Katy Newcomer Lawson F’12: Research with Roots

By Emily Sun S’20

Emily is a recent graduate of Williams College. Her time in Mystic included long walks around the seaport, last-minute kayaking, and a wholehearted attempt at blacksmithing.

Katy Newcomer Lawson (F’12) has traveled far and wide. It’s one of the first things I notice in the About section of her website: the list of places where she’s worked spans coasts, countries, and even continents. In the course of her work as a marine scientist, Katy has been everywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to the coast of Maine, the Pacific Northwest to Panama, Alaska to Australia. When I give her a call one Thursday afternoon, I’m lucky enough to catch her while we’re both in the same time zone — I’m at school in Massachusetts; she’s working from home in upstate New York — and I can’t help but ask: which of those many places was her favorite? 

“Favorites, that’s so hard!” Katy says. “There are so many good ones.” There’s the semester she spent studying abroad in Australia, just a hundred miles inland from the Great Barrier Reef.  (“It was really immersive, because I took four classes on coral reefs,” Katy tells me. “I was like, if I’m going to be in Australia, I’m going to do it!”) There are all the times she’s gone scuba diving in the kelp forests off the coast of California. (As she describes the experience, I feel like I’m right there underwater with her: “It’s almost spooky,” she says, “but also very pretty, because the sun shines through and [it’s like] you’re swimming through a forest.”)

Then there’s the summer she spent in Florida, patrolling beaches for sea turtle nests. (“That was the hardest I’ve ever worked, walking on the beach in the morning every single day for miles.” “When you say morning,” I ask, “do you mean, like, 9 AM morning or 5 AM morning?” “5 AM morning,” Katy confirms, telling me she had to wake up at 4 to get to the beach on time. “But, I mean, I also got to see baby sea turtles that summer,” she says, smiling, “so pros and cons, really.”) There’s also the work she’s done in St. Paul and Sitka, Alaska, which Katy says might be her two favorite field sites of all time. (“It was so interesting to go there,” she says. “Very surprising ecosystems, very diverse — [with] starfish and giant urchins and all these fun invertebrate species.”)

Katy studying invasive invertebrate species in St. Paul.

And the next destination on her list is equally exciting. If all goes well, next summer, Katy will be headed to Fiji, where she’ll continue to work on her PhD with conservation biologist Joshua Drew. The focus of Katy’s PhD research is marine biodiversity; she’s particularly interested in the invertebrate species that call Fiji’s coral reefs and mangrove forests home. Though her trip to those very sites was originally scheduled for this summer and had to be postponed, Katy has still been able to make progress on her project. She’s currently doing mathematical and statistical modeling work from home, while also looking forward to getting back out in the field. “That’s the part I really like,” Katy says, “is how hands-on it is. [With] marine fieldwork, when you’re out on the beach or on a boat, you feel like you’re [having] a very tactile experience.” Not to mention, she adds, of her upcoming trip, “I really enjoy traveling for work!”

But before most of that traveling — before Fiji, before Alaska and California and Australia — there was Williams-Mystic. Katy came to Mystic as an environmental studies major at Williams who had been interested in marine science since high school and a self-described “ocean girl” since long before then. “When I was looking at Williams as a college, I [wasn’t sure] if I wanted to [take] the liberal arts route or do a very marine-heavy undergrad,” she explains, “so Williams-Mystic helped convince me that I wanted to go to Williams.” It’s something the two of us have in common; as a senior in high school, I had the same dilemma and made the same decision. Something else we share: both of us remember the field seminars as one of the best parts of Williams-Mystic. We exchange stories about the offshore trip, which Katy tells me was her favorite, “because it was the most unlike anything I’d ever done before.” I’ve never really been able to put the magic of that trip into words, but Katy does it perfectly: “To keep waking up at sea was [just] an amazing experience.” 

“And then [the] Louisiana [field seminar] was [also] great,” she continues. During that trip, “we stayed at LUMCON,” the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, “which is a field site that’s also a lab. Basically, it was like a professional field location, and I’d never been to one before. [So] to experience that, where it was like — here are the scientists who work at this lab, and they do science for their job, 9 to 5 — I [just thought], that’s really cool! That’s a dream!” Back in Mystic, Katy had the chance to try out that dream for herself. She began working as a research assistant in the lab of professor emeritus (and former Williams-Mystic director) Jim Carlton. “Jim was a huge influence,” Katy tells me now. “You know, I still [study] invertebrates, which are his specialty. And I started [my career] in an invasive [species] lab that he helped found, so I’m definitely super thankful to have gone to Williams-Mystic and learned from Jim and everybody else there.” 

