Research with an Impact: Four Fall ’19 Students Share their Williams-Mystic Marine Policy Research Projects

At Williams-Mystic, students tackle real-world issues — and get out into the world as part of their research.

Independent research is at the core of the Williams-Mystic experience. There’s nothing quite like venturing into the field to help you understand how science is made — nothing like delving into the archives to understand how history is written. And with upwards of 13 different majors in a typical class of 18 students, independent research projects give students the opportunity to draw on their pre-existing interests and expertise.

In the Marine Policy course, each student chooses to study a current unresolved question impacting America’s coastlines and oceans. They then interview a myriad of stakeholders with a vested interest in the outcome of the issue; examine relevant federal and state laws, regulations; and conduct cross-disciplinary research in order to develop credible policy strategies and solutions to their real-world problem. A student researching a lobster fishery, for instance, might talk to lobster fishermen as well as NOAA fishery scientists. Someone studying the Asian carp invasion in the Great Lakes might interview activists as well as state government officials. Indeed, students often share their resulting policy briefs with the stakeholders they interviewed — many of whom include Williams-Mystic alumni. 

This problem-based approach empowers students to gain the knowledge, confidence, and skills to address major questions and issues in all fields. Communicating directly with coastal and ocean-based stakeholders to seek solutions to real-world issues instills a passion for learning that drives excellence, fosters a sense of purpose, and enables creative problem-solving. It also provides the coastal stakeholder community with an opportunity to benefit from capable research, objective investigations, and collaboration with the only undergraduate college program that examines the ocean from an interdisciplinary lens, while seeking opportunities to empower global problem-solving.

Below, four students from the Class of Fall 2019 share their policy briefs and discuss what they learned from the experience. Click any of the links below to read the full brief.

The Future of the Liquified Natural Gas Facility in Tacoma, WA

By Hazel Atwill

Image shows a student smiling in the middle of a grassy salt marsh. She is wearing a life jacket and a baseball hatOriginally from Tacoma, Washington, Hazel Atwill is a junior at Smith College studying conservation biology and coastal and marine science. Her favorite part of the Williams Mystic experience was sailing on tall ships.

Hazel on her research: 

“I gained a lot from doing this policy research, in that I was able to more meaningfully connect with my home community even though I was on the other side of the country. Because I completed this project, I feel more comfortable interviewing people and expressing how I think change should be happening.”

Excerpt from the brief:

Puget Sound Energy and Port of Tacoma are proposing Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) as a transitory solution to bunker fuel for large ships. With the climate changing more and more rapidly, there is the constant hope of new solutions to mitigate some of the damage caused by fossil fuels. However, LNG is primarily methane gas which is sourced from fracking.

One current approach to reduce dependence on fossil fuels is building the proposed LNG facility at the Port of Tacoma. LNG is a fossil fuel but considered cleaner than diesel. However, if the facility, or any of the equipment to get the LNG to the facility were to leak or break it would cause serious environmental issues. There are also treaty rights that have not been considered. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians has the right to meaningful consultation, and the City of Tacoma has not met this requirement yet. Port of Tacoma should not build this facility, but if they go ahead with the plans, there should be more meaningful consultation and more investment in truly clean fuels.

Read the full brief here. 

Protecting New Jersey’s Meadowlands and Local Communities from Floods and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By Jeff Erazo

Image shows a student in a bright yellow rain jacket, looking off into the distance. He is standing in a small cove, with an evergreen-lined shore and other rain-gear-wearing students in the background.Jeff Erazo is a comparative literature major with a concentration in Spanish at Williams College. 

Jeff on his research: 

My policy research at Williams-Mystic allowed me to better understand sea-level rise in the greater NY-NJ metropolitan area — a place I call home. Being able to talk to stakeholders helped me understand how I can be more proactive in my community; I learned about many environmental groups in my area that I hope to join soon! This policy project also taught me the importance of listening — which is key to helping bridge competing interests between various stakeholders. 

Excerpt from the brief: 

Located in one of the nation’s most densely populated metropolitan areas, the New Jersey Meadowlands are one of the largest brackish estuarine systems in the northeastern United States. For decades, these wetlands were used as landfills, contaminated with toxic waste, and drained for urban development—the latter which has significantly reduced the size of the Meadowlands. … 

The Meadowlands will likely experience high-tide flooding in low-lying areas, even in the absence of storm surge due to sea level rise. Coupled with the projected six feet of SLR early in the next century, over 308,000 homes, 362,000 jobs, and 619 residents could potentially be inundated. The loss of life, homes, and businesses would be astronomical. The North Bergen Liberty Generating plant’s proposed site is located in a flood plain, right on the edge of the Hackensack; the Meadowlands, however, are unable to absorb storm surge from the Hackensack River. This is not solely a New Jersey problem, however. Rising sea levels threaten all coastal communities around the world.

