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. She is studying public relations and political science at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. If you have any questions about our program, you can email her at audra.delaney@gmail.com.

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 worked alongside five other students to complete a research project on environmental justice and the leasing of land 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.”

On our Last Day Offshore, Science, Sunsets, Songs, and Lots of Knots

The last day aboard the Cramer is a microcosm of everything we’ve experienced aboard: science, hands-on learning, our duty to the ship, and team bonding via songs and puns.

Muscongus Bay, Saint George River, Maine

September 12, 2018

0445 h

After making our way north to Maine, we anchored at Muscongus Bay Monday evening. Anchoring brought a welcome reprieve from the watch schedule offshore; we’ve been keeping short “anchor watches” during our time here, which have allowed us to catch up on some much-awaited sleep.

Tuesday morning brought rain, but also some excellent poster presentations, as the students crowded into the main salon of the Cramer to share the results from their scientific research projects. Another highlight of the day: marlinspike seamanship class, in which students worked on knots — and “knautical” puzzles. (When you’ve been together on a ship for 10 days, your humor tends to take a turn for the punny.)

As part of the ship’s crew, our duty to Cramer has structured our days here. Tuesday, as our last full day on the ship, was no exception; our afternoon was designated a “field day,” a time to clean and care for every inch of this ship that’s been our home this week and a half. The rain stopped as we finished field day, and we were rewarded with a beautiful, final night aboard, full of poetry, conversation, and songs.

two students
Isabella (Colby College, at left) and Morgan (Williams College) present the results of their study on light attenuation in the surface ocean.

Now, it’s early morning Wednesday. Everyone is still asleep but soon the ship will be abuzz as we prepare to get underway and head toward Rockland. Tonight, we will make our way back to Mystic as shipmates, ready for the next adventures of our fall semester.


Thank you to Captain Chris and the entire ship’s crew for a wonderful 10 days aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer! You can follow the last leg of our journey here — https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER — note, as always, that our position may not be current, as it’s updated periodically and not continuously.

Nine Days into their Offshore Voyage, F’18 has Learned the Lines

On the small world of a sailing ship, there’s lots to learn – from your science class, the world around you, and the vessel itself.

September 10, 2018

1045 h.

43.5′ N x 069.9′ W

Heading north

We enjoyed warm temperatures, calm seas, and light winds for the first half of our offshore journey, but as we head north the air is getting a bit chillier and the wind is picking up.

With 15-knot winds expected, the students learned to reef the mainsail (to take in parts of this large sail to make the ship less vulnerable to strong gusts) during our afternoon nautical class. After class, jackets and hats began emerging on deck. It’s starting to feel like fall.

As new members of the crew, our students are expected to learn all the lines (ropes, in a layperson’s terms) on the Cramer. Luckily, their watches have involved plenty of practice handling lines. Our course has demanded frequent gybing, in which students shift certain sails from one side of the boat to the other to zigzag toward our destination, in the same direction as the strengthening wind.

During quieter moments, the students have also been reviewing pinrail diagrams: intricate maps of the ship with points, placed throughout, resembling nodes on an electrical circuit and signifying “pins,” where a given line is fastened to the ship’s rails.

students in a conga line aboard a ship
Morgan, Madison, Isabella, Valmont and Devon celebrate with a conga line around the deck after a successful line chase.

On Friday, they tested their knowledge in a “pinrail chase,” which involved a healthy dose of competition and even more celebration. With increasing knowledge comes more responsibility; students have started to take on leadership roles during watch, keeping track of hourly duties and even calling ship maneuvers.

Because we are always on lookout as part of our duty to the ship, we have been lucky to spot megafauna! Some of our best sightings were when we were approaching and sailing through Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Some students have spotted mola mola, or ocean sunfish, which they described as akin to square elephants with wings. Humpback whales are a coveted sighting; many students will go so far as to request being woken up to catch a glimpse. And dolphins, playing in our bow watch, appear at night as grey shadows with glowing streaks trailing in their wake, thanks to the bioluminescence in the water. If you listen closely, you can hear them squeak.

As we head towards Maine, students are hard at work completing their shipboard science projects and preparing to present their findings to the whole ship’s company tomorrow.

two students present a hand-draw poster aboard a ship
B Watch students Madison (Beloit College) and Valmont (SUNY Maritime) describe light in the ocean for their daily science report.