Katy (left) at the beach with her Williams-Mystic classmates.

One especially memorable learning experience, Katy says, was the research project she did when she returned to Mystic the following summer, to continue working with Jim and one of his then-PhD students. “We’d found something in the field that was really interesting,” she says, “which was that anemones were producing eggs for a reason we didn’t understand, because they were asexual. And we were like, ‘Why? We thought you were asexual!’” So Katy used her histology skills — which she’d recently honed in Australia, studying corals (what else?) — to analyze the tissue of the anemones and “figure out if they had eggs, if they had sperm, what was going on.” She pauses for a moment here, and, enthralled, I ask: What was going on? Were they really asexual?

“Yes, they were really asexual!” Katy says. “It was a totally female population — there were no sperm-holding anemones. We think it’s because they’re invasive, and they probably haven’t lost the capability to reproduce sexually from their original population — but that only one individual was transported to Mystic, [and] it was a female. And so now every single anemone in Mystic is a female,” she explains. “Other researchers also discovered this around the same time, and found other populations that are only male, [or other] female-only populations. [But] there are [also] populations that have both, and so people are trying to see if they’re going to reproduce sexually. It’ll be interesting,” she continues, “because they’re so successful [as a species] without [sexual reproduction]. But if they recombine and are able to adapt and evolve as a [typical] population might, then they [could] become even more prevalent — who knows?” 

The anemone project — which ultimately turned into Katy’s undergraduate thesis — exemplifies what she says she loves most about doing research: asking questions and finding ways to answer them. “I have a lot of fun designing research questions and thinking up what we want to test and why it’s important,” she says. “And going through the process of trial and error in the field — I really enjoy that part of it.” I’m curious about what that process is like, never having been through it on my own. Katy nods: “I think it’s hard to get experience doing that until either you have an independent project or you work on a project with somebody [else] from start to finish. But it’s definitely one of the most surprising things I’ve learned [about research], is that it’s very iterative. Because there are so many things in the field that can affect your project, like weather, waves, currents, other animals, other humans… So you have to kind of think of solutions on the spot and be ready for almost anything to happen.”

“And it can be really nerve-racking the first time it happens to you,” Katy tells me. “Like, [for] my first internship project, the animal I was trying to study didn’t come that year — they [just] didn’t settle in that location that year — so when I got there, [and] I saw barnacles instead of bryozoans, I was like, ‘Oh. Well, my study is now on barnacles!’” Katy laughs. Despite the challenges, it seems like everything worked out in the end. That barnacle project took place while Katy was an intern at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), where she later became a full-time lab technician. She gives credit to Williams-Mystic for helping her get that initial opportunity: “I definitely would not have gotten the internship at [SERC] without [my] experience working with Jim,” she says. “And then the research I did [with him] for my thesis” — the aforementioned anemone project — “turned into a paper, so that was my first big publication — which was probably [also] very impactful, [to have that] on my resume [when I applied] to grad school.” 

Katy diving in Monterey as part of her work with SERC.

I ask Katy if there are other ways in which she thinks Williams-Mystic has shaped her life since. “I mean, I met my husband [there],” she says with a smile, “and I made really great friends [who] I still talk to and hang out with a lot.” (She remembers paddleboarding on the Mystic River in the summer, going to Clyde’s for apple cider donuts in the fall — the foundation for friendships that are still going strong, even now, years later.) Though some of her favorite memories are from time spent outside of class, Katy tells me she really enjoyed her courses, too. She admits to having a favorite — “as a science person, I was obsessed with the ecology class” — but says she also appreciated “the way all [the classes] intersected, how they all built upon each other.” 

Looking back on her coursework as a whole, Katy says, “I think the immersion of [all] the different courses helped expand my view of doing marine science. You know, it can be anthropological; it can be community-based. It’s not just science alone — there’s this whole other huge part of knowing about the marine world that’s not based in the research, it’s based in the human systems. So I think that’s had a big impact on the way I think about things.” For example, Katy recalls, “When we went to Louisiana, I was always amazed at how close the connections were between some of the professors at Mystic and some of the people [we met] in Louisiana. I thought that was so impressive, to have collaborators who they’ve [known] for like twenty years, who they’re friends with and who live in that community.” 

