Tribute written by Erik Ingmundson, Maria Petrillo, and Liz DeArruda, and shared with permission
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our dear friend, chanteyman, and colleague, Don Sineti. Don became ill in November and died peacefully surrounded by loved ones on the night of January 5th.
Don was drafted into military service and served his country during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1968. During his training, he received high marks for his “command voice,” a talent that would shape the rest of his life. His tough war experiences motivated him to be a force for good when he returned from his combat tour. As he noted in an interview with The New York Times back in 1996, “It’s impossible to go through an experience like that without getting an appreciation of how delicate things are — the environment, human life. I came back with a feeling of wanting to make the world a better place.”
It was after the war that Don combined his nascent career as a folk musician with his passion for the marine environment. He helped found Cetacean Society International, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about whales and advocating for their protection. He also found a niche for himself singing sea songs and chanteys, with a powerful bass-baritone voice that most definitely required no amplification. He performed with folk groups such as “The Morgans” and “Finest Kind,” developing friendships that he sustained for the rest of his life. He also developed a lasting friendship with Stan Hugill, who was famously known as “the last working chanteyman.” Stan’s mentorship gave Don a rare gift – a living connection to an era when chanties were actually used for work at sea.
Don brought his talents to the chantey program at Mystic Seaport Museum in 1992. He routinely made the 120-mile round-trip drive from his home in Bloomfield because he loved this place so much. He was a fixture along the museum’s waterfront for many years, with a singing voice that could be heard from one end of the museum’s campus to the other.
He was especially passionate about sharing maritime traditions with young people. Don spent many years as a skills instructor in the Williams-Mystic Program, and delivered hundreds of programs to school children and youth groups. Even after the pandemic shutdown, Don continued to help the museum’s education department as an independent contractor. He believed in Mystic Seaport to his very core, and was a great ambassador for our organization everywhere he went.
Don’s big voice belied a deeply kind and gentle personal nature. He was always willing to give people a listening ear, seldom interrupted, and always smiled with a twinkle in his eye. He seldom spoke ill of others, even if he had a difference of opinion. Time spent in conversation with Don was always time well-spent. May we all be good stewards of the wonderful legacy of music and relationships that he left behind.
Arriving in Mystic in the Fall of 1977, Eric Laschever could never have anticipated how much the program would impact his life moving forward.
A senior history major from Williams College, Eric was looking for ways to spend part of his final year away from Williamstown. Seeing a poster with a picture of Charles W. Morgan and Joseph Conrad docked at the Seaport, Eric was spurred to talk with WM Founder Ben Labaree, who encouraged him to apply for the program. Having grown up sailing on the New Jersey shore, Eric was drawn in by a program that focused on the ocean.
Thus, Eric joined 20 other students from colleges across the country to become the guinea pigs in Williams-Mystic’s inaugural class. That class became known as the Leeward Railers, named for their collective seasickness aboard the SSV Westward during the program’s very first Offshore Field Seminar. Their offshore experience served as an early bonding agent for the Leeward Railers, one that would only grow throughout their time in Mystic, and one that remains strong to this day.
“I think the bond among our class was strong and has remained strong among many of us,” Eric said. “We have so much affection for the program and the original director and his family. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know the successors to Ben, as well as key faculty members who have been here.”
The impact of Eric’s time with Williams-Mystic took shape shortly thereafter, as he began to pursue a Master’s degree in Marine Affairs from the University of Washington. His thesis work on a then new 200-mile Alaskan fishery zone led him to his first “real job” working for the state of Alaska on a variety of coastal and environmental issues. More recently, his continued connection to the program allowed him to work alongside Katy Robinson-Hall and Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar to pursue federal recognition for the Grand-Caillou/Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw.
Fast-forward to Fall 2021, feeling a deep connection to the program, Eric talked with WM Director Tom Van Winkle about a way for alums with time and capacity (e.g. older) to use their talents to remain connected to Williams-Mystic. In particular, Eric wanted to use his expertise in marine affairs and relevant knowledge of Louisiana to serve as a resource for students in their policy course. A year later, Eric arrived back in Mystic as the program’s first Senior Fellow, donating his time to the program.
Eric immediately noticed the differences he saw between Williams-Mystic in 1977 and Williams-Mystic in 2022. While he noted similarities in academic rigor and use of the Museum as a teaching tool, Eric valued the program’s current devotion to interdisciplinary education, citing the ways in which professors intentionally weave topics together to make for a more well-rounded curriculum. But, above all, Eric was struck by the remarkable relationships the program has built with stakeholders and community leaders in Louisiana, as he got to see firsthand when the program returned to The Bayou State last October.
“Underneath the intellectual rigor is the emotional feeling of connecting to people in places who are experiencing the challenges of living in coastal communities in real time,” said Eric.
One of Eric’s responsibilities on the Louisiana Field Seminar was to give a talk to students about the criteria a Native American tribe must meet to be federally recognized, a subject he is deeply immersed in on behalf of one of the program’s Gulf Coast hosts. Adding another dimension to the talk, Eric gave his talk at a graveyard that is said to have buriedTribal Ancestors, one of whom received land on the Gulf via the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty, the infamous treaty that launched the Trail of Tears for most of the Choctaws to west of the Mississippi.
“The idea of being in what may have been his final resting place, and talking to students today about the history and how it comes to bear in the effort to achieve federal status, is very poignant and powerful,” said Eric.
