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 III: Gulf of Maine

Imagine corralling a group of college students into a confined space and taking away their cell phones. Seems like a recipe for disaster – and yet spending two weeks off the coast of Maine disconnected from the modern world was an incredible experience.

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

Images shows students hauling on a rope aboard a sailing ship

(Above) Williams-Mystic students and Executive Director Tom Van Winkle haul up a lifeboat.

Imagine corralling a group of college students into a confined space and taking away their cell phones. Seems like a recipe for disaster – and yet spending two weeks off the coast of Maine disconnected from the modern world was an incredible experience.

We set out from Penobscot Bay in a mood of anxiety and excitement. The ship was an alien environment to most of us, and the anticipation was palpable. Within days, we began to haul on the lines and take turns at the wheel, feeling like sailors as the vessel became familiar. Soon I was able to climb high aloft in the rigging, and the view I beheld took my breath away.

Picture shows a student at the helm of a sailing ship near sundown

(Above) Tristan Biggs takes his first turn at the helm.

The vastness of the ocean before me was awe-inspiring; it was like nothing I had experienced before. A night beneath the starry sky had me gazing into eternity. The sunrises and sunsets were brilliant and colorful beyond description. Distracting us from our class sessions were dolphins leaping in our bow wake. They chittered as we looked out at night, glowing as they swam through bioluminescent plankton. Whales could be seen spouting far in the distance, and through the Gulf Stream a host of mahi-mahi and flying fish delighted our onlooking scientists.

Picture shows dolphins swimming just beneath the surface of crystal-clear waters

(Above) Atlantic white-sided dolphins swim below the bow of the SSV Corwith Cramer.

Even though our stay was short on the SSV Corwith Cramer, the crew of the S.E.A vessel were incredibly informative and nurturing. The stewards prepared food of extraordinary quality out of a closet-sized kitchen, which we enjoyed in the company of our shipmates. The captain and mates taught us navigation, seamanship, and nautical terminology, while the scientists helped us study plankton tows and oceanography in the lab at all hours. Peering into the world of the microscope, every weird and wonderful creature imaginable teemed in the waters of the North Atlantic. 

Despite the incredible diversity of the oceans around us, there were signs that things were changing. We found that the Gulf Steam current was slower than historical rates, while the amount of microplastics in the water was alarming. The small shelled organisms we marveled at beneath the microscope showed signs of acidifying oceans. The water temperatures were spiking despite the season, as our teachers explained that the Gulf of Maine basin is warming faster than most of the ocean. When we stopped at Martha’s Vineyard, we learned how much of the coast has disappeared, the scale of sea level rise was terrifying.

The creativity and freedom I felt – even as I was told my duties and ordered about the vessel – was inspiring. Writing poetry or playing guitar on the quarterdeck, every person aboard found touch with their imagination on the ship. As a final goodbye to our vessel and shipmates, we had the fortune to share our creative outlets and talents. A night of laughter and friendship was the perfect end to our journey together. The comradery you feel for your shipmates is indescribable.

Picture shows the ocean at sunset, the sky illuminated and brilliant and the gentle waves reflecting its light

(Above) A look at the night sky in the Gulf of Maine, shortly after the sun disappeared. 

Alejandro Flores Monge’s (F’18) Williams-Mystic Story

Alejandro Flores Monge always knew he wanted to be an advocate for the environment. Williams-Mystic’s interdisciplinary curriculum and marine policy class helped him see how he could connect this goal to his other interests.

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. 

Since early in his educational career, Alejandro Flores Monge (F’18) has been looking for ways to challenge himself inside and outside of the classroom. Williams-Mystic is just the most recent step in this process.

A sophomore at Williams College, Alejandro plans to double major in environmental studies and art history. He hopes to focus on Latino/Latina studies to complete his degree.

Alejandro was born in Colorado and spent his childhood growing up in Colorado and Mexico. In seventh grade, Alejandro was required to do future education planning on a career preparation website.