Today, Katy hopes to build similarly strong connections through her own work. For the ongoing Fiji project, she says, “we do a lot of collaboration with the local indigenous community. [We] try to focus on what they’re interested in studying [and] develop research questions that might further their own interest in the conservation process. For example, there are a lot of services that they value more than the Western community [does], like sustenance fishing or traditional uses of mangrove wood. So we want to try to develop study questions that support those kinds of values.” It’s important, she says, to focus on projects that are not only of scientific interest, but also of value to the surrounding community — and it’s equally important to work with local collaborators, to ensure they are involved with and invested in the research being done.

Katy’s belief that science should be accessible and inclusive extends even beyond the immediate community, into the wider world. “I think [doing] outreach is a really important part of any scientist’s job,” she says, whether that means giving talks, using social media, or finding other ways to share science with the public. In addition to keeping people informed, Katy also wants to help them join in research efforts themselves, as citizen scientists. “I really enjoy that, connecting people to projects and getting them involved,” she says. “I think people are more keen than we think. There are plenty of people who [want to] help, and it’s super beneficial for science [for the public] to have a [better] understanding of what we do.” 

While at SERC, for example, Katy helped develop an online citizen science project called Invader ID. The goal of the project is to study fouling communities, which are made up of organisms that live underwater on artificial surfaces, such as docks and ship hulls. As a volunteer, you can access photos that SERC has collected of these organisms, then try your hand at identifying them. Katy says Invader ID “gets people interested in [species] that they would maybe never see,” like tunicates and tubeworms. “But also,” she adds, “it helps us track [these] communities through time. So we can put up [photos] from the early 2000s that we never got around to analyzing, and if the public identifies [the species in them], then we have a data point that we would have never been able to get [otherwise].” To date, more than 5,000 volunteers have contributed to the project. And Katy thinks that, in general, participation in similar citizen science efforts is on the rise. When I ask her how she sees the field of marine science changing, either in the present or in the years to come, she says, “I think more people are expressing interest, and I think more scientists are recognizing that it’s important to [reach out to them] actively.” 

“And then with that,” she continues, “I think [science] is becoming more localized. People are realizing, like, to just go to a far-flung place, do research, and come back — and not learn about that place — is maybe a bad idea. You should be more aware of where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how that data is related to that place and those people. And [you should] really connect with the community there and the public in general.” It’s an area where Katy acknowledges that scientists, on the whole, have lots of room for improvement — but she’s optimistic that things will change for the better. 

To me, it’s clear that Katy herself is at the forefront of that change, given how closely her work in Fiji is tied to the local community. In addition to the ecological fieldwork, Katy’s project also has a major sociological component. She says, “[One of the questions] that I’m asking is, in high biodiversity sites — assuming biodiversity is a proxy for healthy ecosystems — do people appreciate more ecosystem services, and do they value those [more highly]?” Through surveys and interviews, Katy will work to better understand the local community and its relationship with the environment, in order to make sure that local priorities are taken into account. When designing a research project, Katy says, “it’s important to make sure that you’re not doing [one thing] when the community thinks there’s something [else] that’s more important. So it’s a balance” — a balance she is working hard to achieve.

What’s next for Katy after Fiji? “I’m getting more into this idea of connecting the community with the ecosystem,” she says, “so I think I’m going to try to do projects that are more local to me. That could mean in the Great Lakes region, or it could mean coastal New York, [or even] up to Maine, where there are a lot of local towns that are really invested in the lobster, scallop, and [other] fishing industries. So that’s what I hope to do next, because I want to have that connection to place.” And at the end of the day, it’s that same connection to place that Katy emphasizes when she talks about her time at Williams-Mystic. One of the last questions I ask her is this: In just a few sentences, how would she describe the program?

“I think you just really live in that place,” she says. “You live in the world of [a] New England, ocean-based lifestyle, and you learn a lot about the ocean from the perspective of a coastal community, even if you’ve never been [part of that community before].” (Katy herself grew up in Georgia. “On the coast?” I ask her. “Nope!” she says, smiling. “Anywhere near the coast?” “Nope,” she says again, laughing now. “Central Georgia. My family went to the beach during the summer, but that was it.”) In Mystic, though, “you [really] experience the water,” she says. “You live there on the water, you learn all about the water, you go other places with water — and it’s great. I loved every minute of it.”