When reflecting on his experience with the students of F’22, Eric was continuously impressed by the way students grappled with and discussed very complex issues. When advising students for Moot Court, Eric remembers being amazed at how the students mastered and argued complex legal issues in front of a judge with just 4-5 days of preparation. In Louisiana, Eric remembers being impressed during van rides and the ways students balanced fun moments, like singing to oldies and more contemporary tunes from the students’ play lists, with serious moments and interesting discussions.
Having the chance to connect with a younger generation of students was another big motivator for Eric to return to Williams-Mystic. Eric noted that when he was their age, he was able to witness many of the early environmental laws being put into place. 45 years later, Eric understands that the world his generation is handing off to the next is not in the place it should be.
“One of the important things to me in this chapter of my life is to spend time with young adults, to share some of what I’ve learned, and to give them tools to face the challenges that my generation is leaving them,” said Eric.
In this regard, Eric encourages future students to remain hopeful about a better world, advising them to cultivate hope and use it to channel action.
“Hope is different from optimism,” said Eric. “Optimism is when you think, statistically, that things will be better in the future. Hope is not based on a calculation that things will be better.”
Williams Mystic remains a critical part of this equation, in Eric’s eyes, as it provides important information and tools to inform and ground such action.
For our final field seminar of the semester, we left for the land of lazy lagoons, bountiful bayous, and plentiful pelicans that they call Louisiana. To make our Monday 6 a.m. flight to New Orleans, however, we had to depart Mystic at 3 a.m. Thus it was not without a great deal of willpower and some choice words that would make a sailor blush that at 2 a.m. I pulled myself from the warm embrace of my bed and prepared my Williams-Mystic™ duffel bag. Leaving the house and joining the rest of my bleary-eyed, coffee-powered companions, we boarded the bus to the Hartford Airport.
We landed in New Orleans around midday and not wasting a moment, split up into our rental vans and headed southwest for Houma. We stopped along the way at our first of many levees along the Mississippi River. For decades, the levees were the pride of the US Army Corps of Engineers, shackling and controlling the river and preventing the regular flooding that had once characterized Louisiana. Unfortunately, that same flooding was the main mode of laying sediment and building back land in the state, and with these levees, all of that sediment was being washed out into the Gulf of Mexico. These paradoxical levees, along with rising sea levels, were the primary engines behind the coastal land loss we observed at all points along southern Louisiana.
Our first guided experience was at the Whitney Plantation, one of the few preserved plantations focusing solely on the experience of the enslaved people there. We learned how everything we saw, from the opulent house of the master to the rows and rows of sugarcane, were the product of backbreaking, inhumane labor. The names of the slaves and the interviews of former slaves, etched in stone around the plantation, told a history too terrible to be believed, but such is the truth of America’s history. We reflected on the day over dinner before turning in early for the night.
Tuesday began with festivities for one of our classmates, and we celebrated their twenty-second birthday with all the pomp and circumstance one could find in a hotel lobby. Our celebration completed, we boarded the vans and set off for the swamps. Zam’s Swamp Tour was about as close as any of us could ever hope to get to live alligators, giant snapping turtles, and even more giant boa constrictors. Safe in our pontoon boats with cypresses and mangroves hanging over us, we motored through the narrow, murky waterways as our guide, ZZ Loupe, told us about the history of alligator hunting and local foodways. It was a spectacular tour that left us with more swamp smarts than the average bear—which was one of the few animals we didn’t see while we were there.
We returned to the vans for a shorter drive to the La Butte Mound, a cemetery and place of great significance to the Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw. It was hard to imagine that the mound, with its edges only a few feet from the rapidly encroaching waterline, had once been thought to be unassailable by flooding. Within a few decades, it seemed La Butte would only be visible at low tide. Continuing southwards, we arrived at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, or LUMCON, our gracious hosts for the remainder of our time in Louisiana. (Most gracious of all was Chef Michael Lloyd who returned to LUMCON just to cook for some of our meals, outdoing himself with every dinner and providing us with the food that powered us through our often packed schedules!) That night, we listened to local shrimper, alligator hunter, and LUMCON vessel operator Carl Sevin about life this far south and creative circumventions of the law. Some of us immediately retired to bed while the rest tried their luck at fishing to cap off the night.
Wednesday was once again punctuated by festivity, as yet another one of our classmates celebrated their twenty-third birthday. Before it could be properly celebrated, however, we first had to trek out into the marsh near LUMCON. In clouded waters that were just shallow enough to stand in, we paddled into the surrounding spartina. While kayaking was no problem, disembarking onto the muddy shores that swallowed some of us down to our waists like quicksand proved a more difficult venture. With some help (and, for one of us, a great deal of cursing,) we successfully clambered onto land, stood in the tall spartina, and took cores of the marsh down to sediment that was likely 6,000 years old. After showering off the inches of mud that coated everything we wore, we prepared our most flexible attire and shiniest shoes for a night of authentic cajun dancing at the Jolly Inn. There, we had a shindig fit for a king with enough spinning, two-steps, and waltzes to make the hours we spent there pass by in a whirl. When the band played “Happy Birthday” for our classmate, we were surprised to find that our classmate had a birthday twin! With such serendipity secured, we returned—elated but extremely exhausted—to LUMCON.