“While I was digging through the website, I began to understand the distinction between the educational approaches of liberal arts colleges and larger universities,” Alejandro said. “I enjoyed the liberal arts approach more and eventually wanted to attend a university that was focused on it.”

Alejandro attended United World College in New Mexico for high school. He believes his passion for environmentalism came from this time in his life. His high school education had numerous liberal arts components too.

While searching for a college, he was drawn to Williams College because it paired a liberal arts curriculum with a strong environmental program.

“I was also very satisfied with the curriculum,” Alejandro said. “Another large factor in my decision-making was Williams College’s dedication to sustainability.”

The summer before he started his first year at Williams College, Alejandro visited Mystic with other incoming first-year humanities and social science students. He thought the area was beautiful but did not initially think of incorporating the maritime world into his environmental studies education.

“At the time, I was more focused on urban areas, water resources, and urbanizing arid environments,” Alejandro said.

As he made his way through prerequisites for his major, he heard more about Williams-Mystic from professors and the Williams-Mystic admissions team. By the fall of his sophomore year, he was ready to give it a try.

As a Williams-Mystic student, Alejandro has connected with his professors and believes the program operates under an effective model of interdisciplinary education.

From day one, he has also noticed Williams-Mystic’s commitment to building and strengthening communities — especially on field seminars.

Going into the program, Alejandro expected sailing aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer in the Gulf of Maine to be rough and cold. In fact, F’18’s Offshore Field Seminar was warm and sunny. Learning to sail the Cramer together, Alejandro feels, helped him and his shipmates foster community. He doubts they would be as close to each other without having worked together to sail the Cramer.

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Alejandro, at far right, along with his housemates during F’18’s Pacific Northwest Field Seminar.

Back in Mystic, Alejandro soon found his marine policy project particularly invigorating.

Before his semester began, Alejandro assumed Marine Policy would be much like the political science classes he’d already taken at Williams. He quickly found out that nothing is quite comparable to the Williams-Mystic policy class experience — especially when it comes to the policy research project.

For one, Alejandro got the chance to connect with Williams-Mystic alumnus Jonathan Labaree (S’84) via Labaree’s work at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). GMRI seeks to improve shellfish aquaculture while minimizing harm to coastal ecosystems. This involves finding solutions that are sustainable not just for the ecosystems in question but also for the people who rely on coastal ecosystems to make a living.

As part of Alejandro’s research, he evaluated a variety of ecosystem models — including not just biological models but also economic, social, and even mathematical ones — to help determine the point at which shellfish farms start to have significant impacts on riverine ecosystems.

Alejandro’s policy research also led to some complex questions: How many aquaculture farms will riparian landowners tolerate? At what point might the success of commercial fishermen be compromised? How will aquaculture initiatives, even environmentally sustainable ones, impact locals’ ability to swim and fish for leisure? As Alejandro learned, questions like these rarely have a single, simple answer.

For Alejandro, the experience has helped him realize that there are a variety of ways to advocate for the environment. Like many alumni before him, Alejandro finds the prospect of working in law especially exciting.

Most of all, Marine Policy — and Williams-Mystic in general — has made it even more apparent to Alejandro that language matters. Alejandro is fluent in five languages and believes multilingualism is vital to a prosperous society.

“Language helps you understand the stories of individual people,” Alejandro said. “Law and policy add a tangible and physical reality to the idea that language dictates reality. What you say and what you write down has  the power to determine what you are and are not capable of doing.”

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

SciencePres1

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

SanFranBridge

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

KatywithStudents

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

WMRegatta2-19

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.

Katie Clark’s Life Changing Williams-Mystic Semester

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. 

It’s August 2008. An American studies major with marine science and policy minors has chosen to leave Smith College to participate in a semester-long investigation of America’s oceans and coasts.

The experiences Katie Clark had during her semester at Williams-Mystic changed the trajectory of her life and her way of thinking.

