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.”

Luis Urrea (S’15) on Interdisciplinary Learning and his Williams-Mystic Semester

“I was definitely surprised by how effective a hands-on experience was at teaching me as opposed to a solely classroom-based course. Only in practice do you realize how much this approach actually works.”

A headshot of Luis Urrea (S'15)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. 

In the fall of 1977, Williams College and Mystic Seaport Museum embarked on a journey to bring ocean and coastal studies and interdisciplinary education together in one place in order to build leaders for generations to come.

For Williams College student Luis Urrea (S’15), Williams-Mystic challenged him and completed his vision for his undergraduate experience — even though he had to drive through a blizzard to reach Mystic.

“I found out about Williams-Mystic through the geosciences program at Williams College,” Luis said. “Williams-Mystic is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, semester of my entire college experience. It was extremely rewarding, interdisciplinary, and consistently satisfied my itch to travel to parts unknown of the U.S.”

Luis’ experience in the program was made richer by the Gulf Coast Field Seminar.

“My favorite field seminar was the one that took place in Louisiana. Apart from delicious food, we had a wonderful opportunity to really connect with community members and establish relationships with many people who had firsthand experiences of what it meant to live in the coast and be affected by natural/manmade disasters,” Luis said.

When asked what his favorite memory of Williams-Mystic was, he wasn’t able to choose just one.

“Meeting my housemates, blizzard(s), meeting my significant other, all of the field seminars but especially our voyage aboard the Corwith Cramer, looking at the stars while on lookout duty, eating alligator, visiting the Spiral Needle, coring the bayou in Louisiana, watching the Super Bowl, being in Puerto Rico, going for a run in Seattle, and so many, many other memories,” Luis said.

Luis, like many alumni, was surprised by the benefits of learning in an interdisciplinary setting.

“I was definitely surprised by how effective a hands-on experience was at teaching me as opposed to a solely classroom-based course, Luis said. “It’s one of those ideas that sound good, but only in practice do you realize how much they actually work.”

Luis is now a seventh- grade science teacher at Juan de Dios Salinas Middle School in Mission, TX, about 40 minutes north of the Mexican border. He tries to have his lessons include a hands-on approach while also tying in several other disciplines.

Williams-Mystic made Luis much more aware of how we are damaging the coasts of our nation.

“I am also much more aware of the different organizations that are fighting to protect those same coasts,” Luis said.

As for his future, there are so many things Luis wants to accomplish.

“I am happy with the impact I’ve made as a teacher, but I don’t think that I will stay in the classroom forever,” Luis said. “I will likely teach one more year, then write a biography on my parents, and afterwards attend law school. However, I would also like to someday have my own business, become an international translator, and travel the world.”


Want to discover how Williams-Mystic fit into the lives of other alumni? Explore our alumni stories here.