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.”

Alana McGillis F’13: A Williams-Mystic Imagination

By Emily Sun S’20

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

Alana McGillis F’13 has the kind of enthusiasm that comes through even over Zoom on a Monday morning. “I’m excited to talk to you,” she says when we meet, “just because Mystic’s the best thing in the world.” I couldn’t have asked for a better opening. For the next hour and a half, as we talk, Alana laughs easily and speaks openly, sharing stories from her time at Williams-Mystic and beyond. Though I’ve brought a list of questions to ask her, she ends up answering most of them for me, just in the course of our conversation — which covers her experience studying in Mystic, her work at the intersection of art and science, and more.

Alana is a freelance science illustrator whose many projects have included geology comics, museum exhibits, and even a hand-drawn zine. She’s also illustrated two children’s books (and is currently working on a third). It was Alana’s art that first got my attention, several weeks before we met; the illustrations featured on her website and Instagram page — from tremendously fun, brightly colored comics to intricate line drawings — have so much personality that as soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to interview her. As Alana tells me about her work, it’s clear she loves creating art — so I’m surprised to learn that it wasn’t always the career she had in mind. 

One of Alana’s two published books.

“I always loved to draw, but I [didn’t take many] art classes in college,” Alana says, “because I think I got it in my head from a young age that art wasn’t a practical career — like, you can’t just draw! — even though I wanted to very badly.” Meanwhile, another subject had caught Alana’s eye. As an undergraduate at Smith College, she took an introductory geology course, and “it just blew my mind,” Alana says. “I was amazed that you could spend your days studying things that just felt like having awe for the world around you.” But she didn’t know where to go from there. She wasn’t sure that a career in research or academia was right for her, and at the time, she tells me, it felt like those were some of her only options. “There are so many other cool jobs [out there],” Alana says now. “I wish I’d known [back then].” 

Enter Williams-Mystic. When I ask her how she first heard about the program, Alana grins before recounting a story that I can’t help but think sounds like it was meant to be. “It was my sophomore year,” she says, “and I literally found out the day that applications were due. I saw a poster, and I probably screamed a little, because it was the dream. I mean, Mystic was the coolest thing I could possibly imagine.” Growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Alana loved living near the water and being immersed in maritime history. She’d been sailing before — most memorably, as a 13-year-old on the Spirit of Massachusetts — and had been waiting for the opportunity to do so again. “So when I saw Williams-Mystic, I thought, this is my chance to get back on a boat — and also, I could do geology; I could do maritime history. I wrote to them that day,” she recalls, “and I said, ‘I don’t know how quickly I can get my recommendations in, but please!'”

Fortunately, there was still space in the program (which Alana says she couldn’t believe: “How would anyone not want to do this?”). After being accepted, but before her semester began, she reached out to professor Lisa Gilbert about the possibility of helping with Lisa’s research. “I wrote to Lisa the week that I found out that I was going to get to do [Williams-Mystic],” Alana tells me. “I said, ‘Hi, I know you do oceanography, and I’d really love to work in your lab!’ And I did end up getting to do that, which was cool, but I realized pretty quickly that my favorite part of geoscience was the part where you got to tell other people about it.”

“So I came back to Mystic over the summer,” she continues, “and [by then,] I think Lisa had kind of realized that I wasn’t happy doing the research. Like, [studying] porosity and permeability of rocks was interesting, but there were other things that I wanted to do. Lisa asked, ‘What do you want to be doing?’ And I said, ‘In my ideal world, I’d be drawing geology comics.’ And she was like, ‘Why didn’t you say so?'” Working with Lisa and Lisa’s husband, who is also a professional illustrator, Alana created her first of many science comics, this one centered on “a crime-fighting geologist who uses her knowledge to solve mysteries.” And that was just the beginning. With her experience from Williams-Mystic, Alana was able to get an internship at the Paleontological Research Institution’s Museum of the Earth, for which she still creates illustrations to this day. For example, “I’m working on an exhibit right now about women in paleontology,” she says, “and that all started at Mystic. They gave me the opportunity to imagine that as an actual career path, and not just in a fantasy world.”

When I ask her what she likes best about her work, Alana says it’s having the chance to work with scientists and learn from that collaboration. “[Scientists] have high standards,” she explains, “so even though my style is cartoony, someone can still say, ‘Excuse me, that snail is backwards,’ or ‘That’s not how those bones fit together,’ and I can adjust.” As a science illustrator, there’s always more to learn — which Alana says can be intimidating (“Sometimes I’m like, ‘I’ll never know the anatomy of all these things!'”), but is also incredibly exciting. And when an illustration turns out particularly well — “if I land it and they say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was thinking!’ — then that feels [so rewarding].”

As if being a science illustrator weren’t already cool enough, Alana also works part-time as a boatbuilding instructor. She’s been working with boats for years, ever since she moved out to California. “I got a job at a maritime museum through another Williams-Mystic alum,” she explains, “and [the museum] had a boatbuilding program that they were running with a school in San Francisco.” She started out by helping with boat maintenance, later worked as an assistant, and eventually became the lead boatbuilder for the program. Today, she teaches local middle- and high-school students as part of their math and science curriculum. The best part of the job, she tells me, is watching her students succeed, “especially if they’re not used to having someone be super enthusiastic about something they’ve just done. I get to watch them be proud — and there are so many opportunities for tiny successes. Like, if they cut something right, or they hammer something right, or they drill something right, I have the chance to say, ‘That’s great!'” 

Alana with one of her boats.