TRACK OUR PROGRESS!

You can follow the Cramer’s journey at this link: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note: The information on the location of the vessel is not always updated regularly. If you notice the vessel staying in the same location for extended periods of time, it simply means the website has not updated recently.

A Day in the Life Offshore

Offshore, life follows a recurring rhythm of standing watch, attending class, eating, and sleeping — and spotting dolphins along the way.

September 6, 2018

2030 h.

41° 31′ N x 070° 39′ W

A week into our offshore voyage, F’18 has adjusted to shipboard life, with its rhythm of watches, classes, meals, and sleeping.

Take today, for example, when A Watch stood watch in the morning. Today’s morning watch included a “science super station” dedicated to collecting water and data all the way from the surface to the seafloor of southern Georges Bank. In the middle of the station, we spotted dozens of Atlantic Striped Dolphins jumping in the distance. We paused our measurements of light attenuation (how quickly light dims and dissipates as water deepens) to delight in the antics of these charismatic megafauna.

After lunch, A Watch took a nap, attended classes, and saw more dolphins — this time, Short-Beaked Common Dolphins. Then, they had dinner and headed off to their bunks to sleep before waking early for dawn watch, to repeat the cycle over again.

Every afternoon, the whole ship’s company gathers for a meeting and class. We begin with announcements and then hear a weather report and a science report, both of which are led by students from the dawn watch. The class itself is often interdisciplinary, integrating maritime history with oceanography. Today’s class focused on citizen scientists at sea, from Benjamin Franklin’s 18th-century account of the Gulf Stream to Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind. 

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Historian Alicia Maggard leads class on deck.

We followed class with a snack — blueberry shortcake — before diving into a hands-on, nautical class. Students set all three of our square sails — the course, the topsail, and the raffee — so we could sail downwind toward our final super station.


TRACK OUR PROGRESS!

You can follow the Cramer’s journey at this link: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note: The information on the location of the vessel is not always updated regularly. If you notice the vessel staying in the same location for extended periods of time, it simply means the website has not updated recently.

On F’18’s First Day Aboard the Corwith Cramer, an Exciting Journey Awaits — and Lots of Mud

It’s day eight of our semester, and we’re embarking on a ten-day sailing voyage in the Gulf of Maine: an opportunity to experience life out of sight of land, and to learn about the ocean by living on it.

Monday, September 3, 2018
At anchor, Menemsha Bight, Martha’s Vineyard

It’s our second day aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer — and the eighth day of our Fall 2018 semester. Last Monday, our 17 students — representing 19 majors, 13 colleges and universities, and 12 US states — had just arrived on campus. Today, they’re embarking on a ten-day voyage in the Gulf of Maine: An opportunity to experience life out of sight of land, to work as part of the crew of a sailing ship, and to learn about the Atlantic firsthand, in the lab and on the deck.

We — the F’18 class, oceanographer Lisa Gilbert (S’96), historian Alicia Maggard, and lab manager Laurie Warren (S’89) — left Mystic on Sunday morning. We boarded the Cramer in bustling Woods Hole just before lunch.

After a brief orientation from the ship’s professional crew, we cast off our dock lines and headed for our overnight anchorage in quiet Menemsha Bight, Martha’s Vineyard.

We plan to be sailing through the night for most of our 10 days aboard Corwith Cramer, taking turns sailing the ship, running science operations, and sleeping. Three groups, or watches, take responsibility for the ship for four or six hours at the time, under the direction of professional crew members acting as watch officers.

At anchor on Sunday, we continued orientation and safety training until sunset. Then, the stewards delighted us with a hearty meal of spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread. Soon after, we tucked into our bunks for a rare, full night of sleep at anchor.

This morning, we continued our training. We learned to furl sails on the bowsprit and practiced deploying scientific gear. C Watch even brought back a sample of the seafloor: some black, Menemsha mud, a quahog, and dozens of slipper limpets. It was our first glimpse into the world we’re passing through and over — a world we’re just beginning to discover.

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Oceanographer Lisa Gilbert (S’96) digs into sediment samples with students Alejandro Flores Monge (Williams College ’21) and Dionna Jenkins (Smith College ’20).

TRACK OUR PROGRESS!

