Then and Now: Lab Manager and Assistant Director of Student Life Laurie Warren (S’89) reflects on her time at Williams-Mystic

After working as a bench scientist for more than 17 years, Laurie Warren (S’89) is back at Williams-Mystic as Lab Manager and Assistant Director of Student Life. She says it’s like she never left.

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

six college students pose together in an old photo
Laurie Warren (née Wilson) and her S’89 classmates at the Seaport. From left to right: Rob Johnston, Laurie, Margie Butler, Erika Mueller, Wendy Read, and Judith Wright.

It’s January 1989. Now-lab manager Laurie Warren is preparing to participate in the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, which, at this time, is only eight and a half years old.

“I was a student in the spring of ‘89, which was during my junior year at Mount Holyoke College,” Laurie said. “I found out about the program from poster I saw in my biology department on a cork board.”

Laurie had heard about the program before, but had never taken the time to sit down and learn about all it could offer her.

“Back then, there were a lot of students who did the program through the Twelve College Exchange and I also had an awareness of what it was like to go out to sea because my sister, who is five years older, had done SEA semester on Westward.”

The program Laurie’s sister did was six weeks out at sea. Laurie was more interested in doing the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program because it included only two weeks out at sea.

The S’89 class had the unique experience of being at the crossroads of Williams-Mystic history.

“I was the last class of Ben Labaree, who is the founder. I was Glenn Gordinier and Mary K. Bercaw Edwards’ first class,” Laurie said. “I was at the crossroads. Dennis Nixon was the policy professor but he was on sabbatical. So, we had Ben for both history and policy.”

Laurie remembers going on many field trips for policy class.

“We went to an aquaculture site, a liquid natural gas (LNG) tank exhibit and we did a lot of outreach with quest speakers,” Laurie said.  

Laurie’s Williams-Mystic experience centered on New England, with Mystic Seaport as the focal point.

“It was our campus. We spent a lot of time there. We did a number of material culture projects and got into the collections. At that time, Glenn was not our main professor but he was very involved in the material culture aspect of history class.”

Laurie remembers working on a material culture project about the whale boat.

“A group of us all did it together. One of us did the Cooperage, one did the Morgan, I did the whale boat, and it all connected to whaling.”

Like many Williams-Mystic alumni, Laurie has fond memories from her time on campus and still identifies with her house, Albion.

“It is not the same Albion House that is on campus today. The one I lived in was across the street. I remember Ray Strong, my classmate, was the treasurer of our house. He was an economics major from Middlebury. He used some of our house money to buy stuff to make a tetherball court in the backyard, cement and all. We had a lot of fun.”

Other campus houses have also changed since Laurie’s semester as a student.

“Kemble House was one of the houses. So was Mallory, but it was down the street on the right and now it is owned by an alumna. Johnston House was also here but Carr House was not.”

When asked what her favorite field seminar memory was, Laurie talked about her time as a Williams-Mystic Science TA following her graduation from college.

“When Jim [Carlton] came on board as director, we went on a trip to New York City. We went to a container port there and we also went to Ellis Island. We stayed at Governor’s Island and we slept on the floor in sleeping bags. I remember being on this island and looking at the Manhattan skyline.”

Even after Laurie moved on from working for the program right after college, she was still invited back to go on a number of field seminars.

Laurie also worked on Mystic Seaport’s demonstration squad, led by longtime Williams-Mystic literature professor Mary K. Bercaw Edwards.

After working as a TA, Laurie chose to pursue her passion for marine biology through an internship with the Department of Environmental Protection.

“I did a lobster project with them as an intern and I learned so much about different species and tools used in science research.”

Eventually, Laurie chose to take a position at DeKalb Genetics, a plant genetics lab then based in Mystic.

“I started there and was there for seven years. That is where I got the experience with working in a lab in industry.”

“After seven years there I made the move to go into pharmaceuticals because there was another employer nearby, Pfizer. I was there for 17 years as a biologist.”

