Mary Assini, SP'00 returns as Executive Director of the Cape Eleuthera Foundation


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.

Island Schoolers Run (Swim) the Boston Marathon

Hanna Atwood at the 13.1 mile mark with three of her Fall 2017 students (Zander Gomez, Annabelle Dewing, and Cece Pilgrim). 

Hanna Atwood at the 13.1 mile mark with three of her Fall 2017 students (Zander Gomez, Annabelle Dewing, and Cece Pilgrim). 

This year the Boston Marathon was the first annual and longest Monster Run-Swim in Island School history. In a torrential downpour, almost 30,000 runners attempted to run the iconic 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to the center of Boston. Three of those well-trained run-swimmers were Island School staff and alumni. Hanna Atwood (current Land and Environmental Art Teacher), Matthew McGaffigan (Fall ‘16), and Neila Connaughton (Fall ‘16) all completed the Boston Marathon and raised funds for charity while doing it. Hanna raced for the Nobles Marathon Fund and raised money for scholarships for her alma mater, Noble and Greenough School. Both Matthew and Neila raced for the Brigham and Women’s Stepping Strong Center.

Neila Connaughton (F'16) and Matthew McGaffigan (F' 16) crossing the finishing line. 

Neila Connaughton (F'16) and Matthew McGaffigan (F' 16) crossing the finishing line. 

When we asked Hanna how The Island School impacted her marathon this was her answer: “Race day was filled with anticipation, excitement, nerves, and lots and lots of rain. My favorite part of the race was getting to mile 13 (halfway) and seeing three of my FA17 students waiting for me in the pouring rain. I gave them a giant hug; their collective energy helped propel me forward over the next 13 miles. So much of The Island School experience is about persevering through adversity and due to the incredibly adverse weather conditions, I was up against a lot more than “just” running a marathon. I ran knowing that I had an incredible support system waiting for me to return back to Eleuthera and they gave me the courage to dominate.”

Congratulations to Hanna, Matthew and Neila. We are so proud of you for completing the longest Monster Run-Swim on record! Our fingers are crossed it will just be a marathon for other Island Schoolers next year. 

Alumni Spotlight: John Wall, NBA all-star, hires Horatio Smith (Fall '02) as his personal chef.

Horatio Smith, Fall 2002.

Horatio Smith, Fall 2002.

John Wall, the Washington Wizard’s five-time NBA all-star, hired an Island School alumnus as his personal chef. Last month, the Washington Post published an article about Wall’s journey to drop weight and refine his taste after a knee surgery this winter. Horatio Smith, a Fall 2002 alumnus, is credited and quoted throughout the article about Wall’s transformation. Last summer, Wall vacationed at a luxury villa in the Bahamas where Horatio was the personal chef. Enjoying Horatio’s suggestions and culinary style, Wall hired him to be his personal chef back in Washington!

Click here to read the Washington Post article about John Wall’s transformation and Horatio’s part in the journey.

Boathouse Expansion Project Well Underway

April 1, 2018

April 1, 2018

Opened in 2008, the Sydney C. DeVos Dive Center is one of the most frequently utilized buildings on The Cape Eleuthera Island School (CEIS) campus, providing services to all of The Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute waterfront activities. Whether gearing up for an early morning freedive, prepping for a day of research on the nearby patch reefs or meeting before a late afternoon trip to the sandbar, the boathouse is at the heart of the adventure. We maintain a fleet of nine motorboats for SCUBA and research activities, 27 kayaks and two sailboats for expeditionary programming and an outdoor community space for presentations and lectures. The building boasts a 7.6 kilowatt solar array that is composed of 40 190-watt monocrystalline photovoltaic modules on the south facing roof. This array is used as both a teaching tool as well as to produce renewable energy for our campus, including the SCUBA air compressor, which refills over 400 SCUBA tanks per week during its busy periods such as The Island School SCUBA Certification Week.

As CEIS has seen exceptional growth in these past few years, the boathouse resources have seen an increasing amount of stress. With ground broken in January 2018, this long awaited expansion will provide an additional 1100 square feet of space to allow for expanded equipment storage and maintenance space as well as increased outdoor capacity for community gatherings and class time. With a new name, the Sydney C. DeVos Center for Exploration is expected to be finished by Summer 2018, just in time for our summer programs to enjoy it!

April 1, 2018

April 1, 2018

May 1, 2018

May 1, 2018

WILD BAHAMAS An Illustrated Ecology of The Bahamas: Sun, Sand, and Sea from A-Z

WILD BAHAMAS An Illustrated Ecology of The Bahamas: Sun, Sand, and Sea from A-Z

Wild Bahamas

An Illustrated Ecology of The Bahamas:

Sun, Sand, and Sea from A-Z

Over the past two years, Leigh and Lisa Schmitt have been working dutifully behind the scenes. In addition to their teaching, researching, and administrative roles at The Island School, Center for Sustainable Development, and the Deep Creek Middle School, they have been collaborating on a book about the ecology of The Bahamas. Leigh was inspired to write the book as he completed his master’s degree in Conservation Biology from Green Mountain College in Vermont. This illustrated encyclopedia of aquatic and terrestrial organisms of the Bahamian Archipelago covers animals microscopic to mammoth, from the lesser-known rodents like the hutia to majestic and iconic national treasures such as the blue marlin and West Indian flamingo.


Leigh noted that, “the endeavor was challenging, enlightening, a true labor of love, and a family affair.” He researched and wrote the book, Lisa painted the watercolor illustrations, and children Forrest and Ingrid provided feedback and support along the way. “My hope is that this message of conservation will inspire others to preserve and protect their favorite wild spaces.” 


Leigh and Lisa remarked that they were particularly touched and humbled by the support of friends, students, and colleagues along the way. One particularly invaluable research advisor on the project was longtime friend of CEIS, Dr. Ethan Freid, a botanist at the Bahamas National Trust Leon Levy Preserve in Governor’s Harbour. 

Last week, the couple held a book launch with the greater Cape Eleuthera Island School in attendance in the boathouse. The setting was a fitting spot to celebrate concepts such as conservation, preservation, family, and exploration. 


After 5 years living on Eleuthera, the Schmitt family has certainly developed their own Sense of Place- and this book is a tribute to their island home. Lisa explains that, “the book is a bit of a love note. Each moment spent painting allowed me to establish a better relationship with the subject and I feel like I got a chance to get to know this place in an even deeper way that has only heightened my appreciation for the ecology of The Bahamas.”


In the weeks ahead, the author and illustrator team will be heading down-island to share their work with schools, libraries, and other public venues. They plan to give talks, conduct signings, and spread the message of conservation at independent book stores on Nassau this spring as the final editing and publishing of the book was completed locally by Media Enterprises, based out of New Providence.

The book can now be purchased in The Island School Store and is available through Media Enterprises in Nassau. Keep an eye out for more books in the future. These two enjoyed the experience so much that they plan to write another book soon.