Read the full brief here.

Towards Sustainable Native Hawaiian Access to Green Sea Turtle Take

By Colin Goodbred 

Image shows a grinning student sitting on the deck of a ship. He is holding up what appears to be a grill rack, and you can just barely see a large bucket in the foreground. Behind him, there is a series of coils of rope — lots of rope.Colin is a member of Dartmouth College class of 2021 and Williams-Mystic F’19. He is majoring in quantitative social science and minoring in philosophy, and he is interested in working at the intersection of science, government, and ethics, exploring how science can be used to inform ethical policymaking.

Colin on his research: 

Being able to do my own extensive policy research project at Williams-Mystic challenged me to interact directly with stakeholders – many with passionate beliefs on how to best protect their communities. Not only was I reading academic articles online, I was actually talking to people, hearing in their voices how much they cared about the environment, their culture, their livelihoods, and all of our futures. It was humbling to realize how many people have dedicated their lives to this issue, and while I cannot bring the expertise and lived experience to the issue that they can, I can offer my ability to listen and do my best to share their voices with others. 

An excerpt from the brief:

In May 2018, Native Hawaiian Bronson Nakaahiki was arrested for killing a green sea turtle and harvesting its meat, violating the Endangered Species Act as well as Hawaii state law. This arrest, one of several cases of harassing and killing sea turtles in 2018, intensified Native Hawaiian efforts to enact policy change and allow for the cultural practice of harvesting sea turtles, or honu as they are known in the Hawaiian language. Indeed, green sea turtle populations have recovered significantly recently, particularly in Hawaii, thanks to strict state and federal legal protections, but they have not yet reached the official benchmark set out by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 of 5,000 nesting green sea turtles per year. With the increasing abundance of sea turtles, more Native individuals are pushing for access to harvesting honu, which was considered a mythological guardian of children and was utilized in the form of meat, bones, and eggs for ceremonial events and subsistence until the listing of green sea turtles as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. I recommend the amendment of the Endangered Species Act to permit Native Hawaiians the ability to take endangered and threatened species, modeled off of the exception granted for Alaskan Natives, as well as the passage of a bill amending Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 195D-4-E and Hawaii Administrative Rules 13-124-9 to decriminalize such take.

Read the full brief here.

The Future of Maine Aquaculture: Growth and Sustainability in Fish Farming

By Zach Arfa 

Image shows a grinning student holding a baby alligator. The gator's body is about a foot long; it's mouth is slightly open to reveal minute, razor-sharp teeth.Zach Arfa grew up in Shelburne Falls, MA and is a fourth year at Oberlin College. He studies Psychology and Dance and, thanks to Williams-Mystic, will put these skills to use in solving the environmental crisis after college.

Zach on his research: 

The policy project isn’t just an academic assignment, it was a chance for me to immerse myself into a real issue, with real stakes. It embodies Williams-Mystic’s philosophy, that learning should be engaged and experienced, not just passively absorbed. The project also builds the confidence and skills to be able to actually talk and interview stakeholders, again making it an experience not just of learning an issue but engaging one.

An excerpt from the brief: 

Through the comparison of two large scale, Atlantic Salmon, RAS aquaculture projects in Maine, I will propose a framework for comparing such aquaculture facilities to each other, and to other, traditional, facilities. This system will weigh three factors: impact on the environment, the community, and the economy. I will also compile the ways that governments can regulate this industry through existing legislation. Through these methods, communities across the country can evaluate and regulate the growth of this industry over the coming years.

These two projects are similar, but even though they are planned to be located only twenty-five miles apart, they have had different receptions from the local communities. The community of Bucksport has welcomed the Whole Oceans facility. The company promises to bring many local jobs to the small town, and the operation is being advertised as having a strong mind to conservation, with the Conservation Fund as their partner. The Nordic Aquafarms project in Belfast has seen more opposition. Wastewater has been a point of contention, as Nordic Aquafarms will discharge about 7.7 million gallons of water per day, which would increase outflow into the Penobscot Bay by 90% (Hinckley, S.). With this outflow comes a concern for eutrophication, the increase of nutrients into the water that can cause harmful algal blooms.

Read the full brief here.

 

An Interdisciplinary Dance Class

It’s not hard for us to see now that “maritime studies” isn’t merely a discipline with facts for us to learn. It is a way to see and understand the world — including some of the most intense and scary changes the world is going through. 