On Thursday, we drove over elevated highways of rebar-reinforced concrete to Port Fourchon. The primary nexus of oil and gas pumped out of the Gulf of Mexico, it was here that almost all of the offshore rigs we’d seen at all points along our Louisiana journey depended on for transport to the greater United States. Guided by Thad Angelloz, we learned about the economic importance of the port to the state and the measures taken to ready the port for the oncoming effects of climate change. We then traveled to Grand Isle, a barrier island on the frontlines of climate change. There, we met Chris Hernandez, who for decades fought to safeguard the island against some of the worst hurricanes this country has seen. The industry of Port Fourchon seemed to pale in comparison to the years of tireless work he put in for nothing more than love for his home. After lunch in his home and a few hours at the beach, we returned to LUMCON for our final night in Louisiana.
We awoke early Friday morning for the long drive back to New Orleans. When we arrived, we were allowed to explore the French Quarter of the city for two hours. My friends and I spent those hours sampling traditional confectioneries, hot sauce shops, Harley Davidson stores, and Cafe DuMonde beignets. As we were waiting in line for Cafe DuMonde, a line band was performing “Down in New Orleans,” to which I had to bust out a few moves from the Jolly Inn. Returning from our escapades, we boarded the City of New Orleans riverboat for a riverside tour of the city and its parishes. After a lunch of red beans and rice with the sights of the Big Easy drifting by our windows, we disembarked the ship, embarked on the vans, boarded the planes back to Baltimore and Hartford, and finally bussed back to Mystic.
Battle-hardened by our trials and tribulations throughout the semester, our 17-strong cohort was now as thick as thieves. The many hours we spent in the vans whisked by me as I sang, joked, and learned alongside the rest of my friends. Even as we were up and about from dawn to dusk, the entire field seminar seemed to breeze by. If I learned anything from my time in Louisiana, it was the overwhelming power of joy. Even in the face of a bevy of natural and unnatural disasters, most everyone we talked to spoke about the happiness they found in their work, community, and family. In our strange bunch of college kids from all walks of life, I think we found our own happiness-finding family.
After a jam-packed week of introductions to my classes for my fall semester at Williams-Mystic, the time to set off to Alaska had quickly come upon me and my equally bewildered compatriots. We assembled in the Seaport parking lot at the crack of dawn, with all our worldly possessions contained in our own individual Williams-Mystic™ duffel bags, and set off that Sunday morning for The Last Frontier. In an almost 4,000 mile journey that would’ve taken a 19th century expedition months to complete, we flew from Boston to Seattle and finally to Juneau, Alaska in the space of only one day! (though we were all too tired from flying all day to appreciate the marvels of modernity in the moment)
Rising through sheer willpower alone at 4am the next day, we reached our first destination in the form of Glacier Bay Lodge. Besides being one of the coziest hotels I’ve ever stayed at, it also provided the perfect jumping off point for exploring the breathtaking wonders that surrounded us on all sides. While most of these wonders were crafted by glaciers in prehistory, the first wonder we visited was a rather recent, manmade one: the Huna Tribal House. There we talked with Darlene See of the Huna Tlingit. She talked to us about the history of her people, their displacement from their home by both a glacier and a callous American government, and their enduring hope that they would someday return to their ancestral home. The soaring wooden beams that surround us there in Glacier Bay, carved with the clan stories of the Huna Tlingit, and the massive formline murals that covered the interior and exterior of the Tribal House spoke to the jubilation of a hope answered.
The wonders we saw on Tuesday were entirely of Mother Nature’s design. From our Glacier Tour Boat, courtesy of the National Park Service, we spent the entirety of the day with our eyes glued to the horizon. There we saw flocks of cormorants, kittiwakes, and even puffins. A raft of sea lions, emanating a stench of sour fish that reached us hundreds of feet away, sunbathed on a small marble island. A lucky few even caught the flute of a killer whale! But more spectacular than any of these were the blue ice glaciers at the end of our long voyage. The last remnants of the great bulldozers that had carved out the North American continent thousands of years ago, the glaciers now stood as noble sentinels to herald the end of our voyage.
On Wednesday we would face our greatest challenge of the entire expedition: fog. The 10-person seaplanes to Sitka we had planned on taking that morning could not fly through the dense haze that had rolled in that morning, and so we returned to Glacier Bay for one more day. Making the most of our newfound time, we explored the intertidal zone to find a plethora of star fish and sea anemone and examined the 50-foot skeleton of the humpback whale Snow. By the afternoon the fog had dissipated, and so as the stars began to twinkle into view, our new flight to Sitka set off without delay.
Beginning our morning with a walk through the cedars and alders of the Tongass rainforest, Thursday would be a day of highs and lows for me. The highlights were plentiful. From meeting with Janet Clark and Sarah Tobey of the Sitka Sound Science Center to learn about the aforementioned cedars and alders to hearing the stories of Dr. Sonia Ibarra and her mission to educate academia on the importance of indigenous knowledge, one mind at a time, I realized just how little of the world I actually knew. And when we explored the intertidal around Magic Island before we donned our wetsuits and went snorkeling along the shore, I realized just how little of the world I had actually seen. But after these best of times, there was the worst of times when my hand was selected as the quarry of an ornery bee’s stinger, leading to my early retirement for the day.
