Mystic-al Leisure

I am feeling thankful to be a resident of Mystic this semester; this town is so indescribably beautiful and full of things to do.

by Hayden Gillooly

Hayden Gillooly is one of our student bloggers for Spring 2019. She is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Spanish with a concentration in Maritime Studies. She is from North, Adams, MA. 

I am sitting in Green Marble Coffee, which is nestled in the heart of Mystic. I am sipping a hot chai latte, my fingers and cheeks still cold from the bike ride. I am feeling thankful to be a resident of Mystic this semester; this town is so indescribably beautiful and full of things to do.

While academics and field seminars are an important part of Williams-Mystic, they do not take up all of our time. In between the cracks of engaging classes, working on research projects and meeting with professors, there is time for leisure. And in this town, it is Mystic-al (I know, cheesy pun).

Downtown Mystic is a fabulous place to run to, walk and bike around in. Many of my classmates love working out at the Mystic YMCA; the program provides us each with a free membership to the gym. There are so many shops, restaurants and coffee shops. Bartleby’s, Mystic Depot Roasters and Green Marble Coffee are my go-to’s. Usually, I will camp out at a shop with a classmate to work on homework. And more often than sometimes, we end up having philosophical chats that leave me feeling rejuvenated and excited about the word. I really enjoy having long conversations with my classmates.

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Mystic Seaport Museum at sunset.

I have always loved sunsets, so it is of no surprise that Mystic sunsets have become near and dear to my heart. Nearly every night, regardless of what I am in the middle of, I head to the Seaport to watch the day come to a close. At that hour, the Seaport is still; I can hear geese in the distance, birds chirping and the water rippling quietly. The sun dances off the water and casts wild shadows across the shipyard. Tonight, I went for a run downtown and finished at the Seaport to bid farewell to the day.

I am not the only one to enjoy the simple pleasure of a still Seaport. My classmate Samuel (University of Rhode Island ‘19) said that his favorite moments on campus are “walking around after snowstorms and during the cold to watch ice at the edge of the river. The dark water and white snow and lack of activity make it so quaint and idyllic to experience.”

Speaking of community, the Seaport is full of interesting people, and is a spot for leisure in and unto itself. As Williams-Mystic students, we have full access to all of the exhibits here. One day after class, my friend and I spent a few hours going into all of the buildings on site and learning about the history of each one: the general store, blacksmith shop, printing shop, traditional home and watch shop just to name a few. We also toured the Charles W. Morgan tall ship, which is absolutely beautiful; we are so lucky to have such a treasure right at our fingertips. While on the Morgan, we compared it to our time on the Corwith Cramer during our Offshore Field Seminar in Puerto Rico; the beauty of experiential learning. We thought about how difficult it was to live on a ship in such close quarters for 11 days, nevermind the three– to five-year voyages that we learned about from a Mystic volunteer. Our professors take advantage of the Seaport as well; for Maritime History with Alicia Maggard, an upcoming assignment is to visit the exhibit “Voyaging in the Wake of Whalers.”

Living in houses and in such a tight-knit school community is something really unique about Williams-Mystic. I live in Carr House with three other students; it feels so nice to come home at the end of the day, debrief with them and cook dinner. On Sundays, Carr house goes out to brunch or lunch together, which is one of my favorite times of the week. We always go somewhere different and so far have been to Kitchen Little, Bleu Squid and Peking Tokyo. It is wonderful to check in with each other at the end of the week, and talk about the upcoming week.

Community bonding happens in more ways than just within our houses. A few weeks ago, Mary O’Loughlin and Laurie Warren, student life directors, organized for our class to go bowling on a Friday night. Around ten of us attended, and had a blast laughing and dancing while bowling.

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The Powerpoint Party at Albion House!

Another night, Albion House hosted a “Powerpoint Party & Potluck” where everyone made a five-minute presentation about anything, from random interests to life-long passions. I learned about trees from Henry, ‘power poses’ from Charlotte and the origin of the Kermit the Frog Memes from Dayana. Phoebe and Kevin talked about the joys of pickling foods, just to name a few.

Albion house hosts other houses for ‘leftover night’ where another house brings over the week’s leftover foods and hangs out. Before our California field seminar, Carr house was invited to Albion. We dined on quesadillas, salsa rice, guacamole and other yummy foods. We had so much fun spending intentional time with another house. Another common occurrence in Williams-Mystic are board game and card game nights. Carr hosted a stressbusting night of “Cards Against Humanity” and “Apples to Apples.”

I just drank the last sip of my chai latte. Off to bike back to the Seaport; I will take the scenic route, which traces the water, in order to catch the sunset. I’ll ask myself the recurring question, “Is this really my classroom?!”