By Zach Arfa (F’19). Zach is a senior at Oberlin College, where he’s studying dance and psychology. He grew up in Shelburne Falls MA, and is excited to find more interdisciplinary intersections between dance, psychology, and the environment after graduation.

picture shows a group of students and a professor crouching in marsh grass, focusing intensely

This semester, we have been doing a huge amount of learning about the world. It’s not hard for us to see now that “maritime studies” isn’t merely a discipline with facts for us to learn. It is a way to see and understand the world — including some of the most intense and scary changes the world is going through. 

This Thanksgiving, I flew out to Oberlin for the first half of our break. I went to see my friends there, but I was also invited to guest teach a dance class. I study a dance form called Contact Improvisation, a partnering form created at Oberlin College in 1972. It’s based on momentum and weight sharing. When you lean into a partner or partners, a shared center of gravity is created. The technique of the form is keeping and manipulating that point of contact throughout an improvised dance together. I absolutely love it. There are lifts and rolls and falls. It can be so fast and wild that you can’t look where you’re going, and so slow and intimate that an entire hour can go by with only your heads touching ever so lightly. I’ve been dancing this form for three years now, with fairly intensive classes every semester so far. I’ve taught beginner classes on campus, and facilitated more advanced practicing groups. A great friend of mine has been teaching a beginner class while I’ve been at Williams-Mystic, and so when I told her I was coming to campus for a few days, she asked me to guest teach an evening.

Through such immersion in interdisciplinary education this semester, it’s been impossible for me not to make connections to the disciplines I’m familiar with. I’ve been thinking of psychology and music, but connections to dance have been running through my head and my body. Through movement, we can teach embodied concepts. Think of an anatomy class where you don’t just learn what a bone/muscle/tendon is called, you also learned to feel it in your body and feel how it helps you move. Movement bypasses skepticism and abstraction. It is only concerned with the intimate. And intimacy in an educational setting is deep understanding. It brings a relevance and connection that most people don’t find in school. It’s why it’s important not just to learn the names of animals in the intertidal zone, but to actually go to the beach in Rhode Island and see, hold, and touch them. 

All semester, I’ve been inspired by what we’ve been learning and I’ve been creating scores. A score is a movement prompt. Choreography is concerned with how you move your body: an arm goes here, and then there at this point in the music. A score is a structure within which the exact movements are improvised. A score could be as simple as “take one minute, start high and end low.” It is just a structure that helps to focus an improvised dance. The scores I’ve been creating aren’t just about movement. They are about what we’ve been learning and experiencing this semester: climate change, natural disasters, environmental ecosystems. That is what I brought to this dance class at Oberlin. Four scores.

picture shows a grinning students holding a baby alligator
Zach holds a baby alligator during a swamp tour on Williams-Mystic’s Louisiana Field Seminar.

The first score was a variation on a very common score in Contact, the Earth Water Air Fire score. This score is normally a warm up, and a way to tap into different energy levels. You start on the ground, embodying the earth, feeling grounded and supported, moving and shifting so minutely, as the earth does. That transitions into water, flowing and spreading out. The speed may increase, and the resistance in your body is zero, like a gentle stream parting around the rocks. Then air, similarly low resistance but now standing, using more space in the room you’re in. Finally fire, fierce and hot. Strong, direct, movements. All the actual movements are improvised, but the score helps guide the energy through the warm-up. This score is quite common, and it inspired the first climate change score I created. 

I took that score, but I set it in Louisiana. Instead of the earth being supportive and grounding, what does it feel like in our bodies if it’s literally eroding out from underneath us, sinking away? And what if water, instead of being flexible and passive, is flooding and destroying homes and lives? The air is also gusting fiercely, throwing things around and is quite devastating. And then for fire, I brought it to the people we met in Louisiana. I thought of Mr. Chris saying that as long as there was one grain of sand on Grand Isle, he’d come back and rebuild and keep living there. The fire was the fierce love and commitment these people have for the land despite all the ways in which the elements can be hostile. These elements guided the improvisations, instead of the nurturing and peaceful versions.

The next score brought us to somewhere we love. Everyone was in pairs, and there was a supporter and a leader. The leader’s prompt was to imagine a place that they love, an outdoor place with living things. They then project that place they love onto the room, and guide their partner through it with their dance together. The leader can’t tell their partner where they are thinking of, but instead must convey what the place is and how they feel about it through the dance. The supporter does just that: supports their dance. Then they switch.