Fully-rested on Friday after 12 hours of uninterrupted Benadryl-powered slumber, my art-loving itch would be scratched once more at Sitka National Historic Park with a first-hand look at how totems are crafted in the traditional formline style by the exceedingly down-to-earth carver Will Peterson. We remained in the park for our meeting with Louise Brady, who taught us about the Tlingit war with the Russians and the continuing Tlingit war to secure their food sovereignty. After her presentation, we met my favorite speaker of the trip: Chuck Miller. Chuck, as a dedicated student and now teacher on Tlingit lifeways, spoke with the gravity of one that has been entrusted with a history that threatens to fade with each passing day, but also the humor of one who has had to endure many an obvious question of oblivious tourists. His words painted a picture of heartbreak, but also of hope for the next generation of elders. Even if I should forget the soaring glaciers, I’m sure I will still remember his stories. We finished our day touring the local fishing co-op and hearing about how Alaskan fishermen are finally beginning to work together from one Stephen Rhoads (though he might have been better styled as Captain Ahab with his outspoken hatred for sperm whales and their tendency to steal the entirety of his catch) and afterwards learning about the fight for equitable fisheries from Williams-Mystic alumna Linda Behnken aboard her fishing boat. Her dog, also aboard the boat, did not speak, but his presence was greatly appreciated nonetheless.
Saturday was our last full day in Sitka, and so after a lovely talk with locals Sarah and Eric Jordan on the basics of commercial fishing in Alaska, we were let loose to explore the town and purchase all manner of souvenirs to bring home with us. In the afternoon we visited the Sitka Raptor Center, and much to my disappointment, there were no dinosaurs to be found roaming around Jurassic Park style. However there were many eagles and owls, perched almost close enough to touch, that alleviated my disappointment. The last site we visited was a nearby landslide that had galvanized Sitka into forming a community-driven landslide watch group. Although not especially noteworthy compared to all the other sights we had seen, (sorry geologists!) I thought it was an appropriate ending. Like that landslide, one impulse had sent me cascading down a path I had never known I’d ever wanted to take, except instead of the end result being diorite and destruction, it was insight from instruction.
My greatest takeaway from my time in Alaska (besides a camera roll now replete with pictures of glaciers) is my excitement for further field seminars with this cohort. In such a small group, I have found a collection of some of the smartest, kindest, and funniest folks I have yet met. Whether furthering the culinary field by combining my cheesecake with an Italian Wedding soup, which Evan coined the Italian Divorce, or giving myself RSI (repetitive strain injury) playing ERS (Egyptian Ratscrew,) some of my most cherished memories are ones that can never be adequately described, only remembered. Dumb inside jokes like this are – in my humble and objective opinion – what relationships are built upon, and we have no shortage of inside joke bedrock from Alaska.
While we were in Alaska we had a continual Leave No Trace policy, but try as we might, I’m afraid we broke it along the way. I had left with classmates and returned without them. I did, however, bring back newfound friends.
In the great Venn diagram between Williams-Mystic and Ireland, I did not expect the overlap to be bagpipe music.
Having just come fresh out of a spring semester filled with spider crabs, oblong grapes, and flat sandwiches on Sunday (you just had to be there), going across the Atlantic felt like the farthest thing I could possibly imagine from the quaint seaside energy of Mystic, CT. It felt like I had barely moved out of Carr House when my lab group was packing up and hopping on a flight into Dublin. The aim of the journey? Assorted geoscience research under the incredible Rónadh Cox (say hi to her for me, F’22 and S’23), looking at subtidal boulder deposits and the encrusting marine organisms living on them. Me and my thesis partner were joined by her two underclassmen research assistants were headed over there to study coastal boulder beaches and their properties. A third underclassman researcher wrote music based on waves and boulders.
The actual research was mostly measuring boulders. Actually, it was almost completely measuring boulders, with the occasional foray into the tidepools – I got to find some European green crabs (C. maenas) in their natural, non-invasive, non-Weekapaug Point habitat! My personal highlight was finding an ovigerous green crab at Waterville Beach in County Kerry, after having found so few green crabs over the course of the semester. After being in the field all day, my lab group and I then got to discover our hidden passion for things like digestive biscuits, the TV program “Great Lighthouses of Ireland,” and unplanned caving expeditions. We didn’t get much time for sightseeing, but we did get to see Céide Fields (the oldest stone-walled settlement in the world), Doolin Cave’s Great Stalactite (the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe), and the beautiful Cliffs of Moher.
On the last day of the trip, we wound up in Dublin for the afternoon to explore. After a pit stop at the Trinity College geoscience building and the sweetest boba I’ve ever had, we stopped to listen to a man who was playing the bagpipes on the side of the street. Almost immediately, I couldn’t help but be reminded of S’22’s spider crab release procession, accompanied by a bagpipe serenade from our own Declan Houlihan. I expected bagpipe music in Ireland, but I didn’t expect it to be the thing that made me feel so close to Williams-Mystic. It was then that I really started to realize: pieces of Williams-Mystic and Spring ‘22 are going to come with me wherever I go, no matter how far away from Mystic I am. Whether it’s Rónadh joking with her brother over the van walkie-talkies, cooking with my lab group at night, or my partner texting me pictures of the crabs we did our project on, my semester on Greenmanville Ave is going to stick. S’22, you have a death grip on my heart. You taught me to be adventurous, to embrace my inner weirdness, and to treat every place like it’s my classroom. They can take me away from the crab bagpipe procession, but they sure can’t take the crab bagpipe procession away from me. Long live Jomothy.