Life at Sea: Days One and Two of S’19’s Offshore Field Seminar

From how to steer or furl sail, to how to wake people up for class or sanitize dishes, we have been learning specific methods to allow 37 people to safely and happily travel, live, and learn together on a ship only 40 meters long.

Above: S’19 students Chris (Clark University) and Em (Vassar College) help recover sediment from the bottom of San Juan Harbor.

29 January 2019

19 N x 066 W, 30 nautical miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico

two students, one playing guitar, sing aboard a ship
S’19 Oliver (University of Cincinnati) and Jonna (Middlebury College) serenade the ship’s company.

Greetings from SSV Corwith Cramer!

On Sunday, January 27, the Williams-Mystic Class of Spring 2019 joined SSV Corwith Cramer in San Juan just in time for lunch.  For the last 48 hours or so, we have been busy learning ship operations, getting used to walking on a rolling ship, and enjoying being out at sea.

For many, of us, it is our first time out at sea.  And as Melville wrote in Redburn, “People who have never gone to sea for the first time as sailors cannot imagine how puzzling and confounding it is.”  Unlike Melville’s protagonist, however, we have watch officers who are kind and patient teachers, and who allow us to ask lots of questions.  From how to steer or furl sail, to how to wake people up for class or sanitize dishes, we have been learning specific methods to allow 37 people to safely and happily travel, live, and learn together on a ship only 40 meters long with three heads and two showers.

During orientation, we got to know the parts of the ship and our responsibilities on board.  Everyone participated in safety drills and we also conducted our first science deployments in San Juan Harbor.

Then we headed out to sea, into deep water north of San Juan.  Two days in, spirits are high.  We are getting used to the routine and the warm tropical weather.  The food has been amazing thanks to our fantastic stewards and we have even enjoyed some entertainment thanks to some talented students.

Stay tuned for more updates from our Offshore Field Seminar!


Track the Cramer‘s progress by clicking the link below!

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER 

Important Note: Vessel tracking information isn’t updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

On our Last Day Offshore, Science, Sunsets, Songs, and Lots of Knots

The last day aboard the Cramer is a microcosm of everything we’ve experienced aboard: science, hands-on learning, our duty to the ship, and team bonding via songs and puns.

Muscongus Bay, Saint George River, Maine

September 12, 2018

0445 h

After making our way north to Maine, we anchored at Muscongus Bay Monday evening. Anchoring brought a welcome reprieve from the watch schedule offshore; we’ve been keeping short “anchor watches” during our time here, which have allowed us to catch up on some much-awaited sleep.

Tuesday morning brought rain, but also some excellent poster presentations, as the students crowded into the main salon of the Cramer to share the results from their scientific research projects. Another highlight of the day: marlinspike seamanship class, in which students worked on knots — and “knautical” puzzles. (When you’ve been together on a ship for 10 days, your humor tends to take a turn for the punny.)

As part of the ship’s crew, our duty to Cramer has structured our days here. Tuesday, as our last full day on the ship, was no exception; our afternoon was designated a “field day,” a time to clean and care for every inch of this ship that’s been our home this week and a half. The rain stopped as we finished field day, and we were rewarded with a beautiful, final night aboard, full of poetry, conversation, and songs.

two students
Isabella (Colby College, at left) and Morgan (Williams College) present the results of their study on light attenuation in the surface ocean.

Now, it’s early morning Wednesday. Everyone is still asleep but soon the ship will be abuzz as we prepare to get underway and head toward Rockland. Tonight, we will make our way back to Mystic as shipmates, ready for the next adventures of our fall semester.


Thank you to Captain Chris and the entire ship’s crew for a wonderful 10 days aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer! You can follow the last leg of our journey here — https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER — note, as always, that our position may not be current, as it’s updated periodically and not continuously.

One Story at a Time: Audra DeLaney (S’18) on Being a Williams-Mystic Student and Intern

Hi, I’m Audra. I am a born-and-raised Ohioan with a passion for handwritten letters and philanthropic initiatives. Currently, I am a rising senior at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio studying public relations and political science and hope to work in public affairs somewhere on the East Coast. It has been an honor and a privilege to write blog posts about the lives and experiences of numerous Williams-Mystic alumni over the last seven months.

aud2.jpg

I am an alumna of the spring 2018 Williams-Mystic class. In March 2017, I mentioned to an economics professor about how I had space in my junior year to do a study away/study aboard program and I wasn’t sure how I wanted to fill that time. She told me about Williams-Mystic and the rest is history.

