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.”
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.”
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.”