Throughout her career, Laurie learned about plant biology. While at DeKalb, she worked on making corn more resistant so farmers could avoid using insecticides on the crop. She also graduated with a Master of Science in cellular and molecular biology while employed at DeKalb. At Pfizer, she worked in a lab that studied early biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease and head trauma.

“A lot of my work was really early discovery work. It was not in clinical with human patients or even with animals. I was doing cell-based work.”

Over 17 years, Laurie move from project to project. She got experience in cardiovascular health and in early safety. The common theme in all areas of her work were biochemistry, proteins, and cells.

After being laid off from Pfizer along with many other employees, Laurie took a year to decide what she was going to do next.

“I had the luxury of a little time to figure things out. I volunteered here a lot and helped work on the reunion last summer.”

Ultimately, she decided to come back to Williams-Mystic, this time as Lab Manager and Assistant Director of Student Life. One of her favorite parts of her job is hanging out with students and having conversations with them about classes, work, and life.

Even though Laurie worked in the field of science for a long time, she tells people it is like she never left Williams-Mystic.

“I was a student and then a TA and then there was a gap of some time but when I started having kids in 2002/2003, I jumped onto the alumni council and I am still there today. I have always felt connected with the program.”

What makes the experience of coming back to Williams-Mystic even more fun for Laurie is that Glenn and Mary K. are still here and Jim Carlton is around every now and then.

“It is such a family atmosphere. The Seaport has always been and will always be a big part of my life.”

For Stewart Silver (S’18), Williams-Mystic is the Perfect Place to Make Connections (and Prize-Winning Chili)

“I am fascinated by the sea and sailing. While I am here I am trying to gather as much information about life at sea as I can.”

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

Exploration is an integral part of the Williams-Mystic experience. Students come to us from all educational disciplines to explore the maritime world through multiple lenses. They also come to use to learn more about themselves and where they want to go in their career and in life, which is true for University of Pennsylvania Sophomore Stewart Silver.  

“I am taking a semester to explore some things I would like to do both academically and career-wise,” Stewart said. “I have been studying biochemistry but will likely switch my major to biology or environmental studies.”

Stewart hopes to make connections both academically and socially over the course of the semester in our program.

“I am fascinated by the sea and sailing,” Stewart said. “While I am here I am trying to gather as much information about life at sea as I can.”

To accomplish this, Stewart has taken on two different jobs at Mystic Seaport.

“I am working with the sailing department to help maintain and repair any projects that they have going on there,” Stewart said. “I am also working at the shipyard helping maintenance and reconstruct the Mayflower II.”

Stewart believes that both of these jobs will give him valuable experience that will help him in his future endeavors.

“I am planning on going to grad school of some kind,” Stewart said. “I don’t know exactly what that looks like right now. It could be anything from law school to medical school or anywhere in between. I may take time off of school depending on what I get interested in here and over the next couple of years.”

Stewart said that community living has been good for him in this phase of his life and academic career.

“I am a member of Johnston House and living there has been a really good experience so far,” Stewart said. “It has been fun to interact with the other houses and students here in the program. I would say we all get along really well.”

Stewart says that everyone has the people they spend free time and study with but that the group as a whole truly enjoys spending time together.

Williams-Mystic seems to be famous for the all-in-good-fun pranks that occur between houses during each semester. Stewart said that pranks are definitely happening between the houses — and that it makes the experience even more memorable and exciting.

“Some houses are taking things from other houses but it is just to have fun,”  Stewart said.

Aside from pranking other houses and having fun with his classmates, Stewart has enjoyed all things about the program related to food.

“I have enjoyed cooking as a house, having lots of snacks around, and participating in the chili cook-off,” Stewart said. “This was the first annual Williams-Mystic chili cook-off and it was awesome. Each house brought a specialty chili that one or a few people from each house made. We tried them all at our program director’s home, voted on the best one, and, of course, Johnston House won.”

Stewart said S’18 is hoping to do more potluck dinners together and find more ways to share food, friendship, and fun memories.

Exploring the Seaport invigorates Stewart’s appreciation for this program. Stewart chose to take ship carving as his maritime skill.