~ this blog post in memoriam of Diane and co, fly high our dear crabby friends~
by Evan McAlice, Assistant Director of Admissions & Communications
If there is anyone who represents the transformative nature of a Williams-Mystic semester, it’s Samuel Filiaggi, who joined us in Spring 2019 as a senior at the University of Rhode Island. Samuel came to Williams-Mystic anticipating an adventurous sendoff to his college career, but what he found was so much more. In addition to adventure, Samuel found a welcoming community, an enriching educational experience, and a new outlook that changed the course of his life.
“With it being my last college semester, there was a lot of life transition that I was going through, and I found a lot of support here,” said Samuel.
Despite taking law courses at URI, Samuel did not initially see a career in law in his future. That all changed, however, after spending a few weeks in Katy Robinson Hall’s Marine Policy course. Samuel saw the ways law applies an interdisciplinary approach, and how there were ways to use his background in Marine Affairs to inform the legislature. Pretty soon, the progression to law school – something he could not have imagined doing years ago – began to feel more and more natural.
“What really attracted me to Marine Affairs at URI and then to Williams-Mystic was just how interdisciplinary it is, and how important it is to take different perspectives from different fields and have it synthesized to make effective policy,” said Filiaggi. “The more I learned about law and looked into law schools and what their approaches are, the more I realized it’s the same.”
Samuel cites his experience in Moot Court as the moment the lightbulb went off. Due to a number of outside forces, Samuel ended up being the only person in his group to argue one of the three major facets of the case. With the help of his fellow shipmates, Samuel rose to the challenge and absorbed the material, discovering a new set of skills he did not know he possessed. After talking with the presiding judge at the post-court luncheon, he was encouraged to apply that same perseverance to all aspects of his life.
This appreciation for law and policy was nurtured throughout the semester by Katy Robinson Hall, who immediately bonded with Samuel over their shared Rhody alumhood. Fun fact, Samuel was actually in URI’s marching band at the same time as many of Katy’s children!
“Meeting Katy was like meeting a version of myself that I wanted to be when I grew up,” said Samuel. “With the work she has gotten to do, and the impact she has had in both the courtroom and the classroom, I knew that was somebody I wanted to keep a relationship with.”
Katy proved to be a valuable resource during the law school application process, writing him a wonderful letter of recommendation, but that’s not where the story ends. During that same correspondence, Katy inquired about the possibility of petitioning for a gender-affirming name change for Samuel. On February 24, after months of planning and paperwork, Samuel and Katy stood in court together as the name change became official.
It was a full-circle moment for Samuel, as his Williams-Mystic classmates were the first people he introduced himself to with his new name and pronouns. The experience exemplified the welcoming community Williams-Mystic can foster in just one semester, and how our faculty will continue to advocate for students long after their semester ends.
“Katy was a massive help with navigating the probate court,” said Samuel. “Having somebody there who understands the intricacies and unwritten rules of probate court that the layman does not have access to definitely left an impact on me.”
Beginning in the fall, Samuel will be attending the Roger Williams University School of Law. Samuel hopes to study marine and coastal law at Roger Williams through the school’s Marine Affairs Institute, which is partnered with Rhode Island Sea Grant.
Samuel plans to apply an interdisciplinary perspective to his law classes, and use the knowledge he developed at Williams-Mystic across many fields to become an effective advocate and lawyer. At Williams-Mystic, Samuel learned the ways in which narrowing his focus to one specific discipline can limit his potential. Instead, he hopes to synthesize all of his interests and skills into his law career in order to approach problems from unique perspectives.
“Some of the best lawyers are people that are creative and can take different approaches to prove their point beyond the conventional track,” said Samuel. “Having an interdisciplinary effect will definitely strengthen my practice if I can utilize different tools to get my point across, and hopefully make a difference.”
For students that are considering a semester with Williams-Mystic, Samuel encourages them to use this as an opportunity to explore and hone their interests. Particularly for students who are interested in pursuing law, he hopes students will continue to use the resources and knowledge provided to them by the program.
“You are more equipped and gifted than you could know,” said Samuel. “Keep trusting in your skills, honing your skills, and keep connecting with your professors and shipmates.”
Carlton is a Professor Emeritus of Marine Sciences and Director Emeritus of Williams-Mystic (Curriculum Vitae)
In September 2010, the Williams-Mystic class prepared messages-in-glass bottles on the Cramer to be set free in the Gulf of Maine as part of a large-scale drift experiment. However, the Cramer was never far enough offshore to release the bottles during the trip. Captain Sean Bercaw released F10’s bottles a few weeks later on October 6 when bringing Cramer down from Rockland ME to Woods Hole, in the middle of the Gulf during storm force winds and in 18-20 foot seas – enough ocean energy to send the bottles packing into the open North Atlantic.
On March 18, 2022, almost 11 ½ years later, British physician Dr. Ryan Watkins, on a visit to Windermere Island, Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, found F10 Nicola Klee’s bottle on the beach. Dr. Ryan kindly sent us (and Nicola) a picture of the bottle and her message. We’ve prepared a snapshot of the bottle to highlight that there were still living oceanic goose barnacles Lepas on the bottle, which tells us that the bottle had washed ashore perhaps a few hours before.
Where had Nicola’s bottle been all these years?