Another one of her favorite things about boatbuilding, she says, is that she gets to work with all kinds of students. Looking back on her own experience in boatbuilding school, Alana remembers how difficult it was to be the only woman — and the only young person — in that space. “So I really like it when I’m in my shop, and the teenagers there get to look at themselves and say, ‘I’m what a boatbuilder looks like,'” Alana says. “And I want that for science, too. I want to make things that let kids see themselves in the role of a scientist.” Though she’s previously created illustrations about historical figures, she says what she’d really love to make is “an exhibit or a book about modern scientists, people of all different ages and races and gender identities. That’s my dream project.” It strikes me that Alana is doing for others what Williams-Mystic, in part, did for her: helping them imagine the full extent of the possibilities that await them. 

Alana credits the program for doing exactly that. “My whole career path — boatbuilding and science illustration — Mystic was responsible for both,” she says. And when she wasn’t busy sailing or drawing, Alana’s time in Mystic also included singing sea shanties (on their recent pop-culture comeback: “My brothers called me and said, ‘Hey, guess what? That thing you did — it’s cool now!”), reading Moby Dick aboard the Charles W. Morgan (“I would go there and think, ‘Ooh, I’m reading to the ghosts on the boat!'” Alana tells me, laughing), and traveling to Hawaii for a field seminar (“I stepped on a sea urchin, which was awful, but [the trip] was so worth it, so much fun,” she says). By the time I get to the question on my list about what made Williams-Mystic so different from a typical semester at college, I almost add, “besides everything!”

“Mystic is so different from regular college,” Alana agrees. “I think, especially if you’re the kind of student that doesn’t do well in traditional classrooms, it’s incredible. Like, I was not a great student. I didn’t have excellent grades, and I really struggled with traditional school, [because] I’m a very visual and hands-on learner. [So] Mystic was just the ideal scenario to see ideas concretely, to have so much project-based learning and freedom to study your own things.” For example, for her history project, Alana looked into a shipwreck that had taken place in her hometown, and for policy class, she researched beaches in the area that were being shut down due to shark sightings. “For all of the classes,” she says, “to go into the archives, to be out in the field, to go see in the real world the things that got you interested — that was awesome. It was just the best experience. It made me who I am and is the reason why I’m doing the things I do.” 

Before our conversation ends, I ask Alana one last question: what advice would she give to her past self, or to future Williams-Mystic students? “As much as you have passions, communicate them,” she says. “I think you can get really far by letting people know [what you’re interested in] and pursuing it. Take advantage of as much as you possibly can while you’re there, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask for permission to do things, because you’ll probably get it. It’s a community that wants you to succeed.”

Adventuring through Storytelling: Svati Kirsten Narula F’11

Svati said that what makes a good story “changes depending on where you’re working and who you’re pitching to.” The key to the strongest stories, she notes is, “Being able to say something surprising about something that affects a lot of people and they don’t realize it…”

Written by Hayden Gillooly S’19

Hayden is a senior Geoscience major at Williams College, with concentrations in Spanish and Maritime Studies. She is a Spring 2019 alumni of the Williams-Mystic Program.

“Williams-Mystic made me reconsider what I wanted to do and opened up the idea that anything I could do could be interdisciplinary. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do [after graduation], and journalism is very interdisciplinary because you can write about human interest, crime, science. There are a lot of different subjects that you have to put your feet into. And you hop around as we did during Williams-Mystic.”

Svati Kirsten Narula, F’11, loves storytelling and is magnificent at it. She’s written a diverse range of stories including one about the 38th voyage of Mystic Seaport’s very own Charles W. Morgan, what it’s like to live in an underwater habitat , and the potential of oysters to help protect coastlines from the impact of hurricanes. Though Svati doesn’t just write about topics that connect to the ocean, she feels that if she “hadn’t gone to Williams-Mystic and seen how maritime topics and ocean can be connected to everything,” that she “would not have written so many ocean stories in my first year of journalism.” She added, “I did a couple of stories about the intersection of economics and the ocean, and I don’t think I could’ve pitched those stories if I hadn’t been to Williams-Mystic.” Svati has worked at The Atlantic, Outside Magazine, and Quartz, and is currently the Digital Editor for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. In writing stories, Svati deeply appreciates and loves “the intersection of adventure and science.” 

When asked about her favorite Williams-Mystic memories, Svati, like most alumni of the program, couldn’t choose at first. “A real big highlight for me was my west coast seminar which was California. I loved caravaning up and down the coast and belting out music and becoming close,” her smile grew while talking, and I was reminded of my fond memories singing in the vans with my own classmates. It seems that there are threads throughout all semesters; moments that stand out for us all as special, fun, and impactful. “That was the trip where I bonded the most with my fellow shipmates. And getting out and running on the sand every beach stop. And seeing professors’ personalities when they’re driving you in the car.” 

For Svati, these bonds forged in Mystic, CT, and across the country on field seminars, have remained strong. In fact, she FaceTimes frequently with one classmate, though they have not seen each other in person in 10 years. “It’s been really gratifying to stay in touch with several of my shipmates from F’ll,” Svati says. “They were some of the strongest friendships I made during my college years.” We discussed how Williams-Mystic allows students to build relationships at an almost unparalleled depth, due to the fact that you travel, live, and learn with each other constantly. Williams-Mystic classmates see all of each other’s highs and lows, and support each other through it all. Svati added, with a tinge of nostalgia, “I almost wish all four years of college could have been like that.” 

Svati said that what makes a good story “changes depending on where you’re working and who you’re pitching to.” The key to the strongest stories, she notes is, “Being able to say something surprising about something that affects a lot of people and they don’t realize it,” such as “how horseshoe crab blood is important for the creation of vaccines and modern drugs.”

“There was one story that I wrote that went viral, about the history of exploding whales, based on the news that one dead whale was possibly about to blow up on a beach in Ireland. It was easy to make the connection between this event and the famous Oregon whale explosion of 1970, which there’s video footage of, so I wrote the story up in just 30 minutes and it ended up doing much better—as far as getting read and shared on social media—than other stories I had worked for days or weeks on.” 