“We have only had the chance to meet once but our first class was really fun,” Stewart said. “It was an awesome experience to see all the things that can be done with carving into wood, signs, figureheads, and smaller decorative objects. I am really excited to expand this skill and have it be a vehicle for learning more about the history of ships and all the small things that go on behind the scenes to make them work.”

A Journey Open to All: Olivia Glaser (S’18) on the Williams-Mystic Community

“This program is one of the most interdisciplinary programs out there. No matter what you think you are going to do or what path you are headed on in life, there is definitely an opportunity for you to find something here you are passionate about.”

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

Williams-Mystic S’18 student and Skidmore College sophomore Olivia Glaser is originally from Los Angeles, California. She choose to go to school in Saratoga Springs, New York to experience something different: seasons.

The spring of her freshman year, Olivia happened to be in a class where Williams-Mystic executive director, Tom Van Winkle, was speaking.

“Tom came to talk in the class I was taking and I later talked to a Skidmore student who had done the program,” Olivia said. “This past fall I got in contact with Meredith [Carroll, Assistant Director of Admissions,] about an open house I wasn’t able to attend and she asked if I would be interested in applying, which I hadn’t even been thinking about.”

Olivia hadn’t been thinking about applying to the program because she didn’t think that was something she could do as a sophomore. She took time to contemplate if she was in a good spot in her academic career to be off campus for a semester as a sophomore and still thrive at Skidmore once she returned. Ultimately, she decided she wanted to participate in the program and chose to apply.

“It was a pretty big change from how I thought my sophomore year was going to go but I think I was ready for it,” Olivia said.

Since arriving at Mystic Seaport, Olivia said she has made many memories but that orientation week has been one of her favorite experiences so far.

“Getting to know everyone, my housemates in particular, has been a really positive experience,” Olivia said. “Preparing to go offshore with them was fun and that experience itself seems so surreal.”

Having been back in Connecticut for a few weeks, Olivia said that thinking back on the Offshore Field Seminar seems almost magical.

“We have all of these memories from the experience but I think about it sometimes and I think ‘did that really happen?’ because it seems so far away.”

One of the parts of the program Olivia was most excited for about living here in Mystic, Connecticut was being able to live in a house with her shipmates.

“I lived in a dorm while I was at Skidmore and that was fun but it is great to live in a house because I have my own space and I live with other people,” Olivia said. “Having that cohesive group is really nice and I enjoy all the responsibilities that come with it, like cooking and cleaning.”

Olivia said each house is different, so it is interesting to see how her house works together versus how other houses work together.

Each house receives an allowance for food each week, and must determine how to use and distribute the money. 

“Johnston House complies a grocery list and sends a few people to go grocery shopping for our food each week,” Olivia said. “Breakfast and lunch are on our own but dinners are cooked by usually one or two people for the group. Having family-style dinners has been good for us.”

Olivia wants people to know that this program is for any and all curious and driven students who want a change of view and pace in their academic career.

“This program is one of the most interdisciplinary programs that there is out there,” Olivia said. “No matter what you think you are going to do or what path you are headed on in life, there is definitely an opportunity for you to find something here you are passionate about or something related to what you are studying at your home school at Williams-Mystic.”

A Crazy, Exciting, Sometimes-Scary, All-Around Unforgettable Experience: An S’18 Student Reflects on her Offshore Field Seminar

I have a feeling this semester is going to challenge me in very unexpected ways, and this trip was a good reminder that challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and the good thing about being a part of a supportive and collaborative community is that people are willing to help whenever help is needed.

By Olivia Glaser, Williams-Mystic S’18 and Skidmore College ’20

Note: This post is an excerpt from Olivia’s reflections on her offshore experience. Check out the full post (and other posts on her Williams-Mystic experience!) on the blog she’s keeping for the semester, OG at Sea: 



Hello!  I am back from the Offshore Field Seminar.  We circumnavigated the island of Puerto Rico in 10 days, and it was a crazy, exciting, sometimes scary, and all around unforgettable experience.  The director of the program, Tom Van Winkle, provided us each with notebooks in which he wrote us a personalized message of how to make the most out of our semesters here.  We were encouraged to write in our notebooks whenever we could during the field seminar, and I tried my best to write as much as possible.  I have transcribed the majority of my notes into this post, adding editor’s notes along the way.