Once I was accepted, I had almost a year to wait until it was my turn to be a student in the program. I read every blog, looked at every Facebook post, and watched every youtube video I could find to learn more about Williams-Mystic. I grew up going to Lake Erie every summer, so I knew a little bit about boats, enjoyed science, and was intrigued by policy pertaining to the ocean. I thought I would do okay.

I thought my Williams-Mystic experience would be purely academic. I would learn some pretty amazing facts in some pretty amazing places and head back to Ohio feeling accomplished.

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Williams-Mystic was a challenge-filled, transformative, and emotional semester for me. As far as academics are concerned, I was pushed to my limits and completed work I am very proud of, but there is more to this program than hours spent working on projects and papers.

Going forward, I will remember my oceanography professor telling me it was okay to get seasick on the ship. I will remember standing over the leeward rail and my ecology professor telling me to be kinder to myself when I was, in fact, seasick and frustrated that I couldn’t help my shipmates complete our tasks. I will remember walking to the second floor of Labaree House to talk to my policy professor for the first time and being too excited about the fact that her door was covered with postcards. I will remember my literature professor’s passion for Herman Melville’s masterpiece, Moby-Dick. I will remember walking with my history professor through the Redwood Forest talking about the state of our country and how we could make it better. I will remember all the times my shipmates made me laugh, gave me a hug, or overcame a challenge with flying colors. I will remember jumping in the Pacific Ocean in March, singing at the top of my lungs in a car full of people I care so much about, learning from individuals facing unimaginable challenges, and seeing how a group of human beings can truly just be people, together.

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Williams-Mystic was 17-weeks of being vulnerable and intentional. You only have so much time to get everything done, so you have to be smart about how you spend your time. I spent my time calling stakeholders about a controversial lock and dam project in Illinois, researching women, the sea, and the Cult of True Womanhood in the Victorian Era, kayaking for a science project centered around runoff in the Mystic River Estuary, and examining the different ways an author’s experiences affected how that person wrote about oceans and coasts. I also spent my time making as many memories as possible with my shipmates and working as a social media intern.

Interning for Williams-Mystic during the semester and this summer has deepened my appreciation for the program. I have been able to work on projects that matter to me and hopefully will help the program continue to positively affect the lives of undergraduate students. As well, I cannot begin to describe how awesome it has been to learn the stories of so many dynamic, driven, passionate, and kind fellow alumni. Every single person I have interviewed has given me a new perspective on how Williams-Mystic can change a student’s life and/or perspective, which has been crucial in explaining the program to prospective students.

In closing, I would like to thank all of the alumni, faculty, and staff who have supported me, listened to me, challenged me, and trusted me since January. I would also like to thank each and every one of my shipmates. I am so thankful for all the times we spent eating White Cheddar Cheetos and talking about topics that matter to each of us. I will always be thankful for the semester I took a break from studying the media to study the oceans and coasts of the United States.

Here is my advice to prospective students: jump in with both feet. Like everything else in life, you will get out of Williams-Mystic what you put into it. Hug your shipmates, go talk to your faculty members, and take time to pause and reflect on your walk (more like a timed sprint) through the program.

Nicole Singer (F’08) On Finding a Program filled to the Brim with Rigorous Research and Site-Specific Experiences

This post was written by S’96 alumna and Associate Professor of Geosciences and Marine Science, Lisa Gilbert. 

Then:

Williams-Mystic Fall 2008

Swarthmore College ’10: Studio Art major, Education minor

Williams-Mystic Skill: “Shipsmithing with a dose of chanteys after smithing was over. They only overlapped by half an hour, so when smithing was done, I’d step outside and listen for Don or Marc’s voices to go join them. They were always easy to find.”

“After high school and college, I had begun to be frustrated by the ways in which academics can lose sight of the real world beyond the ivory tower. I was delighted to find a program that immersed us not only in rigorous research and readings, but also exposed us to source materials, site-specific experiences, fieldwork, and direct and relevant applications of our studies to the current maritime world.”

Now:

Nicole is an Art Teacher at Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, MA.

“I teach 4 to 12-year-olds about art! Actually, it’s way more than that. I’m teaching everything from fine motor development to materials safety to art techniques to visual thinking to socio-emotional development. It’s a huge undertaking, and hugely rewarding, both for me and the students. I like that it’s a varied job – I get to do a lot of different kinds of art with a lot of different students of many different ages, levels, and journeys of artistic development. Plus I get to collaborate with other teachers to create interdisciplinary curricula, which is my favorite way to teach.”