In April 2015, Svati was at Base Camp at Mount Everest for a journalism project when an avalanche ravaged the mountain following an earthquake. In fact, Svati brought her Williams-Mystic duffle bag on her trip (which was unfortunately lost during the fiasco)! At Base Camp, Svati was given a glimpse into a unique culture and world of Everest climbers and enthusiasts; people who dream their whole life of conquering the enormity and standing at the top of the Earth. She described that “growing up, I loved reading stories about mountain climbers but never thought I could be a part of that world. Mount Everest base camp has its own rules and cultures and the people there have different priorities than people in New York City where I was living.” 

Though she felt like “an outsider in a harsh place,” Svati said that “it was amazing to have Everest looming over you. You begin to understand why people want to climb it. A lot of people want to climb it and don’t need to go there first to know that. For me, being in the present and trekking through that little bit of Nepal, and the local food and breathing that high thin air is kind of intoxicating in its own way. And it’s cool that storytelling allowed me to do that.” 

A difference between Svati and the climbers was that “The climbers there were more prepared to possibly die, so they weren’t as shaken up as I was by the earthquake and the avalanche. Many people went right back the next year. They had their dream disrupted by a force of nature totally out of their control, and they jus twanted to go back and make their dream happen. At first, I thought they were totally crazy, but now I, too, would go back if I could.” Svati explained that the experience of being at Mount Everest during an avalanche highlighted life’s fragility, but that the rush of being in the face of such beauty has encouraged her to be more adventurous and seek out new experiences. She said that it’s important to her “to try and collect as many experiences as I can” and that “to get experiences, you have to be open and cultivate openness.” 

When asked about the role that storytelling and narrative play in increasing engagement with sustainable behavior and raising awareness about the urgency of climate change, Svati responded, “I think it’s huge. So many people will never get the opportunity to see trash in the ocean up close because not everyone lives close to the ocean. The vast majority of us won’t have a chance to see how sea ice is melting. I interviewed a scientist recently who is studying arctic sea ice up close. Most of us get our ideas about this topic from storytelling in the media—that’s all we have for those of us that can’t experience things first hand. I’ve seen the photographs, and the articles, but asking people who have experienced it firsthand again and again is how we get closer and closer to understanding things.” Svati then reflected on a phrase from Williams-Mystic Marine Policy Professor Katy Robinson Hall S’84, that has resonated with her: “we protect what we value and we value what we know.” 

Svati closed our conversation by saying that “A sense of adventure could mean saying yes to a new job or choosing to move across the country. It doesn’t have to be traveling to Mount Everest.” Hearing stories of Svati’s bravery made me think about how we all need to have our own Everests: the passions and goals that ignite a fire within us and encourage us to lean into discomfort and newness with grace. What’s yours? 

Passion with a Purpose: Gabi Serrato Marks F’13

Gabi is a science writer and communicator, along with doing advocacy work to increase accessibility in the sciences.

Written by Hayden Gillooly S’19

Hayden is a senior Geoscience major at Williams College, with concentrations in Spanish and Maritime Studies. She is a Spring 2019 alumni of the Williams-Mystic Program.

Through the phone, I could almost tell she was smiling and that her eyes were lighting up, and she described the experience of exploring stalagmites in Mexico. Gabi Serrato Marks F’13 speaks with contagious enthusiasm and a warm openness. 

Gabi recently earned her Ph.D. in marine geology from the MIT-WHOI joint program, where she studied Mexican stalagmites to understand past climate change. She is currently working as a science writer and communicator, along with doing advocacy work to increase accessibility in the sciences. 

Gabi is deeply passionate about research, “What’s really cool is being the first person in the whole world to know how old that stalagmite is. And maybe not everyone cares how old it is, but it’s cool to be the first person to know that.” She said that “Williams-Mystic was what drove me to research. I was an undergraduate at Bowdoin and interested in the liberal arts aspect of Williams-Mystic and its interdisciplinary nature. It worked really well because I am now mostly working as a science writer, so I’m applying those same interdisciplinary lenses to writing.” 

F’13 was a part of the only semester that traveled to Hawaii on a field seminar, and it ended up being more of an adventure than the program bargained for because they went during a government shutdown. The Williams-Mystic faculty and staff were actively reorganizing and replanning while already in Hawaii. Still, Gabi said the trip was exceptional, “Especially coming from a geoscience background, Hawaii is the dream.” Though F’13 did not go to Louisiana, Gabi was still able to experience the culture of southern Louisiana on a trip to LUMCON during graduate school. 

Fall 2013 in Hawaii

Gabi, like I, noted that visiting Louisiana reshaped how she thought about climate change. Before going, she wondered “why people would stay in southern Louisiana if they keep getting hit by hurricanes,” but after a few days at LUMCON, realized that these issues are much more complicated and nuanced than they may first appear. 

Gabi discussed the importance of increasing diversity in the field of Geosciences, noting that she perhaps does not fit the traditional stereotype of a geoscientist, “I was definitely not always interested in earth sciences. I’m not super outdoorsy. I’m outdoorsy in the ‘nature is pretty’ way, not the dig in the dirt kind of way. So I think that breaking the idea that a geoscientist has to be a certain way or do a certain thing would be helpful.” People from cities or people from flat areas without much topography cannot explore geology and the outdoors in the same way as people who live in the countryside. Gabi explained that making “geoscience curriculum relevant to students wherever they are” could be a crucial way to increase the field’s diversity.  

In her second year of graduate school, Gabi was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which has significantly impacted her life through chronic pain and fatigue which “makes it difficult to pursue a typical academic path” She is no longer doing fieldwork because it is too physically intensive and draining. Gabi does advocacy “to show how it’s possible to be a scientist with a disability,” but also grapples with the fact that due to her disability, she was unable to make a research-driven science career work for her. 