“I read poems about the Mississippi River while sitting on a levee looking at the brown waters of that very same river. I compared the sea stars and crabs that lived on the east and west coasts by touching and holding them in my hands,” Katie said. “I read about what it was like to sail a ship while I grew calluses on my hands from hauling on lines to raise a sail.  And the most beautiful part of that kind of life is that the connections are endless– both academically and with the special group of people you share those experiences with.”

Katie grew up in Texas and in Colorado, and at one time was obsessed with becoming a dolphin trainer.

“I got to Smith and loved being by the water and realized I could chase that dream again. Someone must have told me to talk to past Williams-Mystic Alumna who lived in my house at Smith. I looked at Williams-Mystic and at Sea Education Association (SEA) and decided that Williams-Mystic would be a better fit for me and it fulfilled my marine science certificate requirements.”

kaite on mtn

During Williams-Mystic, Katie was able to soak up different lessons and ways of life.

“Williams-Mystic shows you what happens when you study one concept from as many perspectives as possible. There is beauty in reading Moby-Dick on the boat while you are studying the chemistry of the water while also learning what luffing sails means,” Katie said. “It also taught me to take on the different perspectives. There is something really unique about the way you learn at Williams-Mystic and it enhanced why you need to talk to people about how they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.”

Another highlight of Katie’s Williams-Mystic experience was a character you might remember from Sesame Street: Grover.

Yes, Grover. Mallory House, one of the five Williams-Mystic student houses, has a stuffed animal version of Grover and the Fall 2008 class sure did give him a run for his money.

“Grover has a very special place in my heart.  I took his care very seriously. Once another house stole Grover from us when we were at home and gave us a treasure map to try to find him,” Katie said. “What we found was Grover in a paper bag, in a plastic bag, in a ziplock bag, tied by a rope to a brick, tied to a buoy in the middle of the Mystic River! He survived mostly unharmed but it enhanced and elevated the pranks going on between houses.”

Grover, like all Williams-Mystic students when they travel offshore, is fully equipped with foulies and a harness. Katie is the one that put his outfit together aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer on her offshore voyage. She thinks her and her classmates hooked him onto themselves so he could go aloft too!

After her Williams-Mystic experience and graduation from Smith College, Katie was a Trustee and New Graduate Director for the Alumni Association of Smith College.  She worked in admissions at Williams-Mystic for three years and then returned to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a Master of Education (M.S.Ed.) in Higher Education Administration.  Katie worked with Advancing Women in Engineering at Penn to support women engineers in all aspects of their experiences in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I not only spent a semester as a student at Williams-Mystic but I was fortunate enough to spend three years there as a staff member.  I began my professional career in student affairs in Admissions at Williams-Mystic and realized that working with students was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Working at Williams-Mystic helped her learn that she wanted to work in Higher Education and how students change. The things that took place from opening dinner of a semester to closing dinner helped her see all the change that can happen in one semester.

Katie is the Founder and Director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership at Swarthmore College. She helps college students develop their leadership skills by bringing innovative speakers to campus, running workshops on topics like professionalism and group dynamics, and matches students with alumni mentors to help further their goals.

“We also go to places in San Francisco and visit tech companies. My students get to see what it is like to be a liberal arts student in tech startups. They are able to also see the value in being in the place you have learned about / are learning about.”

Katie in ball pit

Professionally and personally, Katie sees Williams-Mystic in everything she does.

“I use skills from my Williams-Mystic semester every day – trying to help students think about their ideas from new perspectives and to draw inspiration from unlikely places.”

She also has this to say about the program as a whole:

“If you want to learn how to change the world, Williams-Mystic is an incredible place to start.  My time there taught me that if I wanted to make a change or solve a large problem that it could not be done in one sector.  While we studied the oceans for 17 weeks, we were really studying how the world functions. Politics, science, literature, art, history, craftsmanship, and law are all a small slice of the puzzle that we need to understand the full scope of an issue or challenge.  I left Williams-Mystic knowing that while I might not have all the answers; I know the approaches to take to find the solutions.”