Between then and now:

After Williams-Mystic, Nicole was an Environmental Educator on the Sloop Clearwater and Deckhand aboard the Schooner Mystic Whaler. She was Ceramics Instructor at Buck’s Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp and a teaching intern at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She completed an M.A. in Teaching and Art Education at Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts-Boston.

“I quickly found a sailing job after college and pursued marine environmental education for a bit before starting my land-based career as an art teacher. I loved it all, and I’m glad to have a well-rounded variety of teaching experiences both on land and on the water. Surf and turf training, I call it.

“My time in the chanteys class at Williams-Mystic was also the launching pad for my musical pursuits. I’ve performed up and down the east coast, and I now organize several festivals including Youth Traditional Song Weekend. Mystic Seaport is a hub of excellent maritime music scholarship and performance, and I’ve been enjoying staying a part of that community of researchers and singers in the years beyond Williams-Mystic.“

Interdisciplinary learning:

“Williams-Mystic proved to me what I’d already suspected about interdisciplinary immersive learning – that it is, hands-down, the best way to show students the depth of a topic, and the importance of the connections between that topic or discipline with other disciplines that relate to it. Everything in our world is connected to other things, and it is essential for students to develop an understanding of the world as being an interconnected place.

“Plus, Williams-Mystic is an excellent model for faculty collaboration, and I try to carry some of those positive ways of interacting, collaborating, and working towards common goals into my relationships with my colleagues where I teach now.”

How did WM change your worldview?

“I was really floored not only by what I was learning about the maritime world but also by how it was being taught. The content and the pedagogy of the program gave me an awareness and appreciation for the world’s waters as well as an excellent model for some of the best teaching and learning practices around. As a scholar of the sea and an educator in many subjects, this was an eye-opener and enormously important for me.”

 

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.”

Williams College Experience Enhanced: Jaelon Moaney (S’18) On His Semester Away From Williamstown

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. 

As a political science student concentrating on leadership studies and Africana studies at Williams College, Jaelon Moaney has made connections with his peers and faculty members since the day he arrived in Williamstown. As a result of his ability to reach out, he found out about the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program during an office hours visit.

“With a wide range of flexibility outside of my major I was fortunate enough to have room to explore educationally,” Jaelon said. “Marine Policy was cross-listed as both an Environmental Science and Political Science course which satisfies my Political Science major requirements.”

Williams-Mystic added to Jaelon’s experience at Williams College. Sharing the same overall subject matter with vastly different faculty and shipmates brought to life what he went to Williams to find.

“Williams-Mystic exhibited the merits of applying the interdisciplinary approach to real-world challenges. As an undergraduate at a liberal arts institution, I certainly value the incorporation of all relevant material and stakeholders in decision-making,” Jaelon said. “However, my development of this skill had been hindered by minimal opportunities to practice in an academic setting until I got to Mystic.”

If you are someone who reads our blogs often, you know that many alumni recall their experience during our Gulf Coast field seminar. For Jaelon, this experience deeply affected him.

“Every meal, dance, recap of history and environmental challenge was compatible with a face. Being able to attach real, human lives to each of the disciplines added another layer of significance that still resonates with me today,” Jaelon said.

The emphasis on the community at Williams-Mystic stood out to Jaelon.

“Williams-Mystic is a small, tight-knit community. This dynamic requires each member to selflessly contribute their individual merits for the sake of the whole. The “Ship, Shipmate, Self” mentality became infectious offshore and laid the foundation for former strangers to develop into an interwoven family,” Jaelon said. “Ultimately, this family was not subject to just the semester and year it occurred in but is immersed in the network of alumni produced by each successive year of the program.”

Jaelon was shocked by how quickly he developed bonds with faculty, staff, and his shipmates.

I would have never imagined the invaluable conversations, moments of laughter and collaborative efforts pictured in the program’s marketing coming to life on a daily basis during my own experience. Each interaction was unique, genuine and thought-provoking,” Jaelon said.

Faculty members spent so much time with the students outside of the classroom.

“Every professor took on the role of being a fellow shipmate of every student in the program. Sharing their sense of humor, wisdom, career trajectory and multi-faceted personalities was an investment of time that I respected and benefited from,” Jaelon said.