Well, if you reach over and grab your copy of the Williams-Mystic 25th Anniversary Book, and open to page 47 – we’ll give you a second – you’ll get a good sense of the journey that the bottle took, and for how long.
Bottles that were released in October 1984 by F84, off the coast of New England, landed in the Azores, Europe, Bermuda, and multiple times in the Bahamas until September 1991(Jim tells us that a few more F84 bottles were reported in subsequent years). The pattern of their discovery revealed that some bottles had gone around the North Atlantic Ocean perhaps as many as four or five times before landing!
We think Nicola’s bottle has been bobbing around and around … and around … the North Atlantic Ocean at least a few times – and the barnacles confirm it was recently out on the high seas. Finally, enough was enough, and the bottle followed its predecessors ashore in the Caribbean!
Hayden Gillooly is an alum of Williams College, Class of 2021. She now works as the Assistant Director of Admissions for Overland Summers.
In Zach Arfa’s (F19) senior year at Oberlin College, he received an email from Williams-Mystic asking if he wanted to study the ocean. The program sounded so neat, that Zach wondered whether it was real. He researched the program, applied, and was enrolled within a week. As a Dance and Psychology double major, Zach brought a unique perspective to his Williams-Mystic semester, intersecting the arts with science.
My conversation with Zach covered everything from his experience catching salmon with his bare hands during his Williams-Mystic Alaska field seminar, to understanding climate-related trauma through a psychological lens. I could have listened to Zach talk for hours—his face lit up while leapfrogging between topics. I felt like a student in class with a favorite professor, furiously writing down notes—trying to capture it all— and completely captivated by the energy that Zach emits.
For the last few years, Zach worked at the Hilltown Youth Recovery Theater, doing movement and circus arts with teenagers who are overcoming trauma and addiction. Now, Zach is currently working for Americorps through a disaster relief program. He was deployed in Louisiana, and then in Texas, and recently moved again to Kentucky to help rebuild and do mold remediation. I was immediately curious to hear about what it’s like to enter communities whose infrastructure has been ravaged by natural disasters. “They said that if you’ve seen one disaster, you’ve seen one disaster,” Zach said, matter of factly. Each situation is unique. There is little separation between one’s work in this field, and their “off” hours, since so much of the experience requires workers to live in the disaster zone, too. Zach and his coworkers were living in an RV, eating frozen meals, and working 12-14 hours six days a week.
Zach explained how stress is, at its core, a physical process. “It lives in our bodies”—with tension and electrical signals. We often think of stress as a “cognitive and emotional thing,” however, “it’s kind of nebulous (in our colloquial understanding), even though we all feel it.” It sometimes feels all-encompassing, when in reality, there are pinpointable components of stress within us. Perhaps it’s in our tensed shoulders, or locked jaw. Studying dance in conjunction with psychology has allowed Zach to “reconceptualize it [stress] as this physical sensation.”
For Zach, movement—in both big and small ways—allows him to reconnect with his body even in the times of most intense stress. This is especially important when Zach is “engaged with situations where the stakes couldn’t be any higher,” such as working on the frontlines of disaster relief. Zach shared a strategy that one of his dance professors uses during times when she is busy and overwhelmed with deadlines. It’s not necessarily about big, grandiose movements—it’s about “feeling the weight of the library doors while entering and tracing the little pen movement that creates vibrations, or the weight of the lawn mower.” Zach believes that “attention to these moments of our day that we take for granted can be that respite.” Since chatting with Zach about this technique, I’ve integrated into my own life—being intentional about noticing the feeling of the snow crunching beneath my boots, and my fingers tapping on my keyboard. Our bodies are a miracle, really—our heart beating and lungs filling with air, without us asking them to. Savoring these small touch-points feels like an expression of gratitude.
As two Williams-Mystic alumni, our conversation naturally shifted to focus on environmentalism. Approaching climate studies from a psychological lens, Zach wonders “how do you face an existential crisis in the face and not get paralyzed?” He discussed recently listening to the podcast Drilled, which dives into the cover-up strategies of the oil industry, and explores just how much these companies knew and know. Zach explained how the companies’ strategies are to put the blame onto consumers—to make us feel as if all of the environmental degradation is a result of the inaction of individuals. This feeling is engrained “deep in us, and fits in with a culture of individualism—it’s the American myth that we think we’re strong individuals.” When, in reality, it is the systems set up by those large companies that are responsible for the climate crisis. In other words, it’s not the fact that you drive your car to work every day, but the fact that the only way to get to work on time is to travel on roads with a certain speed limit and vehicle type requirement that only cars fulfill, and no other option is easily available. The strategy of the anti climate change action organizations is to “dilute the issue to make it seem like individuals in isolation can do anything.” We need to be thinking about systems; not just how we get better cars, but how we get better roads. As we grapple with the emotions related to climate change Zach said that “we don’t need to feel the guilt and shame as strongly as we do.”
Strong approaches to addressing systemic issues must be rooted in building connections. “It’s too much to put on ourselves. We need to hold this [trauma and stress] together,” Zach explained. And processing these nuanced and complicated topics together isn’t about “getting rid of the hopelessness and fear,” because all of our emotions are valid. It’s about holding these feelings together through all of the trials and tribulations of our changing world.