0510 – At the Hartford Airport, with Cheez-It’s.  Rachel’s biggest worry: “That everyone makes it out alive.”

My professor, Rachel, is a self-proclaimed Jewish mother, and we are her children.  

1107 – On the bus from the airport in Puerto Rico.  The music on this bus is SO GOOD.

1213 – Made it aboard the SSV Cramer after a short bus ride from the airport.  All of the palm trees I saw still had their tops but there were definitely signs of the hurricane, such as ripped balcony awnings, partially destroyed buildings, and a billboard and post that was completely on its side.  We’ve just got our bunks and unpacked and are now waiting to continue on with orientations from the crew and captain.

Technically, we were the crew on Cramer.  It is actually illegal for the ship to have passengers, so everyone on board must act as a crew member.  

1821 – Had a brief introduction to the crew and then lunch.  We split up into watch groups for more specific orientation.  I’m in group B and our second mate is Rocky and our assistant scientist is Janet.  We learned how to do a boat check on deck, in the galley, and in the engine room.  The engine room was so cramped and hot!  I was so tired that I was standing up in the lab swaying with my eyes closed.  I am just trying to stay as hydrated as I can.  It’s Sunday, but we aren’t leaving port until tomorrow evening, where we’ll anchor somewhere not too far out.  There’s almost 30-knot winds out there, so it’s better for everyone to stay in the harbor.  That’s surely where and when the seasickness will begin.  Although I’ve been fine at the dock, just tired.  It’s good we’re also getting full night’s sleep today and at least tomorrow.

Here is a breakdown of how the watch schedule actually works:

Day 1:

  • 0700-1300 — A WATCH
  • 1300-1900 — B WATCH
  • 1900-2300 — C WATCH
  • 2300-0300 — A WATCH

Day 2: 

  • 0300-0700 — B WATCH
  • 0700-1300 — C WATCH
  • 1300-1900 — A WATCH
  • 1900-2300 — B WATCH
  • 2300-0300 — C WATCH

Day 3:

  • 0300-0700 — A WATCH
  • 0700-1300 — B WATCH
  • 1300-1900 — C WATCH
  • 1900-2300 — A WATCH
  • 2300-0300 — B WATCH

2012 – I am in bed ready to go to sleep.  We had really good pizza for dinner and then my watch was on dishes.  It was fun but I almost fell from the crate I was standing on twice.  We will get woken up at some time during the night for our watch.  It’s weird to have to wake up someone who is basically a stranger.

After many days of watch, it is not weird to get woken up by someone, and my classmates are definitely not strangers anymore.  In fact, it was kind of exciting to pull back the bunk curtain and see who was behind it, whispering my name.  Also, steward appreciation note: the two stewards on our trip were ACTUAL WIZARDS and cooked some of the most delicious food I’ve had in a long time.  A lot of my journal entries are food oriented; we basically ate six meals a day, and it is so wonderful to find rice crispy treats waiting for you when you wake up for 0300 watch. 

… [Read Olivia’s journal entries from the rest of the trip here] …

Some final observations and reflections:

  • Seasickness goes away after a while! It does get better!
  • Putting 20 college students on a boat is truly a great way to bond.  Also, part of me feels that bonding is overrated, since we have the entire semester to get to know one another, and this trip was a great way to jump start that process.
  • I often forget that I love science and doing science on a boat was even more fun that I expected.
  • People that work on boats are SO COOL and I want to be like all of them when I grow up.
  • I have a feeling this semester is going to challenge me in very unexpected ways, and this trip was a good reminder that challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and the good thing about being a part of a supportive and collaborative community is that people are willing to help whenever help is needed.

