CNR Honors Students Immerse Themselves in Maritime Studies through Williams-Mystic Partnership

February 28, 2017
photo credit: Fabiola Padilla Rios

Fabiola Padilla Rios SAS’18, a psychology major at The College of New Rochelle, can tell you what it’s like to serve as the member of a crew of a 130-foot ship sailing the open water. So can Spanish major Lina Arboleda SAS’18. In fact, for each of the past six semesters, a CNR Honors student has hauled lines and stood watch on deck as part of a unique “study away” experience through Williams-Mystic, the maritime studies program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. 

Based at Mystic Seaport, the program features an interdisciplinary curriculum, with courses on marine policy and maritime history, and extensive fieldwork in marine ecology and oceanography. For their Literature of the Sea course, students read Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.” They also take three extended field seminars each semester: an 8 - 10-day voyage on the open sea sailing a traditionally rigged tall ship, and road trips along the Pacific and Gulf coasts. Groups of four to seven students live together in houses as members of the local community. With an eye on sustainable living, they compost food and monitor fuel consumption.

Left to right: Fabiola Padilla Rios and Lina Arboleda “Students who come to Williams-Mystic are looking at complex problems with no easy solutions,” said Dr. Tom Van Winkle, executive director at Williams-Mystic. “It takes an interdisciplinary approach to even talk about solutions. When they leave here, they approach the rest of their experience in college with a different mindset and advocate for their own education.”

“Living in community has been a great learning experience,” said Padilla Rios, who is at Williams-Mystic for the spring 2017 semester. “Every class gives us a different perspective of marine studies. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I had beaches all around, but now I’m so much more aware of the marine and coastal environment.”

Van Winkle calls Padilla Rios “a force.” “She wants to gobble it up,” he said. “We remind her not to over commit and try to do too many things! She is a great ambassador for the College.”

Arboleda, a New Rochelle native who attended in the fall 2016 semester, has a treasure chest of memories from her eight-day seminar aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara as it sailed Lake Erie, from sleeping in a hammock below decks, to standing watch on the overnight shift, to giving a group presentation on the lake’s phytoplankton levels, to dropping anchor during a storm. On a field trip to Louisiana, she learned about land loss caused by man-made levees.

“The experience gave me so much insight into environmental issues such as climate change,” she said. “People are being displaced because they’re losing their land. Sometimes we hear about these things in the news and don’t realize they have an impact here, in Louisiana, in California. Now I think, ‘With my knowledge, what can I do to help or be valuable?’”

When first offered the opportunity to take part in the program, Padilla Rios, a member of CNR’s women’s volleyball team, had to give the idea consideration. “I have such a busy schedule at school, I wasn’t sure it was for me,” she said. “My family wondered why I’d want to do it.” However, her 10-day voyage on the SSV Corwith Cramer happened to dock in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and her parents and grandparents were able to be on hand to see her set sail. Needless to say, their minds were changed. “Now I’m really thankful I did it,” she said. “We have a lot of interaction with the faculty; they travel with us and it gets to the point where you see them as friends.”

“We’ve had a delightful relationship with The College of New Rochelle,” said Van Winkle. “One of the reasons that we enjoy having CNR students participate is because we have a sincere desire to have a diverse group of students attending. The perspective that students from a college in suburban New York—coupled with students from Alaska, Maine, and the Chicago area—really adds a dimension to the community.”

Arboleda calls her time at Williams-Mystic “life changing.” “I was so proud to represent CNR,” she said. “Even though some of the other students were from very prestigious universities, I was there doing the same kind of work, performing at the same level. It reinforced the fact that there are no big or small schools, we’re all getting an education.  I found myself talking about The College of New Rochelle a lot!”

“The Williams-Mystic Program gives our Honors students a wonderful opportunity to immerse themselves in a topic—the world’s waters—while putting their interdisciplinary Honors training to work,” said Dr. Amy Bass, professor of history and director of the Honors Program. “As an alum of the program, I completely understand how and why they return from the program transformed, bonded with new friends, filled with new knowledge, and experienced from their travels. I am thrilled that Williams-Mystic continues to offer our students this opportunity, and both grateful and humbled that I have been able to cultivate this relationship for CNR Honors.”

In addition to new learning and memories of a lifetime, CNR students leave Williams-Mystic with 18 credits from Williams College on their transcript. “All students are challenged academically when they come here,” said Van Winkle. “We’ve been delighted with the skills and knowledge that students from CNR carry with them. The last time I spoke to Dr. Bass, I said, ‘Keep them coming!”