The third score was one that I created last year with a few friends of mine. It’s an animal embodiment wrestling score. I created it because I was watching a lot of Steve Irwin videos (he’s not just my absolute hero — I first started watching his videos because he’s an unbelievable mover) of him rescuing crocodiles by wrestling them. So in this score we bring out a bunch of mats, and we embody crocodiles or lions or any animal you want, and we wrestle. But instead of the goal being to pin your partner (as in normal wrestling) the goal is to keep them moving. I added prompts about connecting with the animals and really thinking about how they would move: not mechanically, but energetically. What does it feel like to become these animals?

picture shows students clambering on a rocky shore, posing and grinning in front of a pristine bay with evergreen forests and mountains in the background

This led us into the last score, a kind of environmental education score. I broke the class up into levels on the food chain in the Alaskan coastal ecosystem. One person was an orca, the apex predator. Two were sea otters, two were sea urchins and abalone and the rest were kelp, the foundational species of the ecosystem. As in the last score, we moved throughout the room as our animals. First, we simply embodied them — not mechanically (we didn’t flop like an orca would) but energetically, with the power and fearlessness that an apex predator would have. Then we had short dances with each other, between five and ten seconds, as our animals. The orca might be direct and forceful, where the shellfish might be slower but very purposeful, the otter would be quick and light, and the kelp wouldn’t move a lot through the room, but move a lot through their upper bodies. We put the ecosystem into the room, and felt the relationships between all these animals that share space. After that we ran out of time, so we stopped there. My idea had been to then go through the history of that ecosystem. What happens when the Russian hunters arrive and kill basically all the sea otters? The shellfish have no predators so their populations rise, so the dancers embodying otters would become shellfish. But then, they would eat all the kelp, their populations would crash, and then the kelp would rebound. And the orca would also go without the otters to eat. And so on. I’ll have to test that part out in a future class.

I left that class feeling like each score could be its own semester’s worth. The first score was an investigation of the changing climate and natural disasters, and a reckoning with the fear and grief that evokes. The second connected us to the world, and might inspire more love for it, and perhaps more of a drive to help it. The third helps connect with other animals, letting their movement really inspire and unlock the animal in us (for we are wild animals!). And the fourth was environmental education, an embodied way to teach people how the natural systems of the world work. There are so many scores that could do each of those things. I feel like I’ve just opened up a whole storm of possibilities for this work! I’m planning on leading a class and exploring it with a lot of intention next semester.

For me, this was just another lesson that the world is interdisciplinary. It’s not enough to only do things one way. An environmental education class or a normal dance class would not have been able to create what happened that evening. We must be able to translate concepts, and create hybrid models (of learning and of cars) if we want to make a difference in the world. This is exactly what we’ve been learning to do this semester. We are able to go and work with people in ways that I certainly didn’t think I could do before. I’m not bold enough to say that this class, or this approach, will “change the world”. But I’ve heard that big change, like the change we need around the environment, is like an overflowing bucket. It may only be a few drops of water that tip it over the edge, but they accumulate atop thousands and thousands of other drops. We can be those drops.

A Year Ago: Reflecting on the Impact of a Williams-Mystic Semester

By Hayden Gillooly (Williams-Mystic S’19)

Hayden Gillooly is a junior at Williams College majoring in Geosciences with a concentration in Maritime Studies. Hayden grew up loving the ocean, and Williams-Mystic allowed her to take her passion to the next level. She is particularly interested in the effects of climate change and hopes to pursue higher education in Geosciences or Oceanography. Hayden dreams of finding a career that allows her to explore the world, teach, and make a positive impact on the communities around her. Spring 2020 she will be studying Geosciences and Spanish at the University of Cordoba in Spain.

Just about a year ago, I was packing for Williams-Mystic: A semester that would transform my life in more ways than I could possibly imagine. It’s funny: once something happens or someone enters your life, it’s hard to envision a life without it. And quite honestly, I don’t want to imagine a life without my Williams-Mystic family and roots. I love them too much. 

A year ago today, I had not yet watched the world come alive while on dawn watch on the Corwith Cramer, feeling small in the great big world. I had not yet squealed like a child while watching a pod of dolphins swim alongside the ship, or listened to my classmate and professor playing music on deck to the rhythm of the waves. I had not learned about coral reefs while sitting on a beach, and then finished the lecture by snorkeling and seeing one firsthand. 

A year ago today, I had not yet played in tide pools in California and gently poked a purple sea anemone. Nor had I eaten an entire caramel sundae at Ghirardelli in Monterey Bay; watched sea otters munch on kelp and ride the incoming waves; or stared up at the Redwoods in sheer amazement. I had not watched my classmates do cartwheels across the beach in Bodega Bay. 