To read more about Olivia’s experience, visit 

Hands-on Learning, Interdisciplinary Connections, and Lifelong Impacts: Two Spring ’17 Students Reflect on Their Williams-Mystic Experience

“I always thought that becoming a researcher was the only way I could make an impact. Williams-Mystic showed me that you can find meaningful ways to engage your interests wherever you go.”

By Meredith Carroll, Assistant Director of Admissions and Director of Social Media

When Paul Butera, a sophomore studying geology at the University of Puget Sound, arrived at Williams-Mystic in January 2017, he “didn’t really have a plan” for life after college. His classmate Emma McCauley, by contrast, was certain she would continue on to graduate school after completing her marine biology degree at Stony Brook University the following fall. At different stages in their education, Paul and Emma nevertheless share a love for the ocean. Paul spent the summer of 2016 working at a salmon fishery in Alaska; Emma has years of experience volunteering with Oceana and the New York Aquarium. By S’17’s thirteenth week at Williams-Mystic, when they sat down for an interview with Science Teaching Assistant Hannah Whalen and Assistant Director of Admissions Meredith Carroll, Paul and Emma agreed that their experiences here had altered their views on the ocean, on conservation and on how to carry their passion for both forward into their lives after Williams-Mystic.

What experiences did you have before you got here that made you invested in protecting the ocean?

Paul: In Alaska, you can see that the oceans are warming: that it’s 14 degrees warmer where you’re fishing, and you’re getting fewer fish. Seeing that in the real world and then coming here and reading about it has been fascinating.

Emma: I’ve always tried to advocate for the ocean. But the event that made it concrete for me was Hurricane Sandy. I lived close to places that got utterly destroyed. Knowing that climate change caused this storm and that things like this will likely happen more frequently in the future reminded me how important environmental work and study are in the real world.

How has Williams-Mystic changed the way you think about your major? Has it changed your worldview?

Emma: Williams-Mystic has shifted my perspective away from just looking at the ocean as a scientific system to be studied. It’s made me realize that to be an effective steward of the ocean, you can’t push aside the people who need it to survive.

Paul: I’ve realized that the interdisciplinary parts of the ocean are what make it special. An example from the Pacific Northwest Field Seminar: I go to school right there. Yet I had to go to the East Coast and come back in order to appreciate all that happens there. I also really liked the Louisiana Field Seminar. I’d never been to the South, and it was a completely new experience for me. I found it similar to Alaska because oil and fisheries drive both place’s economies. Yet there were drastically different views of how those things should be managed. It’s a different society based off the same things, which was really interesting for me.

Emma: I definitely think my worldview has changed. I’m lucky to have come from an environmentally conscious place, and my love of the ocean has made my views [on environmental issues] very black and white. My college education has reinforced that. But this program [teaches you] that these problems aren’t black and white. It makes you think about the social justice issues involved. Being a steward of the ocean doesn’t mean you can’t also be a voice for people who need it.  The most challenging thing about Williams-Mystic has been understanding that your beliefs may not always be right and challenging yourself to look at all the information out there before you come to a conclusion.

How have your classmates’ perspectives and backgrounds changed your experience here?

Emma: We learn from each other. One of the greatest things about Williams-Mystic is that I’m a marine biology major, but that doesn’t mean I’m better suited for even the science class than anyone else. All the different perspectives make it the interdisciplinary program it is.

Paul: I’m going to steal something Nickie Mitch (Bowdoin ‘18) said during the Pacific Northwest trip when we went to Powell’s Books. I was expecting everyone to go to similar sections of the store but we all spread out. Everyone has a different passion, but we’re all tied together by our fascination with the ocean.

What will you take back to your home campus?

Paul: I think what I’ll take away is the interdisciplinary part of [Williams-Mystic]. If someone brings something up, I’m able to identify how it ties into the ocean, or this issue, or that policy. I may not be an expert, but I look forward to being a resource and an advocate for studying the ocean.

Emma:  I’ll also be more willing to step outside my comfort zone. Before I started this program, I was worried about getting seasick. I didn’t foresee myself performing chanteys for museum visitors. I didn’t think I would feel comfortable doing either of those things. But I’m doing them now and it’s not a big deal anymore.