As a result of being a Williams-Mystic student, Jaelon no longer envisions bodies of water as merely fundamental support for modes of transportation.

“In fact, what covers three-quarters of our planet can be more accurately characterized as a vector of culture, economy, ideology, food, and in many ways life,” Jaelon said. “As a lifelong resident of the Maryland Eastern Shore I have always thought little could rival the Chesapeake Bay. This newfound perspective has not only deepened my love for the Bay but also opened my passion up to understanding the complex intimacy humans share with marine environments.”

When the spring semester ended, Jaelon interned in Washington, D.C. for Congressmen John P. Sarbanes from Maryland’s Third Congressional District. His Williams-Mystic experience helped him have productive and meaningful conversations with a variety of engaged citizens and stakeholders.

A driven public servant, Jaelon hopes to one day faithfully serve the citizens of the state of Maryland in elected office.

“Over the course of my life in the Old Line State I have been enveloped in an unparalleled membrane of history, culture, principles and, most importantly, people,” Jaelon said. “In my opinion, the only way to pay back the debt I owe is to devote my life to ensuring the utmost quality of life for Marylanders of all generations.”

Based off of advice from a past Albion House member, Jaelon has this to say to prospective Williams-Mystic students:

“Try it. Be willing to expose yourself and let go of any perceived notions. Fully immerse yourself in the program.”

Nickie Mitch (S’17) on Sustainability, the Environment, and his 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. 

States represented in recent Williams-Mystic classes include California, Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, and Ohio. During the spring 2017 semester, Indiana native Nickie Mitch experienced Williams-Mystic through the lens of a Bowdoin College student looking for something to add to his educational experience.

Nickie found out about Williams-Mystic the summer following his first year of college.

“I worked at a land trust, Damariscotta River Association, on the coast of Maine after my first year of college,” Nickie said. “The executive director of that organization had done Williams-Mystic while he was a student at Williams College and encouraged me to take a look at it.”

Nickie truly enjoyed his time at Bowdoin. His time at Williams-Mystic built on the skills he developed there.

“I had a great experience at Bowdoin that helped me discover my passions related to the ocean, so for me, Williams-Mystic really built on that as a chance to explore these topics I’m passionate about in a hands-on way,” Nickie said.

Sailing offshore was the highlight of Nickie’s Williams-Mystic experience.

Without a doubt, the offshore field seminar was my favorite. So many parts of it felt surreal, from watching a pod of dolphins swim alongside the Corwith Cramer at sunrise to standing at the helm during the middle of the night on dawn watch,” Nickie said. “It’s an experience that really pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a supportive way, and I think about it all the time.”

Nickie is the third member of the spring 2017 class that I have interviewed. Like Bridget Hall and Sarah Patulak, he enjoyed living in Albion House.

“Although we got to do a lot of very cool things during the semester, my favorite part was actually just living in Albion House with Paul, Bridget, and Sarah,” Nickie said. “We always made an effort to sit down for dinner together every day, among other things we did together, and it really felt like a little home.”

albion

Ship, shipmate, self is a motto of Williams-Mystic. Nickie experienced his shipmates’ compassion at different times during the semester.

“Before the PNW road trip, I was trying to decide if I was going to take the outer shell of my winter coat as my only raincoat,” Nickie said. “I decided the day before we left that I needed to have a real raincoat and Bridget and I drove around all afternoon until I found one.”

Nickie studied government and environmental studies while at Bowdoin. During his time in Mystic, he really enjoyed Literature of the Sea with Mary K Bercaw Edwards.

“Mary K is awesome and her passion is infectious,” Nickie said. “The class gave me an appreciation for books I may not have ever been able to have an appreciation for.”

Nickie also appreciated the Maritime History class, specifically working on his project on the Greenland Patrol during World War II.

“That class had a lot of topics to cover. It really all came together well and painted this really impactful picture,” Nickie said. “When I went back to Bowdoin it helped me make so many connections in my studies.”

Nickie graduated from Bowdoin in the spring of 2018. 

“In the long term, I hope to be an urban/environmental planner and I am specifically interested in working to build resilient, sustainable communities that are ready for sea level rise,” Nickie said.

Nickie has this to say about what he took away from the program:

“Williams-Mystic affirmed for me that working collaboratively to protect marine and estuarine ecosystems is the best way to for me to help build a more sustainable, equitable world and is something worth devoting my life to,” Nickie said. 

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.