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CNR Junior Takes to High Seas during Unique Study Away Program

November 8, 2018

CNR junior Stephanie Gonzalez is enjoying a particularly interesting semester sailing the high seas as the most recent CNR Honors student to participate in 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. Students 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.

Stephanie first learned about the program and its impact from CNR alumni who had participated as Honors students. “Two of my friends took me to Mystic last semester to show me around, and I fell in love with the seaport’s beauty, even though it was a very cold and cloudy day, which I think says a lot,” says Stephanie, who is a studio art major at CNR.


“Another big factor that pulled me in was that students in the program have access to the Mystic Seaport Museum archives. Logs, journals, paintings, photographs, and so many other cool objects that I can touch and study. Learning about history through physical objects is absolutely fascinating, and I’m really excited to use these artifacts for my research project!”


Williams-Mystic is a challenging academic program that requires each student to create their own original research project. “While it may sound intimidating, I see it as an opportunity for my writing and research skills to improve,” she says.


“For my project, I’ll be reading primary sources and examining scrimshaw from the seaport’s archives, calling stakeholders in Maryland to help combat sea level rise, and going out on a boat to collect data near oyster reefs. It’s a different way of learning than I’m used to, but the skills and habits I gain from it can and will be applied to my work at CNR when I return.”


Since embarking on her journey into maritime studies, Stephanie has learned about invasive species, fisheries, coastal erosion, the whaling industry, 19th century commerce in the Pacific, and how to weld in her shipsmithing class. While on their offshore voyage in the Pacific Northwest, she had the opportunity to steer the ship, chart its position, furl sails, and haul on lines.


“My favorite things about the Pacific Northwest field seminar was exploring Pike Place Market and tide pooling by Yaquina Head.


As a visual artist, I like to learn, observe, and experience as much as I can to use as a sort of archive for myself when creating new pieces,” says Stephanie. “I don’t have a single subject matter that I revolve all of my work around, so it’s fun to immerse myself in different things to find something that resonates with me, even if it’s just temporary, just enough inspiration for one drawing. I also like to use my reservoir of knowledge and experiences to extract from when I need inspiration for a new project.


“Williams-Mystic is adding to my reservoir, my archive, and I’m already starting to draw upon it and plan future projects. I’m being exposed to a whole new world and I can’t wait to express the awe and excitement I feel because of it!”