I had yet to have long van conversations while riding along the coast, feeling so heard and seen by the people around me. I hadn’t sung at the top of my lungs to Wicked while driving to Cajun dancing in Louisiana. Or ran and jumped with my classmates on a beach in Grand Isle, Louisiana during a rainstorm. 

Picture shows four students smiling at a table in a breakfast restaurant
Carr House S’19 enjoying their weekly brunch tradition.

I had not yet nearly capsized during sailing class and laughed hysterically while grabbing at sails I’d yet to learn the names of. I had not sailed downtown to get Drawbridge Ice Cream, walked across the street to have a potluck dinner with my friends, or biked downtown to write in coffee shops. The tradition of going out to brunch on Sundays with my housemates had yet to be established. I had yet to fall in love with sunsets at the Mystic Seaport Museum, chasing them daily. I had not made Mystic a home; it had not yet become one of my favorite places in the whole world. I did not know the absolute magic of living and learning in a close-knit community. 

This time last year, words and phrases such as Swizzle, B-watch, foulies, sessiles and Moot Court had yet to join my vocabulary. It did not know what it really meant to have interdisciplinary academics. I did not know that such seemingly disparate subjects as science, policy, history, and literature could intersect so seamlessly. I had not conducted an independent project in each of these subjects! 

I am now packing for an adventure to Eleuthra, the Bahamas, for a Williams College Winter Study course. I cannot pack a bag for a trip without thinking of piles of blue 

Williams-Mystic duffle bags and early morning bus rides to airports: of counting off before heading into vans and onto the next adventure with my professors and 18 classmates. 

In Eleuthera, we’ll be doing Tropical Marine Conservation research. We will be talking with locals about how ecotourism affects their lives. I am looking forward to learning from them because I learned the power of people through our Louisiana Field Seminar. We will be looking at a sustainable lobster fishery as well. I did my Marine Policy research project on sustainable seafood, and I am excited to see such an operation firsthand. As I learned during Williams-Mystic, experiential learning brings the material to life in a way that no textbook can. 

Williams-Mystic Executive Director Tom Van Winkle left a journal on each of our desks for our move-in day last January. He had written a personal note inside each student. In mine, he included a quote by scientist and author 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.” Williams-Mystic gifted me with this unwavering curiosity and wonder. While the program has inevitably evolved since 1977, talking with alums has shown me that this Williams-Mystic’s transformative magic has remained the same.

A Semester in Photos, Part V: Mystic

I found my passion for my work at Williams-Mystic, but I also found a new passion for life – and I made some lifelong connections. An experience like Williams-Mystic changes a person, whether through the incredible experiences on field seminars or the meaningful moments at home. I know that I will never forget my time with these amazing people.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

image shows a Williams-Mystic student grinning as he hurls a snowball in front of Albion House

(Above) Zach Arfa of F’19 engages in a snowball fight outside of Albion House.

We had explored the wonders of Alaska together, beheld the marvels of the Gulf of Maine and trekked across the changing coasts of Louisiana as a class. Yet our unity as a class came from time spent in our collective home: Mystic, Connecticut. After the incredible experiences we had shared, our time at the Mystic Seaport could seem tame in comparison. Yet it was those moments that truly allowed us to bond.

I was the only local kid amongst the group. I grew up in Mystic for 12 years of my early life. Though my family and I had wonderful memories of the area, it took an entirely new and excited group of outsiders to remind me why I loved Mystic so much. There is a unique blend of maritime culture and society, real-time activism and marine science that coincides with the quintessential small New England town.

image shows the Charles W. Morgan, a large nineteenth-century whaling ship at the Mystic Seaport Museum, on a snowy day, with wreaths festooning decorative anchors place along the shore

(Above) The Charles W. Morgan on a snowy day at the Mystic Seaport Museum, part of Williams-Mystic’s campus.

Across the street from the largest maritime museum in the United States, we lived in a place where maritime history was a living, breathing quality. The river had been home to one of the most bustling shipbuilding communities of the region, constructing clipper ships of renown such as the Davy Crockett. Around the waterfront, salt marshes and wetlands were home to an incredible diversity of species to study. 

Being residents of Mystic came with the privilege of learning about all the Seaport had to offer, visiting the Mystic Aquarium for free whenever we wanted, as well as enjoying the local businesses and restaurants, which Mystic has in droves. We could wake up a ten-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the downtown or from the local YMCA. Kayaking along the beautiful riverbank or biking through the woods, we had a constant stream of activities to occupy our homework breaks.