What about Williams-Mystic do you think will stick with you 10 years from now?

Paul: Definitely the field seminars. Moving around, having a full-body experience and learning about it at the same time is incredible, and really ingrains whatever you’re learning about.

Emma: I’ve learned that there are more doors open than you may realize. I always thought I would go right to grad school and become a researcher, because it was the only way I thought I could make an impact. Williams-Mystic showed me that’s not true. It made me see that you can find meaningful ways to engage whatever interests you have wherever you go.

12 of Williams-Mystic’s Most Unique Experiences

Post by Katrina Orthmann, Williams-Mystic Class of Fall 2017 (University of Minnesota ’19)

Photography by Jesse Edwards and Haley Kardek (Williams-Mystic F’17)


Students wave while furling a sail aboard a tall ship.


  1. Climbing aloft on a tall ship.

Our 10-day Offshore Field Seminar was incredible – like something out of a pirate movie, but with less violence. One of the coolest experiences was climbing aloft to the top of the mast. The adrenaline of being a hundred feet in the air and the simultaneous serenity of looking out across the crinkled surface of the open water is a feeling like no other.

Students dance the cajun two-step in a Louisiana dance hall.
Fall 2017 shows off their dance skills at the Jolly Inn.
  1. Spending a night waltzing at a Cajun dance hall.

We spent one evening in Houma, Louisiana at the Jolly Inn, a traditional Cajun dance hall. Our history professor, Glenn, is a fantastic dancer and taught us the Cajun two-step and a basic waltz step. I’ve never considered myself a very good dancer—at age three I took a dance class that consisted of me lying on the floor while the other tutu-clad girls danced around me—but that night was one of my favorite experiences.


Students and an instructor work in a shipsmith's forge.


  1. Learning to shipsmith.

Some of my classmates took shipsmithing as their maritime skill for the semester, which is insanely cool—or rather incredibly hot, since you’re working in a forge. My friend Alissa told me that wielding the hammer is difficult, but that it’s satisfying to graduate to a bigger hammer. The instructor, Bill, reportedly knows when you’re ready. “It’s time,” he’ll say, and your arm will ache, but you’ll come away with metal hooks, bottle openers, and bicep muscles galore.

  1. Kayaking down the Mystic River to look for fiddler crabs for your science project.

So many awesome science projects were done this semester, one of which was a survey of fiddler crabs in the area. They haven’t been found in the area until recently, so the study was very interesting. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to kayak down the river on a beautiful day? Just make sure to bring your foul weather gear… the mud in the Mystic River is no joke!

  1. Learning to sail a small boat by yourself.

I came into the program intending to learn how to sail, so I chose the basic watercraft skills class as my maritime skill. The weather this semester was perfect for sailing; being out on the water on a crisp fall afternoon, with a light breeze blowing and the sun warming your face, is amazing. I even finished the semester with an award: the first (and only) person in the class to capsize! I’d like to re-emphasize that the mud in the Mystic River is no joke.

  1. Seeing the program director dressed up as Moby Dick, the infamous white whale, on the morning your paper is due.

I vividly remember standing in the kitchen around 8:30 in the morning, making coffee, enjoying the peaceful silence and getting ready to turn in my Moby-Dick paper, and suddenly there was a loud pounding on the door. A blur of white moved past the window as I flung the door open, and I saw this giant… whale-type… thing… sprinting across the yard. It was Tom Van Winkle himself (our Executive Director) dressed as the white whale!

  1. Helping reconstruct the Mayflower II in the shipyard.

My roommate, Monica, worked in the shipyard for her student job, and she got to help reconstruct the Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th-century ship Mayflower. What a cool thing, to have helped restore a tall ship!

  1. Singing sea chanteys aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last remaining wooden whaling ship.

Another maritime skill some of my classmates took was Chantey-Singing. My friend Kyra and I were both in sailing, but we stopped by chanteys to sing a few times, sometimes aboard the Charles W. Morgan. We learned some great chanteys, which led to the creation of a chantey playlist on Spotify and more than a few chantey karaoke sessions.

