Mary Assini is a proud Spring 2000 alumna, a nine-year Cape Eleuthera Island School team member, and a passionate champion for experiential education and taking a less traveled path. After gaining experience for three years with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mary returned to the Cape Eleuthera Foundation this spring. With two months back at the helm we sat down with Mary for a conversation and Q&A about where she’s been and where she’s going. 

Q: Dorm? A: Well, the campus was much smaller then, so I was in what is now Beach House South.

Q: Research group? A: Mangroves

Q: Run or Swim? A: Everyone did the half marathon. There wasn’t a super swim yet.

Q: Favorite Mooch meal? A: Chilli and Johnnycake.

Q: Favorite Maxey memory? A: Chris was our 8-day kayak leader and only used a frisbee as his plate. We were all playing with it early in the trip and somehow lost it. He didn’t have a plate for the rest of the expedition!

Q: How did you end up coming back to The Island School after college?

A: After attending Lewis & Clark College, I was working in the for-profit sector in Portland, Oregon. I had biked to work in the rain for three weeks straight when I received an email from a fellow Island School classmate, who was teaching at The Island School, and knew I had to go back. I emailed Chris Maxey to see if there were employment opportunities. A few days later his response was, “Pack your stuff. Absolutely. Yes.” I thought I’d work for The Island School for a year, but it turned into three years on island and six years in the US office at The Lawrenceville School.

Q: How has your Island School experience impacted you?

A: When reflecting on The Island School’s impact in general, I believe, more than ever, education is the key to success for the next generation and our collective future.  My confidence and drive stems from my experience at The Island School. Having been lucky to grow up professional through The Island School and Cape Eleuthera Foundation, I realize how rewarding it can be to work with a place you believe in passionately.  It is exciting to be back with the Foundation and reclaiming that passion that first ignited back in Spring 2000.

Q: Why are you passionate about experiential education?

A: The workforce has never seen as qualified an applicant pool of young graduates as we see today, but they tend to lack the skills to put knowledge they have gained to work.  Experiential education allows students to jump the gap from being a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge faster than a student who has only learned in a traditional classroom. By embracing inherent failure, experiential education rewards the practice of failing and picking yourself up, which is a valuable skill for any organization or company and one that distinguishes great employees from average employees.  

Mary Assini during her 8-day kayak expedition in Spring 2000. 

Mary Assini during her 8-day kayak expedition in Spring 2000. 

Q: What is your vision for the future of The Island School?

A: Working away from The Island School for the last three years, I’ve gained perspective and reaffirmed my love for IS. I’m returning as the Executive Director with the big picture goal of embedding longevity into our work, so The Island School will exist for many, many years to come. I have a deep respect for Chris and Pam Maxey, and I want to help them establish the foundation as a comprehensive platform for our alumni base so their work continues to carry forward long beyond a student’s experience on Eleuthera. Alumni of IS, DCMS, CEI, CSD, and even the ELC should be able to lean on the Cape Eleuthera Foundation to connect with other alumni and to provide a space for the creation of opportunities.

Q: What role do you see alumni playing in the future of the organization?

A: Alumni of The Island School have an obligation to give back–and I don’t mean directly to IS but to give back in a global sense. We teach community before self and that can manifest in many ways. I believe if you’ve gained from something in your life, you have a duty to give back tenfold to honor that gift. Giving back can be different for everyone. Giving back can manifest as coming back to teach or work for The Island School, recruiting applicants to join the journey, joining the board of directors, volunteering to be an ambassador, or supporting IS at your philanthropic level. Who knows, maybe your way of giving back is starting your own company with an Island School ethos. Living the mission of leadership affecting change with all you do as an IS alumni is a great way to start with giving back beyond the Cape and to the world as a whole.