While the coronavirus pandemic has increased the accessibility for some people, it has added burdens to others. “It depends on the type of disability. It’s all about access needs. For my friend who is deaf, she cannot lip read when people wear masks. So working in-person for her is impossible. But for me and people who have migraines, staring at a screen all day is really hard. However, not commuting is better.” It’s all about “balancing access needs and prioritizing accessibility and having open communication.” 

Gabi reflected on her Williams-Mystic experience, “Being on the SSV [Robert C.] Seamans [for the offshore field seminar] was amazing and I learned so much, and I don’t think I’d be able to participate now. I don’t think my doctors and my captain would say that it’s safe for me to be on a ship. Ships are a place where it’s accepted that you have to be physically fit. And I don’t know how I feel about that. I can see how me being on board would be hard for me, but not having those experiences is also detrimental.” 

Gabi and I agreed that we love science, but recognize that the field can be improved. Gabi explained the value of integrating various forms of knowledge into science. She says that we should shift away from what her friend calls “parachute science” in which scientists go to a location to conduct research “for a week or a month and you leave and you are the author of the paper and maybe put local guides in the acknowledgments.” She said, “I think that is frustrating and wrong. I think it’s important to put everyone who contributed to the knowledge as authors: cave guides, locals who helped collect water as researchers, as authors on that specific publication. This helps add their expertise to the scientific records in a way that gives respect.” Gabi said that the best advice she’s received was that regardless of what we do in life, people will always have things to say, whether it be positive or negative, but that “We should try to still make the changes that we think are important.” 

Gabi researching at MIT

I asked Gabi how we can improve science, and who needs to be the driver of change. She said that “Undergrads are an important place [for sparking change] because it’s where people begin to build their careers.” Gabi loves “helping people connect the dots” such as “working with people who realize they really love research and didn’t think they could do it.” She fuels this passion by mentoring undergraduate students and high school students. 

Gabi believes that resource sharing partnerships between big universities and small universities “could help the excellent students have more opportunities and see themselves as researchers.” “Some people say that science doesn’t care where you’re from or what you look like, but that’s a naive look at the world.” The reality is that there is often an underlying privilege to being a part of the scientific community because of the cost of equipment, fieldwork, and tools. We must all recognize and acknowledge that truth, so that we can all be more intentional about creating accessible, welcoming, diverse and encouraging work and school spaces. 

My conversation with Gabi made me think about all of the ways in which we can all work harder to be more understanding of people with disabilities and to work towards increasing accessibility in our respective disciplines. We should weave options into academic curriculums, trip-planning, and social events, accounting for diverse student experiences.

“People don’t understand how I went ‘abroad’ to Connecticut, but it was a great choice and shaped how I think now.” 

Six Things I Wish I’d Known When Applying to Williams-Mystic

Before I attended Williams-Mystic, I was stressed, unsatisfied, and wanted to do something new and fulfilling. I didn’t know where my path was headed, what kind of career I was looking for. But Williams-Mystic — through all the random, fun, and new experiences — changed all that, giving me the inspiration to explore and discover my true passions and interests.

By Alex Quizon (S’19) 

Alex is a junior at Williams College studying chemistry with a concentration in maritime studies. Alex participated in Williams-Mystic during the spring of his sophomore year (spring 2019), and now serves as one of Williams-Mystic’s alumni ambassadors

  1. How awesome the field seminars are.

Alex grins while cradling a baby alligator (about a foot long)
Alex during a swamp tour on the Louisiana Field Seminar.

Everyone at Williams always asks about life on the tall ship, and although that experience is amazing in itself Williams-Mystic is not just that. Some of my favorite moments were the smaller ones in California and Louisiana: Watching a classmate eat an In-and-Out burger for the first time in San Francisco, casually hiking the redwoods on a beautiful morning, Cajun dancing in Louisiana at night, and listening to Pitbull, Kesha, and Taylor Swift classics from our childhood in the vans going from place to place. When I was applying, I was nervous about maintaining and making friendships. These moments are joyous friendship-building memories I’ll never forget.

 

  1. How freeing the campus feels. 

Everyone has their own conception of ‘college’ based on the institution they attend: a small isolated campus in the rural Berkshires (me at Williams), a medium-sized campus in a Midwestern suburb, an enormous campus in the heart of New York City. Once we settled into the town of Mystic, I realized that learning doesn’t have to take place on a traditional campus. I don’t have to spend most of my time studying inside Spring Street Market or Sawyer Library or a Schow study room. At Williams-Mystic, I could do policy research on the docks near the drawbridge, or read poetry with friends for English on the lawns facing the Mystic River. And, I have to admit, I indulged in far too many treats from Sift Bakery and Bartleby’s Cafe for my “study breaks.” It was so nice truly being part of the hometown community.

  1. How everything fits together and just “makes sense.”

There’s no type of enlightenment that matches reading about Emily Dickinson’s “divine intoxication” upon traveling to the sea in English class and then actually sailing on a tall ship, feeling this exultation for yourself. I thought the interdisciplinary aspect would be sufficiently captured at “liberal arts colleges” like Williams, but Williams-Mystic takes it to a whole new level with experiential learning. One day you’re reading John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row for English and the next week you’re actually walking along Cannery Row in California and discussing the novel. Or you’re learning about coral reefs in Marine Ecology and then you’re actually in St. John’s (Virgin Islands), walking on coral and snorkeling with them. There’s no feeling like it.

  1. How you can make your own interests fit with the interests of the Williams-Mystic program.

20130105-DSC06539Many of my classmates at Williams have a hard time differentiating the “water” component from “maritime studies.” You do not have to be interested in marine science or marine policy to find this program fulfilling; my classmates had majors in Classics, Math, Biology, History, and many other subjects.