  1. Listening to a lecture backed by the sound of waves in California.

One of the best things about the field seminars was that we got to have lectures in places we learned about. While in California, we learned about John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row at the actual Cannery Row and about shipping in the San Francisco Bay while we sat overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. We discussed the ecology of the intertidal at Point Lobos as we watched the waves crash into rocky cliffs below ; we talked about the marine policy at Pescadero Beach while the sun set in the background.

  1. Learning traditional sailor skills in Squad.

Another maritime skill class some of my classmates did was Demonstration Squad, which actually involved multiple skills. They did everything from rowing a whaleboat to climbing aloft on tall ships to skinning a cod (which they then made into a stew for dinner that night). They also performed a rescue drill called Breeches Buoy, so called because of the pair of breeches used as a “buoy” to rescue people from shipwrecks. It was so fun to watch, and looked even more fun to perform!

  1. Sifting through primary documents for your history research paper.

The Collections Research Center at the Seaport contains millions of primary documents from sailors and ships throughout maritime history, many of which can’t be found anywhere else. In the process of doing research for our history projects, we’ve come across some firsthand accounts of life at sea and of historical events. It’s so cool to have all this and more at our fingertips.

  1. Spending the semester surrounded by a small group of amazing classmates and professors, immersed in this incredible program.

Williams-Mystic is truly one-of-a-kind. I stumbled across the program by coincidence and was on the fence about applying—I didn’t know if it was realistic or if it would be worth it. But if you’re reading this and trying to decide whether or not to apply, my advice to you is that it is so, so worth it. The people I’ve met here have become some of my best friends and all of the faculty and staff are so kind, caring, and passionate about what they do. I’ve learned so much about the maritime world and about myself. I’ve gotten so much out of this experience and I would encourage everyone to participate in a program this special.


Prank Wars and Pasta Dinners: A Q&A With Fall ’17

By Katrina Orthmann (University of Minnesota ’19), the student blogger for Fall 2017.  

What was the most rewarding or impactful experience you had on a field seminar?


One of the coolest experiences I had was aboard the [US Brig] Niagara and began with the Chief Mate asking if I wanted to climb aloft and help furl the fore-topgallant; I confused the topgallant with the topsail and responded with an enthusiastic “sure!” For those of you who don’t know, the topgallant is way higher than the topsail. I climbed up to the fighting top, looked to the topsail – where I thought I was going – and no one was there. So I looked a little higher… and there were Bosun Matt and my shipmate John. I climbed higher and higher until I reached the topgallant, laid out, and started furling. I was scared out of my mind but Matt distracted me from my anxiety by pointing out landmarks in Erie and the setting sun. I swore I could see Earth curving around us. Afterwards I climbed the long way down, shaking with adrenaline but longing to go back up. It was such a beautiful and powerful experience, seeing the boat below me, and all my shipmates seeming so tiny – chatting and laughing and happy. 


Every field seminar has generated moments of extraordinary emotion and intellectual stimulus. However, I found the most impactful location to be the Redwood Forest in California. After learning about so many problems and controversies on the field seminars, it was refreshing to visit a place so tranquil and soothing.



The most rewarding experience I’ve had as a part of Williams-Mystic was sailing aboard the Niagara. That field seminar brought to life so much I’ve learned about sailing and sailors, from the bond with your ship to the hard work and dedication of a crew. The night of the “All-Hands” call, when we were frantically hauling in sails in the middle of a squall, everything ended up fine because we took care of the ship and she took care of us. That’s not a lesson you can easily learn from a book.


Being on the field seminars helped open my eyes to the challenges and perspectives of people across the country. For example, in Louisiana, we met people who refused to let the loss of land keep them from leaving their homes.  It’s easy to question their decisions to stay given all the challenges they face, but when you meet them and hear their stories, you begin to understand their perspectives and the importance of fighting for their homes. The field seminars directly exposed us to issues we can sometimes be ignorant to; they have made me want to be more proactive, to educate others, and to join the fight to make this world a little bit better.