Image shows a student hammering a red-hot piece of metal on an anvil in a historic forge, with another student firing metal in a hand-operated forge in the background

(Above) Artie Claudio (F’19) works in the shipsmith’s shop during maritime skills class.

Learning from incredibly gifted and passionate professors was a true gift. Every single one of our teachers was invested in our learning. The entire staff spent their time making our time at the program as magical as possible, dealing with the bureaucracy of our home institutions or settling our personal issues to ensure we could focus on being engaged. We had the unique opportunity to learn maritime skills from experts, crafting metal objects in the smith’s forge or learning maritime songs with professional chantey singers.

Most of all, I will cherish the memories I made with my classmates for the rest of my life. Though we all came to this program for different reasons – some of us felt it furthered our interests, while others came to experience something new – we all took away from it something incredible. Whether it was our late hours watching movies and playing pool in Sturges Cottage, or our impromptu trips for ice cream or food, every moment was a smile with people I never would have met otherwise. I found my passion for my work at Williams-Mystic, but I also found a new passion for life – and I made some lifelong connections. An experience like Williams-Mystic changes a person, whether through the incredible experiences on field seminars or the meaningful moments at home. I know that I will never forget my time with these amazing people.

Image shows the Class of Fall 2019 posing with a banner reading Williams-Mystic. Behind them is a sign reading Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and behind that is a pine forest

(Above) F’19 on our first day in Alaska, outside of Glacier Bay National Park in Gustavus.

A Field Seminar in Photos, Part I: Glacier Bay National Park

I left Alaska with a sense of place that I had never gotten from a textbook or a classroom: an understanding and appreciation for the place where all these abstract ideas collide.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

We’re excited to announce that we will return to Alaska as part of the Fall 2020 semester! If you will be a sophomore, junior, or senior at a US college or university, apply now to join us. We meet 100% of financial need and welcome students of all majors. 

Photo shows snow-capped mountains towering over a pristine bay, with a rugged, evergreen forest on its shores

(Above) View from the Glacier National Park guide boat across the mountains.

A group of students from all across the country, we barely had three days to get to know each other. Now, we were waking up at 3 am to travel to Alaska. 

We spent the journey learning about each other, doing crosswords on the plane together or playing games in the airport, until we boarded three small six-seaters bound for Gustavus. 

The planes would take us to Glacier Bay National Park: just a short ride across mountain tops and forested valleys away, yet that plane ride was the most incredible experience of the trip. Suddenly confronted with the sheer majesty of the Alaskan wilderness – a seemingly pristine environment with the breathtaking beauty of a David Attenborough documentary – we felt out of place with the modern world. As we landed on the airstrip, it was clear my feelings of otherworldly euphoria were shared by many. No one could quite describe the experience.

Everyone was exhausted and exhilarated that night, looking out across the fjords from our woodland cabins. Local salmon and halibut served to us and a night beneath the northern lights completed the feeling of a camping trip at the Ritz: an experience of an unfamiliar and captivating wilderness from the lap of luxury.

 

Picture shows snow pouring off the side of a craggy glacier into the ocean

(Above) Image of the Johns Hopkins Glacier as it “calves”, splinters into icebergs.

By morning, we were boarding a Park Service vessel to explore the Bay, blown away by the sheer vastness of the landscape. In the distance, whales spouted like early morning mist whilst several hundred sea lions sunned themselves upon the rocks, and mountain goats looked down on us from the rocky ledges. As we approached the ice sheet, the low conversations of excited passengers heightened to a fervent chatter as we all beheld the ice – then lowered to a pensive silence as we listened to the glacier crack.

The realities of climate change for this beautiful landscape became inescapable. The icecaps around the glacier were melting rapidly as the streams of freshwater carved grooves in the mountainsides. As our professors looked out across the landscape, there was a mournful expression turned toward the ice sheet, as if they may never gaze again on this marvel of an un-polluted world. The crew scooped a piece of the glacier from over the side, and we were able to hold a piece of history that had survived for thousands of years in our hands. 

Picture shows a student holding a large chunk of glacial ice aboard a boat. Other students crowd around him, while rocky mountains and glaciers fill the background.

(Above) Williams Mystic students marvel as Artie Claudio holds a piece of the glacier.

The rest of our time in Glacier Bay seemed too short. I wished I could have spent more time among the trees and on the water, kayaking the fjords of the bay or hiking mountain paths. The last night we had under the stars was spent among fast-made friends, remarking on the wonders of the natural world and our dream that it may be preserved, as we contemplated the ways in which young people like us could spark action and change.