For my history final research paper I learned more about my cultural identity, writing about the movement and subsequent treatment of Filipino immigrants in America. For my English final project, I incorporated my musical expertise by writing a Broadway-esque original composition inspired by Moby-Dick. Whatever your interests and passions are, there’s a way to make it work.

  1. How there will be so many delightful surprises and new experiences.

image shows two students laughing as they crawl onto a dock while wearing life jackets
Alex and sailing partner Jonna recover from some minor capsizing

I learned some sea chanteys. I not only went sailing in the Mystic River for my first time but accidentally capsized at the very end of the regatta. I ran out of the van in a pouring thunderstorm with Stephen and Lisa at Grand Isle Beach to collect seashells for our science project. And I got to steer a tall ship at 2AM with the compass light turned off, guided only by the stars in the night sky.

Before I attended Williams-Mystic, I was stressed, unsatisfied, and wanted to do something new and fulfilling. I didn’t know where my path was headed, what kind of career I was looking for. But Williams-Mystic — through all the random, fun, and new experiences — changed all that, giving me the inspiration to explore and discover my true passions and interests.

  1. How loving and understanding the community is.

This cannot be overstated. Everyone — faculty, administration, Mystic Seaport staff, Mystic residents, classmates, etc. — is cheering you on through this program. There is an unparalleled amount of overwhelming support. Your professors are right across the street and they’re more than happy to chat and help. You can always pass by Laurie’s office (Lab Manager) and say hi, you can talk to Tom (Director) about any of your problems, and if you ever want to see sunshine in its purest form you can pass by Mary O’Loughlin (Deputy Director) for a warm smile and piece of chocolate. Everyone is there to help you learn and succeed, and I’m forever grateful for this love and support.

The Search for More: Susan Funk’s (F’77) Williams-Mystic Story

Throughout her semester and at moments after it ended, Susan realized how much the accessibility of the Williams-Mystic professors adds to each student’s experience in the program.

“They’re not just there to grade you. They’re there to be your partner in learning,” Susan said.

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. 

Susan Funk _MAM
Susan Funk (Photo Credit: Mystic Seaport Museum)

You’re looking for more out of your college experience. More challenges. More questions. More big-picture thinking. More solutions. You’ve chosen to change your major from science to American history and you enjoy learning about how people interact with different environments. Your junior year, your advisor tells you about a program he believes pulls together all of your interests.

Welcome to the Williams-Mystic story of Executive Vice President and COO of Mystic Seaport Museum, Susan Funk.

When Susan’s advisor told her about the program, then recruiting students for its very first semester, he assured her that participating would be worth the risk.

“He said any program run by [Williams-Mystic founder and historian] Ben Labaree would be of the highest quality. There was a flier about the program but that’s all we knew about it because it didn’t exist yet. It was a concept rather than something you could go and observe and talk to other people about,” Susan said. She decided to take the risk and apply to the program.

Susan remembers why she chose to come in the program’s very first semester, the fall of 1977, rather than in the spring of 1978: She wanted to sail off Georges Bank in Massachusetts.

“I thought: Well, there’s a good chance that in my life I’ll have other opportunities to sail down in the Caribbean, but I don’t know that going on the fishing grounds is something that I’ll ever get to do again,” Susan said. “We also sailed into Nantucket, coming in on a traditional schooner into that old port. That was really memorable.”

Throughout her semester and at moments after it ended, Susan realized how much the accessibility of the Williams-Mystic professors adds to each student’s experience in the program.

“They’re not just there to grade you. They’re there to be your partner in learning,” Susan said.

The collaborative approach of Williams-Mystic, Susan believes, influences how students approach the world — not only as they return to their home campuses but also as they shape their careers. Right after college, Susan spent time working different jobs to figure out where and how she wanted to build her career.

Susan followed in the footsteps of one of her Williams-Mystic classmates who had gone to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to be an observer for the Law of the Sea Conference discussions and negotiations.

She spent eight weeks living in Geneva, going to strategy sessions with the American team and listening to all of the discussions about the law of the sea. During her time at Williams-Mystic, Ben Labaree had made sure that the F’77 class learned from professionals about topics as diverse as manganese nodules, whaling, shipping lanes and more. Now, in Geneva, these very topics were being discussed and Susan had a chance to apply her knowledge from the program.

After finishing her time in Geneva, she took a job on demonstration squad at Mystic Seaport Museum for the summer.

Susan remembers one of her first days aloft on the Charles W. Morgan as part of the demonstration squad.

“I arrived a day early for training, and the supervisor suggested that I seek out the riggers to see if I could be of help in their work on the Morgan. The riggers said that if I was willing to work aloft, they had some simple tasks I could do.  Of course, I said yes!  It was amazing.  A beautiful, sunny day, the chanteyman was singing down on the wharf, and I was at the end of the yard mouthing sister hooks.  This was the right place for me to spend a summer.  And although I knew I had learned a lot from Williams-Mystic, working as an interpreter taught me so much more,” Susan said.

Susan’s work on the demonstration squad led to several different positions in the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Interpretation Department. Early in her career, she also spent time working in admissions for Williams-Mystic. Susan gained insight into other nonprofit organizations through serving on the Boards of Trustees for the New England Museum Association, the Pine Point School, and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Each opportunity, Susan said, has helped her learn more, take on responsibility, and grow as a professional. A highlight of her Mystic Seaport Museum career is the 2014 Charles W. Morgan 38th voyage. Particularly, she remembers being on Stellwagen Bank and seeing numerous humpback whales, including a mother and calf. From handling sail underway to rowing in the whaleboat this experience reflected the importance of interdisciplinary thinking as we explore the past, present, and future.

These experiences reaffirmed for Susan just how unique Mystic Seaport Museum and Williams-Mystic are — particularly in transforming students’ paths long after they leave campus. She stays in contact with her classmates. “We agree that we are incredibly fortunate to be members of the first class and to continue our close friendships and ever-evolving discussions,” Susan said.