You can follow the Cramer’s journey at this link: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note: The information on the location of the vessel is not always updated regularly. If you notice the vessel staying in the same location for extended periods of time, it simply means the website has not updated recently.

Curiosity About Environmental Issues Brought Christian Petrangelo (F’04) To Williams-Mystic

Christian Petrangelo (F’04) entered Williams-Mystic unsure whether he wanted to stay in the environmental side of science. He left ready to jump into a career in environmental law and policy.

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. She is studying public relations and political science at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. If you have any questions about our program, you can email her at audra.delaney@gmail.com.

The age-old question of “what are you going to major in?” is something every person going to college has to answer at some point. Christian Petrangelo (F’04) started his freshman year at Middlebury College thinking he was going to major, and eventually work, in environmental science. Over the next four years, his plans evolved.

“By the end of my freshman year, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in the environmental field or do something else,” Christian said. “During my sophomore year, I retreated from the environmental side of things a little bit.”

That same year, Christian saw a brochure for Williams-Mystic and was intrigued.

“It was an 8-and-a-half by 11, full-page brochure that was floating around Middlebury,” Christian said. “I went through it thoroughly and knew other students at Middlebury had done the program before but didn’t get the chance to talk to anyone who had done it.”  

In August 2004, Christian embarked on his Williams-Mystic journey.

“I wanted the interdisciplinary approach, not just the science. Williams-Mystic intrigued me because of the push on the social sciences. During the program, I took a lot away from policy and history,” Christian said. “Going to Mystic kept me on the path of going into an environmental career by allowing me to explore other options than environmental science, like environmental law.”

Christian enjoyed many things about life in Mystic and on the road.

“There were so many pranks during our semester,” Christian said. “I was in the program when Mallory House was down on Greenmanville [Ave.] We played so many practical jokes, all in good spirit and good taste. It was still early enough that we had landlines and those were used a lot during our pranks.”

As someone raised on the East Coast, Christian recalls the West Coast Field Seminar fondly because of how much it opened his eyes to the vast geographic differences among America’s coasts.

“I fell in love with California on that trip, but I truly enjoyed all of the field seminars,” Christian said.

Christian recalled sailing the Gulf of Maine aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer with lots of laughter.

“Sailing on the Cramer was my first tall ship experience. I grew up sailing small craft boats and thought I would not be affected by seasickness,” Christian said. “I did get seasick. I remember being in the lab on the ship and looking at a photo of Kramer from Seinfeld that was in there. I felt what was coming and ran out of the lab to throw up over the side. My roommate was also from the East Coast and he never got seasick.”

Exploring the Gulf Coast opened Christian’s eyes to thoughts, opinions, and lifestyles different from his own.

“When we were in Louisiana, we went out on a boat towards an oil platform. Listening to the lectures about it made me see a whole different perspective on the marine environment,” Christian said. “Our class got exposed to that industry whether we agreed with it or not. Being exposed to people and industries that I was not exposed to in New England was good for me.”

Regarding his entire Williams-Mystic experience, Christian was pleasantly surprised by the close relationships he built with his classmates and faculty members.

“For me, the change of environment and getting back on the East Coast gave me freedom. Going in, I did not know what to expect from the people and was shocked how tight the group was during the semester,” Christian said. “Also, I thoroughly appreciate the joy I got from experiential learning. I wasn’t just in front of a computer or in one location and that created an exciting experience for me.”

After his time at Williams-Mystic, Christian graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in history, worked as a paralegal for a few years, and then attended the London School of Economics, where he received a Master of Science in Environmental Policy. After he completed that program, he spent three years at Vermont Law School, where he received a Juris Doctorate in Environmental Law.

“At Vermont Law School, I didn’t do any semesters off campus but I did spend a summer interning in the Vermont Attorney General’s office and another summer with the Department of the Interior working on issues in the environmental and labor law fields,” Christian said. “I also did Vermont Law Review and that gave me more fulfilling professional experiences.”

Participating in Moot Court, an exercise that is part of the policy class curriculum at Williams-Mystic, benefited Christian in law school.

“It was one of the first times I was exposed to oral argument preparation. It helped me and so many of my classmates face and tackle the anxieties that come with having questions fired at you in front of other people,” Christian said. “Finishing it showed me that I could prepare and succeed, not spiral down and fail. It put me on a path towards law school because of how much I liked the engagement and intellectual rigor.”