After the Williams-Mystic Louisiana field seminar, Zach felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of struggles that Lousianans are facing as a result of climate change. In Zach’s time processing his role in these large-scale issues, a quote attributed to 16th century theologian, Martin Luther, stuck with him. Martin Luther was asked, “What would you do if you knew the world was ending tomorrow?” Luther replied, “I would plant a tree.”
Whether it be helping to pick up the pieces after a natural disaster, or working with young people to spark their joy and enthusiasm about movement and dance—the work that Zach is doing certainly plants seeds of change. Zach explained how the work “doesn’t have to be huge and dramatic. It just has to be engaging, and feeding that sense of purpose to do good work.” Knowing that special people like Zach are ‘planting trees’ for our future makes me feel hopeful about the world that we live in.
Evan McAlice, Assistant Director of Admissions and Communications
An extraordinary tenet of the Williams-Mystic Program is its open invitation to students from many different schools, disciplines, and academic backgrounds. Our ability to be a transformative liberal arts experience relies on our students, who collectively form a broad spectrum of perspectives that inspire incredible academic discussion. One of these extraordinary students is the subject of a recently published book, Am I Too Late: A mother’s reflection on her son’s gap year and how it prepared him for an uncertain world, and a chapter is dedicated to his semester at Williams-Mystic.
Am I Too Late? details the academic journey of Mackenzie Myers (S’17) and the impact of his gap year between high school and college. The book, authored by Mackenzie’s mother, Cindy Funk, and her collaborator Jim Bellar, explores the pressure placed upon students in a competitive academic environment and illustrates how Mackenzie rediscovers his love of learning. Chapter 11 of the book, titled “Mystic Winds,” details Mackenzie’s Williams-Mystic semester, an experience that bookended his gap year journey.
Prior to attending Williams-Mystic, Mackenzie spent his gap year hiking the Appalachian trail, teaching English in Eswatini, and sailing 226 miles on the Salish Sea in British Columbia. According to Funk, Mackenzie’s experience in Eswatini engaged him with issues of climate change and its impact on indigenous communities – an interest that was strengthened through his semester in Mystic.
“When he arrived [in Eswatini], they were under a drought,” said Funk. “Looking at that environmental impact, he became very interested in those types of issues. Williams-Mystic did a seminar in Louisiana meeting with indigenous populations, so there were all these things that happened before he got to Williams-Mystic that really drew him in.”
Mackenzie heard about Williams-Mystic through a family friend, but was unsure if he would be able to attend, given his lack of college experience. After some back and forth communication with Executive Director Tom Van Winkle, Mackenzie was admitted to the program. Soon enough, Mackenzie boarded a plane from Portland to Boston, and his adventure began.
Funk cites Mackenzie’s housing experience as one of the first highlights she noticed about the program. Mackenzie lived in Johnston House with three other students, all of whom had drastically different lives and academic experiences. According to Funk, Mackenzie’s ability to budget and be resourceful made him a valuable community member, but it did not stop there. The Johnston housemates had developed systems to divvy up chores that promoted open communication and collaboration.
“I was really struck by how the four of them had come together,” said Funk. “They had a calendar that outlined everyone’s chores, like who was going to buy groceries, and it was really smart. They planned their meals together too, and that is something that was such great training for them.”
In just the second week of the semester, Mackenzie and the rest of his class flew to San Juan to board the SSV Corwith Cramer for their offshore field seminar. During his time offshore, Mackenzie swam and snorkeled in the Caribbean Sea, collected and presented data to his fellow classmates, and was even chosen by his peers to lead his watch.
Another academic highlight for Mackenize was his performance in Moot Court. In a week that often poses a significant challenge for many students, Mackenzie presented his argument effectively and received glowing remarks from the faculty and the presiding judge. This was a source of pride for Mackenzie, who had been proving himself to his peers, as well as displaying growth into a more active leader.
“I think he took full advantage of Williams-Mystic,” said Funk. “And being in such a small cohort experience, it was neat to see that he had actually been recognized for his work.”
Since leaving Williams-Mystic, Mackenzie went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Oregon with a degree in Environmental Studies. Funk also shared that she didn’t even learn about her son graduating Phi Beta Kappa until a week after the graduation ceremony – a testament to Mackenzie’s growth and humility.
As Mackenzie searches for where life will take him next, Funk looks back fondly at her son’s time at Williams-Mystic, and marvels at his growth and independence.
“As I identified in the book, it’s his journey now,” said Funk, “but I do know that he’s still interested in learning, and that’s very exciting.” In many ways, Mackenzie is the classic Williams-Mystic success story – proof that there is no one way to succeed in our program. He perfectly demonstrates the strengths of a small program that supports students of all backgrounds. Mackenzie not only made the most out of his time with the program, but used his experience as a springboard to further his education and regain his love of learning. We can not be more proud of everything he has accomplished, and we look forward to seeing him continue to shine. Am I Too Late: A mother’s reflection on her son’s gap year and how it prepared him for an uncertain world by Cindy Funk and Jim Bellar is available to read on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play, Indie Bound, and more. You can support Cindy Funk and her work by visiting her website.
Hayden Gillooly is an alum of Williams College, Class of 2021. She now works as the Assistant Director of Admissions for Overland Summers.