Mystic-al Leisure

I am feeling thankful to be a resident of Mystic this semester; this town is so indescribably beautiful and full of things to do.

by Hayden Gillooly

Hayden Gillooly is one of our student bloggers for Spring 2019. She is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Spanish with a concentration in Maritime Studies. She is from North, Adams, MA. 

I am sitting in Green Marble Coffee, which is nestled in the heart of Mystic. I am sipping a hot chai latte, my fingers and cheeks still cold from the bike ride. I am feeling thankful to be a resident of Mystic this semester; this town is so indescribably beautiful and full of things to do.

While academics and field seminars are an important part of Williams-Mystic, they do not take up all of our time. In between the cracks of engaging classes, working on research projects and meeting with professors, there is time for leisure. And in this town, it is Mystic-al (I know, cheesy pun).

Downtown Mystic is a fabulous place to run to, walk and bike around in. Many of my classmates love working out at the Mystic YMCA; the program provides us each with a free membership to the gym. There are so many shops, restaurants and coffee shops. Bartleby’s, Mystic Depot Roasters and Green Marble Coffee are my go-to’s. Usually, I will camp out at a shop with a classmate to work on homework. And more often than sometimes, we end up having philosophical chats that leave me feeling rejuvenated and excited about the word. I really enjoy having long conversations with my classmates.

FullSizeRender (4)
Mystic Seaport Museum at sunset.

I have always loved sunsets, so it is of no surprise that Mystic sunsets have become near and dear to my heart. Nearly every night, regardless of what I am in the middle of, I head to the Seaport to watch the day come to a close. At that hour, the Seaport is still; I can hear geese in the distance, birds chirping and the water rippling quietly. The sun dances off the water and casts wild shadows across the shipyard. Tonight, I went for a run downtown and finished at the Seaport to bid farewell to the day.

I am not the only one to enjoy the simple pleasure of a still Seaport. My classmate Samuel (University of Rhode Island ‘19) said that his favorite moments on campus are “walking around after snowstorms and during the cold to watch ice at the edge of the river. The dark water and white snow and lack of activity make it so quaint and idyllic to experience.”

Speaking of community, the Seaport is full of interesting people, and is a spot for leisure in and unto itself. As Williams-Mystic students, we have full access to all of the exhibits here. One day after class, my friend and I spent a few hours going into all of the buildings on site and learning about the history of each one: the general store, blacksmith shop, printing shop, traditional home and watch shop just to name a few. We also toured the Charles W. Morgan tall ship, which is absolutely beautiful; we are so lucky to have such a treasure right at our fingertips. While on the Morgan, we compared it to our time on the Corwith Cramer during our Offshore Field Seminar in Puerto Rico; the beauty of experiential learning. We thought about how difficult it was to live on a ship in such close quarters for 11 days, nevermind the three– to five-year voyages that we learned about from a Mystic volunteer. Our professors take advantage of the Seaport as well; for Maritime History with Alicia Maggard, an upcoming assignment is to visit the exhibit “Voyaging in the Wake of Whalers.”

Living in houses and in such a tight-knit school community is something really unique about Williams-Mystic. I live in Carr House with three other students; it feels so nice to come home at the end of the day, debrief with them and cook dinner. On Sundays, Carr house goes out to brunch or lunch together, which is one of my favorite times of the week. We always go somewhere different and so far have been to Kitchen Little, Bleu Squid and Peking Tokyo. It is wonderful to check in with each other at the end of the week, and talk about the upcoming week.

Community bonding happens in more ways than just within our houses. A few weeks ago, Mary O’Loughlin and Laurie Warren, student life directors, organized for our class to go bowling on a Friday night. Around ten of us attended, and had a blast laughing and dancing while bowling.

FullSizeRender (2)
The Powerpoint Party at Albion House!

Another night, Albion House hosted a “Powerpoint Party & Potluck” where everyone made a five-minute presentation about anything, from random interests to life-long passions. I learned about trees from Henry, ‘power poses’ from Charlotte and the origin of the Kermit the Frog Memes from Dayana. Phoebe and Kevin talked about the joys of pickling foods, just to name a few.

Albion house hosts other houses for ‘leftover night’ where another house brings over the week’s leftover foods and hangs out. Before our California field seminar, Carr house was invited to Albion. We dined on quesadillas, salsa rice, guacamole and other yummy foods. We had so much fun spending intentional time with another house. Another common occurrence in Williams-Mystic are board game and card game nights. Carr hosted a stressbusting night of “Cards Against Humanity” and “Apples to Apples.”

I just drank the last sip of my chai latte. Off to bike back to the Seaport; I will take the scenic route, which traces the water, in order to catch the sunset. I’ll ask myself the recurring question, “Is this really my classroom?!”

History and the Sea: Drew Lipman’s (F’99) Story

“You become very aware of your impact on the planet. That circle of blue is what the planet truly looks like.”

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. 

WM Profile Pic

Growing up around boats and sailing set Drew Lipman (F’99) up for a career involving the ocean. While a student at Vassar College majoring in history, he also developed an interest in environmental history.

He saw advertisements for Williams-Mystic and kept the program on his radar.

“I looked up Williams-Mystic and Sea Education Association. Williams-Mystic had a more humanities-based approach and I was excited about using the museum and its archives,” Drew said.

Drew’s semester began with a short orientation. Soon, the group was embarking on their Offshore Field Seminar.

“We were around for a week and then headed out onto the SSV Corwith Cramer,” Drew said. “We went from Woods Hole, Massachusetts through the Cape Cod Canal and then into the Gulf of Maine. We ended in Rockport, Maine.”

Drew remembers bonding with his watch and the mate who was in charge of his watch.