A Spanish Major by the Sea

“When we all ran to see the dolphins, or when we came face-to-face with the coral reefs during a snorkeling excursion, our majors became blurry, no longer the focus of our academic identity.”

By Hayden Gillooly

Hayden Gillooly is one of our student bloggers for Spring 2019. She is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Spanish with a concentration in Maritime Studies. She is from North, Adams, MA. 

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Members of B Watch on the bowsprit. From left to right: Samuel (University of Rhode Island ’19), Chris (Clark University ’19), Phoebe (Smith College ’20), and Hayden (Williams College ’21).

I am a Spanish major at Williams College and have always loved the sea. I decided to come to Mystic because I was craving an immersive, hands-on, full-wonder type of learning. I wanted to run on the beach and explore tidal pools. I wanted to travel with my classmates and learn while doing. I wanted to play.

One month ago today, I moved into my room in cozy Carr House at Williams-Mystic and was greeted by a journal with a note from Executive Director Tom Van Winkle. Included was this quote by Rachel Carson: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” Wonder.  

As we sailed off the coast of Puerto Rico for our ten-day Offshore Field Seminar aboard the Corwith Cramer, I fell in love with the sea immediately. I fell in love with the way the ocean seemed to change colors from deep blue to aquamarine. With the way everyone on the ship paused for sunsets and sunrises, and the way my soul felt while staring into the vastness. With the way the sun danced on the water droplets on my skin and on the waves. My thoughts flowed so naturally as I journaled, perched on the bowsprit:

1/29/19: I am watching the tail end of sunset. This stillness is incomparable. I’ve never noticed before now how the night grows hungrier and consumes the colors so gradually. There are impeding dark clouds approaching on either side, enveloping the pink and blue hues. Soon, the night will be here, and the stars and moon. Amazing how the colors & stars can coexist in perfect harmony, even if for a moment. It feels as if I am in a dream—staring at the masts, the stars, the sky. There are so many stars, untouched by the light pollution. A natural night.

1/30/19: On lookout tonight at the bow, I could see the bioluminescent plankton below me, feel the salty spray of waves breaking against the bow. I even saw a shooting star. I marveled at the way the dark waves looked: as if someone was shaking a sheet—fabric ripples. A sheet of stars and a sea of glowing foam. A while later, we went through a squall, and the wind was blowing my yellow rain-jacketed body.

1/31/19, 11:11am: I am sitting on the bowsprit and staring at the ocean below me. Ten feet below me lies water that is a shade of blue unlike anything I have ever seen. It looks icy, but it is warm. My heart feels full—it feels so ‘right ‘to be here. Crazy to think how many millions of creatures are under me right now. Heck, there were over 100 alien-like creatures in one Petri dish from a sample we took last night. With antennae and long legs.

1/31/19 1:03 pm: WE WERE JUST WITH A POD OF DOLPHINS!! Watching them flop and swim and dive and play alongside the ship—a real show. And all of our faces, so joyful, so childlike. Hands down one of the best moments. This is our classroom. We were the happiest. I think I shall hold this moment in my pocket, and take it out whenever I need a smile.

2/5/19 On our last day on the bowsprit, we were watching sunset, and three dolphins appeared out of the golden sidewalk right under us. Like something out of a movie. Later while on night watch, we went onto the bowsprit again and were read a passage of Moby Dick by one of our professors. And I saw a shooting star.  

When we all ran to see the dolphins, or when we came face-to-face with the coral reefs during a snorkeling excursion, our majors became blurry, no longer the focus of our academic identity. We are learning skills that can be applied to any classroom, field of work or study, and situation. We are learning to love our wonderful world, to get re-excited about learning, and how to build a community.

 

Now, back in Mystic, we are continuing to build community. We’re learning how to improve communications skills, as our houses of four to six students each manage weekly allowances, chores, and cooking. We’re learning how to be more inquisitive and curious learners, as our classes begin in earnest. We’re learning to ask questions, lots of them: to be curious about how the world works.

Williams-Mystic and the Mystic Seaport Museum are filled with people who are remarkably passionate about their fields. It’s inspiring. From them, I am learning the value of loving what I do, and of sharing that passion with those around me. Our professors make themselves very accessible, and it is so special to build relationships with them outside of the classroom. Last night, the whole community—students, faculty, staff—came together at Tom’s house for a chili cook-off. We laughed, played board games, and just talked. One of our classmates played lovely piano music in the background.

I have re-read Tom’s letter to me numerous times in the past month, and I have concluded that my ‘good fairy’ is Williams-Mystic, for she has given me a sense of wonder that I feel will reside within me for years to come. I can think of no other program in which the phrase “interdisciplinary learning” more truly comes to fruition. It is more than just a phrase here; it is a way of life.

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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.”

Five Reasons Why You Should Apply to Williams-Mystic

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. 