What has been the best house dinner you’ve had?



The best dinners are the ones we have with other houses. My favorite was the time we had wings, but I also enjoyed the salmon dinner we had the other night. Our group chat is always active with people asking for ingredients and inviting others over to eat. It is probably my favorite part of Mystic!


Johnston House has some pretty good dinners. My favorite so far has been when my housemate Kim made Dominican beans and I made honey mustard chicken.  We’ve also had some yummy enchiladas, pastas, risottos, and Asian-themed dinners.


On Family and Friends Day, Mallory hosted a pasta dinner with our families and people from other houses. Mallory’s dinners tend to be very social, and we have a tradition of going around the table and telling five-minute life stories. That night we went around the table and everyone told two-minute stories. It was really fun hearing the parents tell stories about our classmates when they were younger, and it was really nice to get to know everyone a little better in general.

Where is your favorite place to study?


I like to study at any of the numerous coffee shops in Mystic. While I love Bartleby’s, one of the baristas is so friendly and chatty that I sometimes can’t get much work done. My personal favorite is Sift Bake Shop; their pastries are so delicious it’s unreal. If one of Sift’s croissants or macarons can’t motivate me to write a paper, nothing can.


I like to study in Carlton [Marine Science Center]; there’s usually a bunch of us in there at any given time, which is kind of fun. Also there’s a coffee maker and a mini-fridge – what else could you ask for? The Savoy Bookshop in Westerly is another really cool place, but sometimes I spend more time looking at books than doing my homework.

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How do you spend your free time in Mystic?


Most of my free time is spent walking through the town. To call Mystic scenic doesn’t begin to do it justice. Mystic epitomizes the peaceful New England town and the idyllic setting makes going for a walk well worth it.


I was worried about being in such a small town since I go to school in New York City, but there’s so much to do here. In my free time I like to explore the town and find new restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores. I’ve also tried to take advantage of the parks and river here while the weather is still warm.


I love to wander around the Mystic Seaport Museum in my spare time. The exhibits are not only fascinating and alive but the people who tend them are equally engaging and interesting. Making friends among the staff is fun. They’ve taught me a lot I would never have thought to ask in class. Plus, the more you learn the more you’ll want to stay, and who knows? You might become one of them someday. I also work at the shipyard any chance I get, helping to restore the Mayflower II as my student job. The shipwrights are extraordinary people and it feels great to be a part of the project.

What have been the best house-to-house pranks played so far?


This semester has seen a bit of a prank war develop between Mallory and Carr. It all started when we bragged in the group chat about the fried Oreos we made, so Carr house came and stole them. This spurred a full-on war between houses in which a tire swing and toaster were stolen, furniture was rearranged, and even our house’s portrait of P.R. Mallory was stolen. Not to worry though; Mallory House has big plans to avenge Mr. Mallory.


I think the best house prank we played was hiding Mr. Mallory’s portrait in our living room. He liked it there. The length and ingenuity of the prank served to reinforce our superiority in the forever-debated case of Carr House v. Mallory House. However, stealing Johnston’s sign (twice! They still haven’t noticed the second time…) and displaying it in Carlton was hilarious, as was the time we replaced Mallory’s toaster oven with the “Roller Toaster” matchbox car (get it? For Carr House?)


Is there anything you want to tell prospective students about Williams-Mystic?


This program is hard but it is so, so worth it. I’ve never had so much fun or experienced so much while traveling, and I’ve made such good friends. The workload is no joke, but the professors are always willing to help, as is everyone else. 



This semester I have made the most extraordinary friends – people with whom I can sail 1812 warships and play Avalon for hours in the New Orleans airport. 


This program will be one of the hardest things you ever do academically, but the things you’ll learn, the people you’ll meet, and the places you’ll visit will make the hard work worth it. Not to mention, you should take advantage of any opportunity given to you, from surfing to learning the Argentine Tango and anything in between.


Coming here will be the best decision of your life! You will learn so much and meet some really incredible people. Don’t you want to be a part of something this unique and special? You will become a part of this community for life.