He still thinks about this offshore experience regularly. After you have sailed offshore, he reflected, it is hard not to become invested in the environment.

“You become very aware of your impact on the planet. That circle of blue is what the planet truly looks like. I loved my time at the sea,” Drew said.

As he expected it to be, the maritime history class was a highlight for Drew.

“A close second was marine ecology with Jim Carlton. I loved the field seminars in particular: the marsh, the rocky intertidal. Being able to see ecological principles at work was exciting,” Drew said. In this class, he discovered how much he enjoyed doing fieldwork.

His Williams-Mystic courses also helped Drew gain a new perspective on his history major. Prior to Williams-Mystic, Drew thought maritime history was elite naval history and white-bearded men.

“Maritime history includes Native maritime history, Black maritime history, female maritime history and so much more. The way it was taught at Williams-Mystic, especially using the museum, showed [that maritime history] is one of the most interesting approaches to talk about the origins of capitalism and race. It was intellectually exciting.”

Visiting the West Coast and Nantucket as a Williams-Mystic student helped Drew learn to appreciate place-based education.

“In Nantucket, we stayed in a field station run by the University of Massachusetts. You could see evidence of climate change in 2000,” Drew said. “While we were there, we measured the shoreline in Williams-Mystic students all linked together to the end of the point. We also went to a cranberry bog and the island’s famous whaling museum.”

Drew’s Williams-Mystic experience inspired his senior thesis topic and, in the summer of 2001, and did a research project with Williams-Mystic history professor Glenn Gordinier about Watch Hill, Rhode Island. It was a wonderful experience and got him ready for graduate school.

Williams-Mystic also provided Drew with a link to the Pequot War, a conflict between Pequot Indians and English colonists that culminated in a massacre of Pequots at a fort in what is now Mystic, Connecticut. During the first year of his Ph.D. program, Drew realized how much Kieft’s War, a war that happened in the neighboring Dutch colony just a few years later, was linked to the Pequot War. He wrote about the connection between the two wars for his master’s thesis and then decided to make the topic his dissertation. Throughout this work, Drew was able to draw on his Williams-Mystic experience.

Once Drew got a job, he revised his dissertation into a book called The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast. The book argues that Natives fought for space and independence through fighting on water and connecting with Europeans creatively and commercially.

Drew is now working on his second book, which focuses on “Squanto” and the Mayflower pilgrims.

“Squanto is a real person named Tisquantum and the reason that he was able to help the Europeans was that he had been taken as a slave by an English fisherman six years earlier. Patuxet, the later site of Plymouth, is where he grew up,” Drew said. “This story is well known, but I believe I’ve found some interesting new wrinkles in the story. It’s also just an irresistible epic. A young man encounters European ships, journeys to Spain, England, the Newfoundland, then comes home to find most of his home community had died in an epidemic. And his legacy was complex: though the Mayflower passengers celebrated him, many of his Native allies accused him of betraying them. Piecing together this story anew has changed how I think about this pivotal moment, and hopefully will change readers’ minds too.”

Place-based education is a big tenet of any Williams-Mystic experience. For Drew Lipman, place-based learning has paid off in an unexpected way, leading him to pursue a career studying the very places he encountered during his semester.

 

 

Collaboration Is Key: Julie Shapiro’s (S’02) Williams-Mystic Story

Williams-Mystic helped Julie Shapiro (S’02) see that learning and working in an interdisciplinary way was what was best for her — and helped set her on a career path at the intersection of science and policy.

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. 

Julie Shapiro’s (S’02) Williams-Mystic adventure began in the Williams College cafeteria.

It was December 2001. The whole country was reeling from the lasting effects of September 11. Julie made it through the semester and felt like she needed a change in her college experience.

In the cafeteria, she was talking to another student when he said Williams-Mystic had a few spots left for the Spring 2002 semester. An ambitious English major, Julie was enrolled a few weeks later.

For Julie, her semester at Williams-Mystic helped her go from feeling disconnected from her studies to feeling invigorated and engaged by academics.

“My geosciences degree came after my semester at Williams-Mystic,” Julie said. “I came back to Williams for my senior year and was in almost all geosciences classes with a little bit of English.”

Williams-Mystic helped Julie see that learning and working in an interdisciplinary way was what was best for her.

During her semester, Julie enjoyed sailing from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba.

“I probably won the award for being the sickest on the trip, but the whole journey was great,” Julie said.

From the markets to the waterfalls, the Pacific Northwest was another memorable time for Julie. In Mystic, she learned how to sail and remembers going on numerous runs through the town and on the museum grounds.

In her classes, Julie enjoyed diving into policy and science.

“The science piece of everything [at Williams-Mystic] helped me decide to add geosciences and, in turn, helped me explore a post-graduate fellowship,” Julie said. “The fellowship helped me see that I didn’t want to be a scientist but that I wanted to teach science and work in science policy.”

As her career progressed, Julie worked in science education and then chose to pursue a master’s degree in environmental studies. Now, as  Senior Policy Director at Keystone Policy Center in Keystone, Colorado, Julie works at the intersection of science and policy.

“Keystone Center is a nonprofit, non-advocacy organization that tries to help diverse stakeholders reach common ground on big issues like the environment, health, education, etc.,” Julie said.

Julie works on natural resources, agriculture, and emerging technologies, like gene editing, at the local, state, and federal levels. She has worked with governor’s advisory boards and has facilitated regional and national conversations related to landscape conservation. Internationally, she is working to bring people together to talk about what the future looks like for gene editing technologies like CRISPR.

At its core, the purpose of Keystone Center is to bring together diverse opinions and help people find common ground and shared solutions.

“Even if you don’t agree on everything, you can respectfully understand people and there may be things you can agree on,” Julie said. “We try to meet people where they are. Sometimes just listening, sharing and understanding is an important step towards having better solutions in the long run.”

