Mackenzie Conley Schifano '12

When did you start at Viz? Do you know why your parents chose to send you to Viz?
I started Viz in 2009, going into 9th grade. I graduated from a parochial school that only went to 8th grade, and Viz was my first choice for high school!
My three Aunts all graduated from Viz and had the best experiences, so I knew I at least had to tour it. We lived a block away from another private catholic girls school and the plan was for me to go there up until I visited Viz and fell in love. I would say the decision to go to Viz was entirely my own and my parents were very supportive of that – so supportive that they decided to send my two sisters along with me!
 
 
Where did you go to college after Viz, and why did you choose that school?
I went to Elon University in North Carolina and majored in Political Science and Environmental Studies. My cousin visited the campus first and recommended that I visit. Similar to my experience with Viz, as soon as I visited, I fell in love. Elon is nestled in the middle of nowhere North Carolina on a beautiful campus which is literally a botanical garden, three hours from the Appalachians and three hours from the coast. Since it is in North Carolina it has a definite southern collegiate culture which is just fun, but what I was really drawn to was their commitment to educating their students to be service-minded global citizens.
 
Fun fact: My best friend, who I met on our first day of college because we lived on the same floor, is also a Viz girl! She went to the Georgetown Visitation (they call it Vis). We were very fast friends especially after finding out that we were both Viz girls and lived together all 4 years of college.
 

What is one of your favorite Viz traditions or experiences and why?
Is Bosco stick day still a thing? That was my favorite unofficial Viz tradition 😊
 
All jokes aside, I was very involved in Student Council all four years at Viz and I especially loved planning Fall Festival. I loved coming up with t-shirt designs (I think I designed 80% of all Viz t shirts while I was there – they would probably be considered retro now.), working through timelines and budgets, lining up entertainment, and finding ways to improve the event each year. Looking back on it, I think the project management and organization skills that I have today really stem from these very early experiences on Student Council. Shout out to Mrs. Hanneke and Mrs. McMullen for giving us the space to make decisions independently while also making sure we weren’t spending 5 grand on a bubble machine for the mixer.
 

This month’s virtue is Joyful Optimism. Can you reflect on what you learned about Joyful Optimism at Viz and how that impacts how you embody this virtue in our daily life as an adult?
My junior year at Viz I ran to be the executive president of Student Council….and lost. While it was not the outcome I hoped for, the experience of running and losing really impacted me. It taught me a lot about being a good loser, giving grace to myself and others, and finding the bright side in every situation! Even though I was disappointed, I chose not to stay down for long and ran for a class rep position after losing the executive race and ended up having such a fun year working alongside my friends and a GREAT executive president. I think I am a naturally positive and optimistic person, but that may not have stayed the case if I did not have the support system and tools Viz provided when the going got tough.
 
Side note: While it is categorized as a soft skill, being a positive/optimistic person is for sure a professional asset. It may sound silly, but part of the reason I am included on projects or meetings is because of my good attitude and ability to spin things in a positive light. The more included I am, the more opportunities I have to show my value and grow my career!
 
 
Are there any significant skills that you learned that you can attribute to your time at Viz?
Too many to list! Accountability, project and time management, empathy, service, confidence, effective communication, leadership. Viz was so formative and truly shaped me into the person I am. It wasn’t all STUCO and party planning and JBD – it was academically challenging for me and really pushed me in ways that required me to learn new skills. I had to learn how to reapproach issues rather than quitting (hello research papers), recognize when more effort from me was needed (hello CC calc), and take responsibility for my own education (hello CC calc again).
 
 
What is something you are most proud of?
While it doesn’t seem that long ago, recycling was a relatively new thing and the recycling situation at Viz was not great. They only had paper recycling dumpsters, most classrooms didn’t have their own recycling bin, and when the paper recycling was brought out a lot of times it had too many mixed materials in it, so it ended up being thrown away. At this point I was not especially tuned in to environmental issues, but I saw this recycling problem as an opportunity to show some leadership skills and maybe establish an identity in this new school. It really snow balled! I quickly learned that if you are willing to put in the work and pretend you know what you are doing, Viz teachers and administration are very willing to help you!
 
Our librarian helped me write an application for an MSD grant to receive two new single stream recycling dumpsters. After we won the grant and got the dumpsters, I had to figure out a way to actually get recyclables to the dumpsters. I got bins to classrooms that didn’t have them then labeled all bins with classroom numbers so they weren’t shifted around. I made educational signs that hung above the bins and explained what could go in them. One barrier we came up against was the maintenance staff was having a hard time regularly collecting recycling and disposing of it separately, so I decided to make a “Recycling Committee” that was a subset of the Earth Club. This committee (which wasn’t really a committee but it sounded fancy) was made up of volunteer students who I would assign to classrooms and they would take out the recycle bins for those classrooms during their free periods or advisories once a week. While I stumbled into this solution, it was actually really ideal because it got students involved, teachers loved it because they had a point person if they needed their bins taken out earlier than scheduled, and the free woman power greatly increased the amount of recyclable materials actually making it to the correct dumpster to be recycled.
 
When people ask me when I became passionate about environmental issues, I can trace it back to this project. In researching and problem solving our recycling problems, I started learning about all sorts of other environmental issues and that learning turned into action and passion and eventually a career path!
 
I am very proud and grateful for this little recycling project that snowballed into what is now my life. I think its success is a testament to the great teachers and staff at Viz and their willingness to meet students where they’re at and help them grow.  
 
 
What is something you hope to accomplish in the future?
Professionally, my goal is to become the youngest Program Manager for the programs I work on and in the meantime keep working to improve the program and serve as many people as possible. Personally, I am working on investing more time into hobbies. I love to cook and I love art so my dream is to one day both write and illustrate my own cookbook.
 

If you could share one piece of advice with Viz students, what would it be?
If you are feeling discouraged during any transition period, try to find ways to be of use or of service! After college, I had a hard time finding a job and I was starting to get burnt out searching for jobs all day and was constantly questioning my chosen career path and decisions. I started volunteering every day with a nonprofit that builds and runs urban farms in St. Louis and even though I didn’t make any money and it wasn’t where I saw myself long term, I felt so much better just knowing I was being useful. I felt more energized and driven to find a job after I got done volunteering each day. Plus, I was getting unique experience that I could use in interviews even if it was an unpaid gig.
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