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 is the first in a series on Williams-Mystic’s staff and faculty. 

This post was written by S’18 student and social media intern Audra DeLaney. She is a public relations major and political science minor from 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 aad6@williams.edu.  


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.”