From her love of interdisciplinary learning to her career path, Williams-Mystic has left its mark on Julie.

“To this day, I always look for chances to do field trips with the groups I work with and that principle is something Williams-Mystic instilled in me,” Julie said.

One of the First to Set Sail: Alex Agnew’s (F’77) Williams Mystic Story

“To be the first semester added an extra charge to the whole experience and I think everyone felt that way,” Alex said. “Everything was new and everything was different. At the Seaport everyone seemed genuinely happy we were there.”

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

It is a typical day at Vassar College in the spring of 1977. You’re minding your own business when all of a sudden Colton Johnson, the dean of students, pulls you into a meeting with a man named Dr. Ben Labaree. Dr. Labaree is in the process of recruiting students for the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, which got its start on a Dunkin’ Donuts napkin in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and is about to embark on its first full semester: Fall 1977.

This is how the Williams-Mystic journey of Alex Agnew (F’77) began.

“I was literally shanghaied in the hallway by the dean of students because he was going to have a meeting with Ben Labaree, the founder, and there were no students at the meeting,” Alex said. “He literally said, ‘hey you, come over here,’ and we had tea in the Rose Parlor at Vassar. It was a strange coincidence that I happened to run into them.”

Alex was a first-year student at Vassar and was looking for a change in his college education. Going to Mystic and being one of the first students to participate in the program seemed like a good fit for him.

“When I got there, I was surprised that half of the students were not sailors and had no previous demonstrated interest in anything marine,” Alex said. “As I thought about it, I realized there are not programs like this in many different topics; there are not a ton of choices. It is as much about experiential learning as it is about sailing.”

Alex remembers being incredibly excited to be among the first students to do the program.

“To be the first semester added an extra charge to the whole experience, and I think everyone felt that way,” Alex said. “Everything was new and everything was different. At the Seaport, everyone seemed genuinely happy we were there.”

Dr. Labaree made everyday experiences come to life for the students in the F’77 class.

“He loved to teach history but we all really got into the policy class and that was just so cool and creative on his part,” Alex said. “We would drill down into different topic areas. He would have speakers come and he seemed to know what was going to happen when they showed up. You couldn’t know what they were going to say. He did a fantastic job.”

The literature, history, and policy classes all stand out in Alex’s mind. He wrote his policy paper on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“It was a long effort to analyze it from a political point of view. The policy paper was the big thesis for our class,” Alex said.

Alex enjoyed being on the grounds of the Mystic Seaport Museum. On Sundays, he would work as an interpreter on the Charles W. Morgan. He also chose to take celestial navigation with Don Treworgy and Susan Howell along with his assigned maritime skill, boat building.

Sailing aboard the SSV Westward deeply affected the members of F’77.

“When we were sailing on the Westward, we caught and tagged sharks and went out into the Gulf Stream to do that. It was very rough; everyone was deathly ill. The only way to stay away from being deathly ill was to stay on deck,” Alex said.

The crew on their voyage was very knowledgeable. One of his classmates told him that the SSV Westward experience was as memorable and valuable to her as the rest of the semester.

After his Williams-Mystic semester ended, Alex still had two and a half years left at Vassar. Transitioning back to school in the spring of 1978 was challenging, as it is for many alumni. Alex used what he learned in the program to bring his campus community together.

“I began to think about all the stuff that we did at Mystic that was so much fun. It created this sense of wanting more productive and creative experiences in my life,” Alex said. “I determined I was going to start a newspaper and spent some of that spring planning that.”

The newspaper Alex started, “The Syllabus,” was all about academics and policy.

“We wrote about what professors were teaching, what students were learning, what research was going on,” Alex said.

This project had a connection to the experiential learning Alex experienced in Mystic.

“I realized that everyone else was doing really interesting stuff too. Williams-Mystic gave me the confidence to think I could do stuff like this,” Alex said. “There were 75 students writing for it and we published weekly.”

Alex also served on the Comprehensive Plan Committee and pushed hard for more experiential learning and a Great Books Program, much like common read programs that exist at colleges and universities today.

After graduating from Vassar, Alex worked for the Journal of Commerce and then went sailing for a year. The man who hired him was one of the founders of Tall Ships America, which would play a large part in his career.

“I crewed on yachts. I did 10,000 ocean miles and paid for the whole thing by trading my labor on the ship for room and board,” Alex said.

Following his year on yachts, Alex worked as a daily newspaper journalist. His experiences as a sailor and a journalist came together in 1984, when he started Ocean Navigator, a magazine on marine navigation and ocean voyaging. In 1991, the magazine began running a small tall ship called Ocean Star. In 1993, they started the magazine Professional Mariner and in 1998 Alex joined the Tall Ships America board.

In 2015, Alex and two of his sailing friends started Tall Ships Maine, an organization that believes the experience of sailing on board a tall ship as part of the crew for a week changes teens’ perspectives and helps them develop leadership and teamwork skills.

“The first year, we sent 17 kids sailing on tall ships. We sent 100 kids this year and work closely with the schooner Harvey Gamage, one of the most successful training vessels after the SEA vessels,” Alex said.

Participants go out for a week aboard a tall ship and, after their voyage is complete, can continue learning about sailing through Sea Scouts. Tall Ships Maine is trying to get the next generation excited about sailing and the maritime industry. Currently, the organization is working with 25 different schools and hopes to send 200 teens out to sea in 2019.

In many ways, Alex’s time in Mystic is connected to his career and current work in maritime education. He and some of his classmates had a mini-reunion a few weeks ago visiting the Westward (tied up at the dock in Portland, ME) and they are hoping to sail on a tall ship together again in 2019.

“These little Mystic connections are not done when you leave,” Alex reflected. “They continue to bear fruit over your whole life. I feel like I am right back in it in a way.”