I had never dreamed of seeing the majestic wilderness of Alaska before I came to Williams-Mystic, a transformative program based around travelling across the country while discussing important issues through multiple disciplines. This longstanding experiment of experiential learning allowed me to think about climate change in the very place the issue was most pressing, surrounded by experts to cultivate our experience and an incredible landscape worth protecting. I left with a sense of place that I had never gotten from a textbook or a classroom: an understanding and appreciation for the place where all these abstract ideas collide.

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An Education With a Purpose: Two Students Reflect on the Impact of Williams-Mystic

What’s so unique about this program specifically is that it tells you why the academics apply to real life, why the academics ought to be brought into life — because they’re necessarily connected. 

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At the end of their Williams-Mystic semester, Spring 2019 students Hayden Gillooly and Alex Quizon sat down to reflect on how their Williams-Mystic semester fit into their time at Williams College. Hayden had just declared a new major based on her Williams-Mystic experience; Alex simply felt more certain of his path forward. But both students agreed that Williams-Mystic has equipped them to approach the rest of their education with purpose. 

You’re both sophomores. Did you all declare your majors this semester? 

Hayden: I’m studying Spanish at Williams. Last spring and this fall, I took two Geosciences classes at Williams. Both of them opened my eyes to the subject of climate change and how it’s more than just a scientific issue; it affects everybody. I hadn’t really thought about majoring in science or anything (I was also a political science major). 

[On our Louisiana Field Seminar, I had] a conversation with my friend Angus. He said, ‘Is what I am studying good for others?’ And that really stuck with me: How can I make a difference? I’m learning about people’s stories, and how their lives are affected so deeply by a changing world. And at the end of the day, if I’m helping people in some way, I would consider it a life well-lived. So I decided to add the Geoscience majors in addition to Spanish. And I think those coupled together, particularly because a lot of Spanish-speaking countries are on coasts, will be really interesting. I’m so excited to go back to Williams now and study those two subjects and be a part of the Geosciences department. 

Alex: I came into Mystic planning to declare eventually in the Chemistry major and the environmental studies concentration. Holy cow, Mystic was a roller coaster! There was an entire month where the experiences I had at Mystic were shaping so many of my interests and flopping them around. The field seminars definitely shaped that; the classes, in the way they make you think, definitely shaped that. But eventually I realized, especially through my science research project, that chemistry is what I want to do: Working on ocean acidification, that’s what I want to do. So I submitted my form electronically last week to declare the chemistry major and environmental studies concentration. But now I’m more resolved knowing that. 

What will you bring back to Williams from your experiences at Mystic? 

Alex: I think what’s really important to underscore is that this program really is for everyone. Hayden’s a Spanish major, and there are history majors, biology majors, classics majors. It’s for everyone, because the ocean necessarily creates the connection between all these fields that society tells us are different. This is a liberal arts program; it’s about finding out how to put those things together and put those ideas together. If you don’t have a major in mind coming into Williams-Mystic, you’re certainly going to have a better and more clear understanding of what that major or concentration or minor is by the end of it. 

Hayden: I’ve realized that there is as much value in non-academics during a school semester as there can be in academics. I’ve learned so much this semester in the cracks of classes, in those van conversations, and philosophizing about life over coffee with friends. Those moments, too, are times that change us and that allow us to view the world differently. 

Alex: I agree with you completely. Work and life — we shouldn’t make them separate, even though it seems like we have to allocate [them that way]. That frame of mind is also what I want to bring back. What’s so unique about this program specifically is that it tells you why the academics apply to real life, why the academics ought to be brought into life — because they’re necessarily connected. 

Hayden: This semester, more than ever, the schoolwork has become something I really want to do. It makes me think about life, and how I want to live a life. I’ve engaged a lot this semester with the topic of passion. I want a life in which what I am doing is something I’m excited to do.

Want to experience Williams-Mystic’s close-knit community for yourself? We are still welcoming applications for our Spring 2020 semester. Please reach out to wmadmissions@williams.edu to express your interest, and visit https://mystic.williams.edu/admissions to start your application.

 

An Open Letter to Williams-Mystic from Hayden Gillooly (S’19)

It is week two back on the Williams College campus after being at Williams-Mystic Spring 2019. I find that the ways in which Williams-Mystic changed me keep unfolding; I keep being re-reminded daily of what a special, and transformative semester I had.

This blog post is written by Hayden Gillooly, a junior majoring in Geosciences and Spanish who attended Williams-Mystic during S’19, the spring of her sophomore year. 