Why should you choose to apply to participate in a maritime studies program? What can this program provide you that you cannot get at your home institution?

Aside from increasing your knowledge on everything from whale lifespans to flags of convenience, Williams-Mystic can offer you experiences that change the way you look at the world’s problems — maritime and otherwise. Here are five such experiences:

1) Research opportunities

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During your undergraduate career, it is very rare to have the chance to produce one in-depth research project on a topic of your choosing, let alone four. As a student in the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, you will choose what you focus your literature, history, policy, and science research projects on as it pertains to our oceans and coasts.

You could create your projects based off one central theme; you could also choose to study totally different aspects of the sea in each of your four courses. Whether you investigate offshore drilling, Asian carp infiltration in the Great Lakes, the effects of climate change on coastal communities, women at sea, the philosophy of Moby-Dick, or a combination of all of these topics, you are bound to leave the program confident about your ability to break down complex issues of all kinds.

2) Travel across the United States

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The regions and people of our country are vastly different. Take a moment to think about where you grew up. What makes your home unique? For example, I’m from the Midwest. We are known for our lack of an accent and slight obsession with ranch dressing. In a two-month span, you will see the Northeast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, and open ocean, and you’ll meet the people who call those places home. Some of them will be classmates of yours — others will be individuals, from professional mariners and scientists to ordinary people, who choose to share their stories with Williams-Mystic students each semester.

3) Classmates who become family

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Want to build bonds with 17–24 people quickly? Sail on a tall ship with them for 10 days. You spend that time helping, encouraging, supporting, and celebrating each other as you experience a completely new environment — and developing a new appreciation for the strength of the ocean. Those 10 days will set the tone for the rest of your semester.

Let’s not forget the culture of living in the historic Mystic Seaport Museum houses. Williams-Mystic alumni argue over whether Mallory, Kemble, Albion, Johnston or Carr is the best one of them all. The rivalry is good during and after your semester ends. Walking through all of the challenges Williams-Mystic throws at you with the same people creates friendships built to withstand the test of time.

4) Professors who become mentors

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How many professors do you know who encourage you to call them at 10:30 p.m. when you don’t understand how to make a graph for a project? At Williams-Mystic, this is the norm. All of the professors choose to be Williams-Mystic faculty members because they want to see their students succeed in the program and once their semester comes to an end. They work together to create connections among their classes, and to connect their class material to real-world issues. If you are in search of an accomplished professional to challenge you, look no further than Williams-Mystic.

5) Time in Southeastern New England

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Living in Mystic, Connecticut for 17 weeks gives you the chance to hike, swim, bike, and immerse yourself in a town filled with history. According to a good portion of S’18, Sift Bake Shop is as much of a reason as any to apply to be a Williams-Mystic student. There are other wonderful places to visit in Mystic including Mystic Pizza, Pizzetta Pizza, Bartleby’s Cafe, Mystic Soup Company, Drawbridge Ice Cream, and Green Marble. Each class always picks its favorite places to hang out — and sometimes, those places are as simple as the dining room table in the historic house you’ll call home.

I’ll leave you with this: your experiences will be heard, valued, and understood on Greenmanville Avenue. No matter your major or career aspirations, you can find a place among those at Williams-Mystic.

Summer Research in Mystic: European Shore Crabs, Comb Jellyfish and Geochemistry, Oh My.

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. 

Each summer, a few students from previous Williams-Mystic classes, or from Williams College, live in Mystic while conducting scientific research. This summer, those individuals were Shelby Hoogland (Bryn Mawr College ‘19), Cristina Mancilla (Williams College ‘20), and Caroline Hung (Williams College ‘19). Here is what they have to say about their research: 

Shelby (S’18) 

Shelby wrote this for a Bryn Mawr College publication.

When I first moved back to Mystic, Connecticut, I had a preconceived notion of what my summer was going to look like after having spent the past semester with the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program. My best friend from the program was going to be my roommate, I would be living in a student house, and would be working with the same professors from the semester.

I’ve traveled with these professors across the country — from sailing offshore in the Caribbean Sea aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer to hearing how climate change is affecting the lives and the history of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians in Southern Louisiana. crab.pngIf you know nothing about Williams-Mystic, know that the 30 other people you get thrown together with, students and faculty alike, become your family for a semester. I already had a few important connections: with Dr. Tim Pusack, my former marine ecology professor and current research mentor; with Dr. Rachel Scudder, my former oceanography professor; and with another current research mentor. These connections helped make me more confident that this would be the summer where I grow into my new position in life as a field ecologist and as a research scientist.

Invasive species pose one of the largest threats to biodiversity worldwide. Additionally, a group of invasive organisms can alter an ecosystem’s characteristics and local populations of native species. These alterations can directly impact local economies, negatively affecting industries such as tourism or commercial fishing. 