During a semester at Williams-Mystic, your house on Bruggeman Place becomes a home, and your small class a family. The Mystic Seaport campus becomes your backyard to frolic in on the way to class, and in the evenings at sunset. You will find solace sailing and kayaking in the Mystic River. And you may even find that downtown Mystic becomes a home. That your heart will sing as you bike across the bridge to your favorite coffee shop where you’ll write an essay intertwining perspectives from four disciplines you once thought were disparate. In the spring of 2019, I watched winter fade gracefully into summer through my window in Carr House overlooking Mystic Seaport, and felt myself grow each day.
What’s special about communal living as opposed to living in a dorm is that you and your housemates will get to know each other deeply because you share classes, adventures, and a home. This differs from a typical college semester in which you see your classmates in a single class, for a few hours each week. At Williams-Mystic, you’ll get to know all of the layers of your classmates—learning how to care for each other, through all of the ups and downs of a semester.
Communal living at Williams-Mystic is one of the things that stands out in making the program so extraordinary. In addition to being surrounded by like-minded students, brilliant professors, and traveling to some of the most beautiful places in the country—being able to come home at the end of the day to Bruggeman Place is quite magical. Each day at Carr, Mallory, Kemble, Albion, and Johnston houses, we were able to let our classroom learnings fold into dinner conversations and late-night chats.
You and your classmates will share dance parties, meals, and study sessions in both your home and in the classroom buildings. Since students take the same four classes: Literature of the Sea, Maritime History, Marine Policy, and either Oceanographic Processes or Marine Ecology, you and your classmates will be able to study and work together on projects. I remember one night before a big deadline for our Marine Policy final projects, my housemates and I sprawled across our living room reading policy briefs and helping each other to understand the nuances of the briefs. It felt collaborative, rather than competitive, as we worked as a team to grasp the concepts.
Our flights to our field seminars in Puerto Rico, California, and Louisiana were always early in the morning, meaning that we had to wake up around 2am to drive to the airport. The night before field seminars, my housemates and I kept our bedroom doors open while packing, and solicited input from each other on how many t-shirts and layers to bring. We felt a childlike excitement those nights as we anticipated our upcoming adventures. Our alarms would go off early in the morning, and we’d shuttle our big Williams-Mystic duffle bags downstairs together. I felt like a little kid on Christmas, eager to embark on our journey. In the pitch black, we’d all step into the bus and drive to the airport. By the end of the day, we’d be in a new place ready to explore together.
Each classmate brings a different perspective from their respective discipline to each class and field seminar. Unlike a class on your home campus, which may be geared towards students of a particular major, each Williams-Mystic class is filled with students across all different disciplines and backgrounds. This offers you the unique opportunity to consider each topic from multiple lenses. At Williams-Mystic, you’ll come to understand that we all bring something different to the table, and that having representation from the voices of all disciplines is essential in order to tackle the world’s most pressing issues. These issues may include studying indigenous rights, sea-level rise, and how biodiversity is impacted by climate change.
During “Whale Week,” we studied whales in each course. In Marine Policy, we examined the policies in place to protect whales worldwide; in Marine Ecology, we studied the ‘whale pump,’ and how whales are an integral part of their ecosystems. In Literature of the Sea, we read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick on the last wooden whaling ship in the world, The Morgan, which resides at Mystic Seaport. In History of the Sea, we read about the history of whaling voyages. It was special to see the strengths of each of my classmates shine as they discussed their perspectives.
And at the end of each day, you’ll go home with your classmates and cook in the kitchen while jamming to music and laughing. My three housemates and I could not have been more different, but we formed a unit. Each Sunday, we ventured downtown to a new restaurant to share brunch and reflect on the past week—something we always looked forward to. One particularly gorgeous Sunday, we used bikes from the Williams-Mystic bike fleet to head downtown. We crossed the river, huge smiles on our faces. The flowers were in bloom, and downtown was bustling with tourists visiting the Seaport.
Almost every day during my Williams-Mystic semester, I spent sunset at Mystic Seaport, watching the sky melt into bright oranges and reds against a backdrop of the sails of tall ships. I sat on the docks and listened to the Mystic River swell beneath me. One night, time got away from me while cooking dinner, and I forgot to go to the Seaport at sunset. However, three of my classmates texted me to inform me about the bright red sky, because they knew that I was a sunset enthusiast. I ran down Bruggeman Place and through the Seaport, catching the tail-end of a fiery sky. It’s a small anecdote, but it speaks to the depth with which my classmates really knew me from living, working, and adventuring alongside each other each day. I felt so heard, and so seen for who I was, and for the things that I was passionate about.
While discussing house norms and expectations with my housemates, I learned how to be a direct communicator. I learned how to compromise when our expectations differed, but we made it work anyway. I learned passion while seeing my classmates’ eyes light up during engaging conversations. And when my classmates and I saw all of the layers of each other—the beautiful, the messy—and embraced each other regardless, I learned love.
On a college campus, it’s easy for academics to feel all-consuming–like the biggest part of your identity. Students wear their backpacks everywhere, packed with textbooks and course packets. At Williams-Mystic, however, academics felt like a slice of who I was. I felt like the sum of my parts—a student, friend, sunset-chaser, writer, daughter, and adventurer. I learned about maritime science, history, literature, and policy during my Williams-Mystic semester—yes—but I also learned the power of listening intently to people. Of asking questions in our communities, and in the communities that we visit. Our professors placed value on our learning beyond the classroom, too. They knew—and instilled an understanding in us—that we could learn much, much more from the people and places around us than we ever possibly could from a textbook.