Christian looks back at Williams-Mystic as his happiest semester in college.

“I really clicked with the people in my class. I had finally met people who were passionate about the ocean and marine studies just like me,” Christian said. “It was great to be in an environment where everyone was intrigued by the same thing.”

Christian has this to say to young Williams-Mystic alumni and Williams-Mystic students to come: keep an open mind about where you could go professionally. You might have one idea about what you want to do with your life and you may come out of school or another kind of experience wanting to do something else. There are a lot of pathways life could take you down, so trust your instincts.

Connections and Community: Alissa Ryan’s (F’17) Williams-Mystic Experience

“I knew nothing about boats or sailing or the maritime community before coming to Williams-Mystic. I really didn’t think I’d be of any use to the ship’s crew on the Offshore Field Seminar, but I found myself knowing the lines, helping pull up the anchor, and steering the ship comfortably.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. She is studying public relations and political science at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. If you have any questions about our program, you can email her at audra.delaney@gmail.com.

Alissa aboard the US Brig Niagara, looking up with a life preserver hanging off the ship behind her.
Alissa Ryan (F’17) during the Offshore Field Seminar aboard the US Brig Niagara.

Imagine this: a little girl who hated the outdoors so much that her parents had to bribe her to go outside grows up and chooses to study environmental science, become a camp counselor, and love the outdoors. For New York University student and F’17 alumna Alissa Ryan, this is the journey that led her to Williams-Mystic.

Alissa was in the process of clearing out her old email when she came across a message from Executive Director Tom Van Winkle advertising Williams-Mystic. The program spoke to her because of its size.

“My school is really big (25,000 undergrads!) and right in New York City, so I wanted to have a small, personal experience for a semester where I could develop a community — and I absolutely got that, along with some hands-on learning relevant to my major that I never could have gotten through my own university’s programs,” Alissa said.

Williams-Mystic taught Alissa the importance of making personal connections and collaborating with others.

“At a big city school, there is very little community and people keep to themselves in big, 300-person lectures. It’s easy to fall into that and keep that mindset even in smaller settings where you have the opportunity to be more involved,” Alissa said. “Williams-Mystic reminded me to talk to my classmates and get to know my professors and be all around more present, which has helped me a lot back at my home college.”

Alissa especially enjoyed a field seminar full of personal connections: the Gulf Coast Field Seminar.

“It felt so meaningful and I learned a lot from talking to individuals there. I’ve been learning about climate change for years in the courses for my major, but seeing its effects in real life, right in front of my eyes, and talking to people about how it’s changed their lives is something I could never get from a classroom and really helped me understand why I’m studying these things in the first place,” Alissa said.

Community living was Alissa’s favorite part of her Williams-Mystic experience.

“I really loved Mallory House. We cooked together, watched movies and TV together, and had SO many mug cookies together,” Alissa said. “The other houses were just across the street, too, so I could cross the street to go see my friends over in the other houses.”

Alissa was surprised at how much she was able to learn as different challenges presented themselves.

“I knew nothing about boats or sailing or the maritime community before coming to Williams-Mystic, and I left knowing so much more,” Alissa said. “I really didn’t think I’d be of any use to the ship’s crew on the Offshore Field Seminar, but I found myself knowing the lines, helping pull up the anchor, and steering the ship comfortably.”

Part of being a Williams-Mystic student is working with others to solve problems or defend positions. Alissa’s participation in Moot Court with her classmates embodied this principle.

“We were all stressed and sleep deprived, a little convinced that we wouldn’t be able to make it come together,” Alissa said. “We kept working and figured it all out and it came together for both teams. It perfectly demonstrated to me how well we had all learned to work together to get things done.”

Alissa hopes to work in the field of environmental science someday and believes that environmental education may be a good fit for her.

“I love nature and the environment and I just want to make some sort of positive change, leaving it better in some way,” Alissa said.

Alissa’s Williams-Mystic experience can be summed up in one word: Gratitude.

“I have met lifelong friends through Williams-Mystic who I could never meet anywhere else. My classmates, professors, and everyone else I’ve met at W-M amaze me with their passion for what they do and their drive to make change,” Alissa said. “The people I’ve met through Williams-Mystic continue to inspire me and motivate me to do my best at what I love.”