Passion, Photography, and Policy: Haley Kardek’s (F’17) Williams-Mystic Story

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. 

A Vassar College pre-med student with a passion for photography finds out about an ocean and coastal studies program and chooses to take a leap and participate…and then change her course of study to focus on international studies.

For Fall 2017 alumna Haley Kardek, the story of how she found Wiliams-Mystic is poetic.

“For most of my life, I had spent my summers sailing or coaching sailing in New Jersey. However, the summer of 2017 was the first summer I had been working an apprenticeship up in New York. At the beginning of August, I finally had the opportunity to sail a weekend,” Haley said. “My first day on the water felt so good and, when I got home that evening, I had an email waiting for me from my advisor encouraging me to look into a last-minute opening at Williams-Mystic for that fall. I try to live my life being open and receiving to every door that opens and the moment was too perfect to turn down the opportunity to apply.”

Haley spent some of her time while she was in the program photographing the world and people around her. A few of her photos are featured on our website as well as on our social media platforms.

“Photography and anything outdoors is my “escapes.” I feel most at peace with myself when I am photographing the world and people around me,” Haley said. “Some people say to be human is to be a storyteller – for me, I feel most human capturing and sharing stories through my photography.”

Williams-Mystic gave Haley the opportunity to personally experience the causes, symptoms, and effects of large maritime issues, such as Climate Change, marine bioinvasions, social justice inequalities, fisheries, and more.

“It is one thing to learn in a classroom or read about an issue; it is a completely different opportunity to physically see a roadway that has become covered by water, to listen to a fisherman talk about competition in the scallop industry, to estimate the population size of new fiddler crab communities or look for microplastics in shellfish,” Haley said. “At Williams-Mystic your experiences from traveling to maritime communities and conducting your independent research projects become the cornerstone of learning about maritime issues. This is what I wanted to experience with the program and I was not at all disappointed.”

Haley’s participation in Williams-Mystic changed her path in academia and career trajectory.

“Williams-Mystic very drastically changed my life, path-wise. Up until that semester, I had set my eyes on pursuing medical school; however, a variety of different trains of thought and feelings came together during my semester at Williams-Mystic and I decided I wanted to address the large, systemic issues that contribute to many health issues such as political agency and voice and social inequalities as well as connect more with my passion and love for the environment,” Haley said.

The offshore field seminar Haley’s class embarked on left from Erie, Pennsylvania on Lake Erie. For Haley, this was her favorite field seminar experience.

“The offshore field seminar in Lake Erie was my favorite as it revealed both the hardship and beauty of sailing a tall ship away from the sight of land. Throughout the semester, especially when reading Moby-Dick, I would re-live my time on the U.S. Brig Niagara and be able to relate to the general experiences of living on a ship at sea: struggling to find sea legs, getting an “all hands on deck” call, being so physically and mentally tired you could literally sleep standing up, watching the sun rise and set on a horizon not lined with land,” Haley said.

Williams-Mystic taught Haley the complexity of issues and that you cannot get frustrated when you are trying to solve problems.

“Solving these issues requires working through the many values and differences of experience embedded in one issue. It requires collaboration and connecting scientists with politicians and artists with industry workers. Most important of all, addressing these issues requires active and genuine connection with the people affected by and affecting the aspects of larger issues – a skill very much encouraged and taught during my semester at Williams-Mystic.”

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.