At what point might the success of commercial fishermen be compromised? How will aquaculture initiatives, even environmentally sustainable ones, impact locals’ ability to swim and fish for leisure? As Alejandro learned, questions like these rarely have a single, simple answer.

For Alejandro, the experience has helped him realize that there are a variety of ways to advocate for the environment. Like many alumni before him, Alejandro finds the prospect of working in law especially exciting.

Most of all, Marine Policy — and Williams-Mystic in general — has made it even more apparent to Alejandro that language matters. Alejandro is fluent in five languages and believes multilingualism is vital to a prosperous society.

“Language helps you understand the stories of individual people,” Alejandro said. “Law and policy add a tangible and physical reality to the idea that language dictates reality. What you say and what you write down has  the power to determine what you are and are not capable of doing.”

Drive Comes From Within: How Experiential Learning Deeply Affected Rob Leary (F’81)

“When you meet someone from another Williams-Mystic class it is like they already understand where you are coming from and the passion you exude.”

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. 

One conversation changes everything about undergrad: It’s a story that links many Williams-Mystic alumni. It’s also the story of Rob Leary (F’81), who first learned about the program from an alumnus.

“He talked about it so passionately and enthusiastically,” Rob said. “He made it sound like the best experience he had ever had and I was so intrigued.”

At the time, Rob was a sophomore studying political science at Union College in upstate New York. He was wondering what to do next in his college experience.

After speaking to the Union College Williams-Mystic alumnus, Rob was interested in the program but was not entirely sold on applying. While Rob was trying to make his decision, Dr. Ben Labaree, founding director of Williams-Mystic, came to Union College and led a compelling discussion about what Williams-Mystic could offer undergraduate students.

After listening intently to Ben Labaree, Rob chose to apply to the program and eventually went to Mystic for an interview. Upon visiting Mystic, he knew the program was the place for him.

“I visited Mystic Seaport Museum as a young child and connecting with it in this new way was exciting for me,” Rob said.

Rob said he had a wonderful time with his classmates.

“I was in a fantastic class. Everyone was so close. We did our sailing on Westward [a now-retired Sea Education Association sailing school vessel] in the North Atlantic and visited Nova Scotia,” Rob said. “Back in Mystic, we stayed close to one another and we sailed small sailboats.”

While in Mystic, Rob and his classmates also visited the U.S. Naval War College, the Coast Guard Academy, and a number of other sites across southern New England. Rob wrote his marine policy paper on the Coast Guard’s role in the war on drugs.

Rob’s classmates came from more than 10 different colleges. He enjoyed being in charge of his studies and making meals with his friends.

“I think we all felt a little bit of healthy competitiveness because we wanted to do well academically as well as have a lot of fun,” Rob said. 

Williams-Mystic deepened Rob’s passion for law and policy. He was interested in admiralty law and planned to build his career in that field. Indeed, Rob attended Fordham Law School after finishing his undergraduate degree. He went on to practice law at White & Case in New York City and Saudi Arabia.

While practicing law, though, Rob realized he also had a passion for finance. He participated in the finance training program of J.P. Morgan & Co., subsequently working for American International Group (AIG). Eventually, Rob became the CEO of three entities in succession: ING Investment Management, TIAA Global Asset Management, and Nuveen. In March 2017, he was named CEO of The Olayan Group; he now leads its global operations from Athens, Greece.

Throughout his career, Rob continued to stay connected with Williams-Mystic. He served on the Williams-Mystic alumni council in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1999, he became the first Williams-Mystic alumnus to join the Mystic Seaport Museum Board of Trustees.

As a Board member for many years, Rob worked to form connections among the program, its alumni, Williams College, and the Mystic Seaport Museum. He recruited other Williams-Mystic alumni to join the Board, including Rob Rohn (F’81) and Steve Campbell (S’87). With the help of Williams College and Mystic Seaport Museum, funding was secured to build the James T. Carlton Marine Science Center (CMSC). Opened in 2007, the CMSC contains 8,000 square feet of lab and classroom space and continues to serve as a study space, a science classroom, and a lab for research conducted by Williams-Mystic students and faculty. 

During our conversation, I could hear in Rob’s voice the admiration he has for Williams-Mystic.

“I had a deep and abiding love for the sea before the program, and I came to understand that the sea impacts art, literature, policy, and everything else. It also had a spiritual impact on me,” Rob said. “I have brought that perspective into my personal and professional life.” 

Rob has met other Williams-Mystic alumni who have become close friends of his, including Williams-Mystic’s moot court appellate judge, Derek Langhauser (F’82). Derek was instrumental in Rob and others becoming members of the Mystic Seaport Museum Board of Trustees.

“When you meet someone from another Williams-Mystic class it is like they already understand where you are coming from and the passion you exude,” Rob said. “I am a big believer in the experiential learning we had at Williams-Mystic: Being out there doing things that were hands-on and experiencing them with people who were involved in the things you were learning about.” 

Rob believes he is most purposeful when he focuses on the environment and education. It’s a purpose he found thanks to Williams-Mystic.

“I felt so passionately about the program. And when you feel that, it is a guide for you to use to follow through on the things you are driven towards and passionate about,” Rob said. “The drive comes from within, comes from your heart, comes from your soul.” 

*Information on Rob’s career came from Rob himself and an article from The Olayan Group.