It is week two back on the Williams College campus after being at Williams-Mystic Spring 2019. I find that the ways in which Williams-Mystic changed me keep unfolding; I keep being re-reminded daily of what a special, and transformative semester I had. I chose to do Williams-Mystic on a sort of whim — looking for a change in learning environments — and now I cannot imagine my life having not spent a semester feeling my eyes light up like fire and flint on field seminars and in labs in the marshes of Mystic. I cannot imagine a life without my dear friends who I met through the program. 

I am sitting in my room across from a full-wall photo collage I have created, including many, many photos from the past semester. The photos were taken across the country: in Puerto Rico, California, Mystic, Louisiana; on ships and on sailboat; on the docks and in classrooms; from within vans and atop rooftops; from aboard trawling vessels and tugboats; while holding sea anemones and starfish, lobsters and sessile organisms; in cafes and restaurants celebrating birthdays. They all have one thing in common: in each and every one, I am absolutely beaming. All someone has to do is mention Williams-Mystic, and I feel a giant smile spread across my face. How could I not smile thinking about it?! Confession: I am utterly and completely obsessed with Williams-Mystic and will rant about it to anyone who expresses even a spark of interest. 

After WM, I changed my major to Geosciences with a concentration in Maritime Studies because I fell in love with hands-on outdoor learning, and with the topics in that field. Naturally, after this huge educational change, this semester feels different from past ones. This is mainly because two days a week, I spend afternoons in geosciences labs, either outdoors exploring rocks and piecing together geologic histories in Structural Geology with Professor Paul Karabinos, or in the lovely Clark Hall learning about commercial uses for rocks in Economic Geology and Earth Resources with Professor Ronadh Cox. Last Thursday, we went on a class field trip with Ronadh to D.A. Collins limestone quarry in Wilton, NY, where we spoke with geologists and directors about the precise process of quarrying the limestone and grading it into appropriate sizes. Later, we learned about the science behind making concrete, and the tests to measure strength and durability of the products. As we spoke with D.A. Collins employees about their lives and paths and passions, I was reminded of how at WM, I learned the power of people. I learned how intricate our world is: how there truly is no better textbook than the world or a storyteller in front of you. On our van ride back to campus, Ronadh treated us to ice cream, which of course reminded me of a moment on our Louisiana Field Seminar with WM: after a fun night of cajun dancing, Executive Director of Williams-Mystic, Tom Van Winkle, called our professors, asking them to please stop at Sonic for ice cream on Williams-Mystic. 

On Monday, I hiked into the woods with my classmate (yes, just one — another beauty of this field is the small community) and professor, and tried to figure out what layers of rocks and the size of their grains told us about the environment in which they were deposited. More than ever, after WM, I feel inspired to ask questions (lots of them!) of my professors and classmates, and feel like we are learning together. As we sat at Sugarloaf overlook in Vermont eating a delicious assortment of fruits and veggies with hummus and guacamole, talking about life, I reminisced about how magical it is to travel and adventure with professors: to be known and to know them beyond the classroom. 

My third class is Environmental Law — taken, of course, after Marine Policy with Professor Katy Hall at Williams-Mystic sparked my interest. I feel so engaged by the material, and with each reading, I feel myself making connections to things we learned and experienced with Williams-Mystic. In a class discussion about whose voices are heard and valued in the midst of climate change, I thought of our friends in Grande Isle, Louisiana. I thought about how crucial it is that the people most affected by climate change and sea-level rise be a part of conversations and solutions. So many phrases in readings brought back memories of Katy’s class and Friday policy snacks of blue frosting-covered brownies topped with Swedish Fish and other foodie interpretations of our readings. 

Today in Earth Resources lab, as we analyzed the properties of various minerals in class, something magical happened. When “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel came up on shuffle, my classmates and I danced and were silly; I felt myself exhale, and thought, ‘This feels right.’ All the pieces lined up, everything feels as it should be: the classes I am taking, the people I surround myself with; my excitement about the world around me.

Williams-Mystic, was, and continues to be exactly what I needed: as a person, a student, a friend and as a global citizen. I think of Williams-Mystic more often than sometimes. Of chasing sunsets against a backdrop of tall ships at Mystic Seaport before dinner. Of laughing hysterically while almost capsizing during sailing class and having brunch downtown with housemates. Of days spent counting sessile organisms for our Marine Ecology research project. Of staring up at redwoods and feeling small, yet calm. Of piles of blue duffel bags in airports and van rides through the rolling highways of California. To say that I feel myself changed by Williams-Mystic and that community is an understatement. Mystic very quickly, and probably always will, feel like a home, and my friends from S’19, a family.