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. She is studying public relations and political science at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. If you have any questions about our program, you can email her at audra.delaney@gmail.com.

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 collaborates with his classmates on numerous projects. He finds his 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.

Traditionally, Williams-Mystic students have completed an individual research project on a marine policy issue of their choice, writing a paper that delves into all sides of the issue and presents a policy recommendation. This semester, students have been collaborating as part of the Williams-Mystic Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group. In the group, students work on small teams to complete an environmental issue research project for a client. The client may be looking for a solution, or simply for more information.

Alejandro’s marine policy team is working on shellfish aquaculture in the Gulf of Maine with Jonathan Labaree (S’84) through 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.

Alejandro’s team is helping the group by evaluating a variety of ecosystem models to help determine the point at which shellfish farms start to have significant impacts on riverine ecosystems.

“We are looking into which models are the best to use,” Alejandro said. “Our team has looked at the biological, economic and social models.” The team has also looked into mathematical models to determine the carrying capacities of the ecosystems they’re studying.

The project demands that Alejandro and his team work together to tackle 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? Questions like these rarely have a single, simple answer. The project also requires that the team draw on knowledge gained in their other Williams-Mystic classes.

For Alejandro, the policy class, and his team’s project in particular, 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. She is studying public relations and political science at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. If you have any questions about our program, you can email her at audra.delaney@gmail.com.

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.

Katie Clark’s Life Changing Williams-Mystic Semester

This post was written by S’18 alumna  Audra DeLaney. She is studying public relations and political science at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. If you have any questions about our program, you can email her at audra.delaney@gmail.com.

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.”

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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.”

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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.”