C. maenas is an introduced crab species originally from coastal Europe that was potentially brought over in the fouling or bored into a wooden ship in the 1800s. The area that I have been studying is Avery Point, Connecticut on the University of Connecticut – Avery Point’s campus. Although there are many different crabs found in this rocky intertidal ecosystem, the shoreline is dominated by C. maenas. It can be assumed that it is outcompeting native populations of crabs and other invasive species of crabs. In the lab, I am subjecting the crabs to temperatures between 12˚C and 31˚C to mimic the rising temperatures that will be present during the coming years due to climate change. I am measuring their daily feeding rates as a direct measure of their response to the temperature stress.

fieldMy research has brought me to some really cool places. How often can someone say that they get to go to the beach for their job? More importantly, it has taught me the importance of studying climate change. And it has given me insight into how little we currently know about how climate change might affect vital ecosystems. Looking forward to the future, the uncertainty is high as to what our climate will be like. Additionally, we don’t exactly know how it is going to influence local economies. Funding climate change research is important so that we can better prepare our communities in the face of future disasters.

Cristina (S’18) 

I researched trends in population growth and movement of Mnemiopsis leidyi, a comb jellyfish, throughout the Mystic River Estuary and the Long Island Sound. Another component of my research was to figure out a way to keep comb jellyfish alive in the laboratory in order to study them in a controlled setting. This was the most difficult part of the research. M. leidyi are notoriously difficult to maintain in a lab, but I needed to come up with a method to keep them alive long enough to complete an experiment. After much trial and error and with the help of other researchers, I was glad to finally have kept the comb jellyfish alive for a sustained period of time. The work that I did over the summer will hopefully make studying M. leidyi in the laboratory an option for future Williams-Mystic students. I wish to continue this project by studying the effect of increasing temperature on the reinfection rate of M. leidyi by a sea anemone larvae.

Caroline (Williams College Student) 

The summer of 2018 was Caroline’s third summer researching with Associate Professor of Geosciences and Marine Science Lisa Gilbert (S’96).

What I researched:

There are two projects I’ve been working on in my 10-week time with Lisa this summer. I spend most of my time working on my thesis, which is using geochemistry and petrology to find out the origins of the volcanic and alteration setting of the Chrystalls Beach Metabasalt Formation. We spent three weeks at the beginning of summer at our field site on Taieri Beach in South Island, New Zealand. Right now, we are focusing on analyzing the samples and starting to discuss the results. This effort will continue into my senior year. The other project is trying to finish my manuscript on marsh erosion — a project Lisa and I have worked on the past two summers at a local marsh in Barn Island. We hope to submit the manuscript by the end of August.

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What I learned:

I learn so much working with Lisa. It’s finally a chance to apply what I learn in geosciences classes in the field and research. Fieldwork and learning the scientific research process are like courses of them own. I have just started to become a so-called “hard-rock” geoscientist, meaning I now focus on subjects such as tectonics, volcanoes, geophysics, and structural geology, as opposed to “soft-rock” geology, which primarily focuses on fossils, oceanography, geomorphology.

Being out in the field in New Zealand was a challenge every day. I had to learn a lot of field mapping and measuring techniques right on the spot. Lisa was super supportive even when it took me an entire field day to learn how to measure strike and dip (the technical and accepted way to measure the orientation of rocks). But research allows me to build firm foundations on my science knowledge and to really tie what I learn in the classroom and from scientific research together.

I also learned that I want to keep doing what I do in the summers after graduation. Thus, I’m applying to graduate schools in earth sciences!

Challenges:

It takes a lot to focus on the same project knowing that you will continue to work on it the following year. Sometimes, people work in the same area for the rest of their lives! I try to mix up my days and weeks focusing on individual aspects of the project one at a time; I’ll read papers in the morning and play with data in the afternoon, or go to the field in the morning and do lab work and prep in the afternoon. Often, I still find myself staring at the computer because I couldn’t understand the numbers or try to troubleshoot with software or math. I just try to stay positive and know that at some point I will work through my problems. That is when research becomes very satisfying — when you figure out the answer to a problem that you’ve spent days working on.  

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Favorite part:

Fish and chips after field work at a roadside shack in New Zealand. Also, Lisa gives me a lot of autonomy in my work. From how I want to schedule my work day and the research questions I ask, to how I want to answer them. But she is very good at guiding me and giving me hints and critiques that I always look back on and am so thankful for! One of the greatest inspiration and fulfillment for why I want to keep working in Geosciences is the layout of this work that Lisa has got me started on. She always leads me in a good direction — I honestly don’t know where my life will be right now without stumbling into her lab the first summer after freshman year! 

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. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

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. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

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.”