May 14, 2010

Graduating senior puts priority on helping others

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For Mackenzie Allert, a Galesburg native graduating this weekend from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, fulfilling the requirements for the College of Liberal Arts’ Senator Penny Severns Making A Difference Scholarship also meant keeping up with family expectations.

The scholarship goes to a student of high academic standing, with proven leadership skills, who participates in extracurricular activities and becomes involved in community service. Though her family undoubtedly promotes all parts of those requirements, it’s that last part -- the community service part -- that is particularly expected in the Allert family.

Helping out is nothing new to Allert. For example, a summer visit to an aunt in Baltimore, Md., turned into a chance to contribute manual labor on two large old homes her aunt plans to use as a shelter for young women who find themselves needing a place to stay and to gain some sensible guidance. The facilities include an organic garden that will provide food for the shelter’s inhabitants.

As much as Allert learned about community service during her summer with her aunt, it was a heart-to-heart talk with her grandmother that inspired her to apply for the scholarship.

“My grandmother asked me if I’d thought of continuing my own community involvement, both for myself and because it’s something our family just does,” Allert said. “My grandmother’s question was similar to the prompt for the essay I’d need to write for the scholarship. It made me think about exactly what I was going to do to contribute to something greater than myself.”

Allert’s particular area of interest is helping the women and children who are suffering because of the ethnic cleansing in Sudan and other African countries. Inspired by the difference other family members have been able to make on their communities, Allert promised her grandmother, documenting the promise in the essay she wrote for the scholarship, to devote her future community service efforts to these women and children.

Meanwhile, Allert has worked hard to make a difference in her University community, and to forge her own path in the process. Allert majored in University Studies, with double minors in anthropology and museum studies, to create an undergraduate base that will pave the way for the next part of her journey -- graduate school in museum collections curation.

Her first step toward that goal was a six-month internship at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

“And what can I say about that?” she said. “Wow! I was initially turned down for the opportunity because they didn’t have any open positions, but the internship coordinator -- with whom I worked and became very close -- saw my ambition and when an extra help position opened, I managed to get it.”

Allert’s responsibilities included selecting items within the permanent collection for a year-long exhibit, labeling the objects for display and designing the exhibit, including the exhibit display cases. She also wrote publicity for the exhibit she helped design.

“I worked in anthropology, exhibits, education, and conservation departments, and met a bunch of wonderful people I hope one day to join,” she said.

At SIUC, Allert assisted University Museum Curator of Exhibits Nate Steinbrink, acting behind the scenes with exhibits and events.

“She is a very talented individual,” Steinbrink said. “She is able to take obscure subjects and design an exhibition that interests and intrigues an audience. It was great having her as a student at the museum because she has a great ‘get it done’ type attitude. There was nothing would stop her -- she would see a project through to the end.”

While at SIUC, Allert was a member of the Women’s Music Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Iota -- and yes, it is a fraternity for women, she said, noting that the Greek word “fraternas” is gender neutral.

“I’ve been president, vice president of ritual, and treasurer,” she said. “Because the end of the year is stressful, taking time out of our academic schedules can be a little frustrating. We had our senior farewell ceremony recently, and during the ceremony, I was reminded why I got involved in this fraternity in the first place. I have more roots here at this school because of my involvement, and I have bonds with amazing people who value music in the same way I do.”

Allert’s devotion to music led her from Carbondale to Carnegie Hall, in fact. Allert, a flutist, was a member of the SIUC Wind Ensemble when the musical group debuted at the fabled New York City venue in March 2008.

Christopher Morehouse, conductor for the SIUC Wind Ensemble, said the experience gave Allert and others a once-in-a-lifetime chance to represent the University at one of the world’s most famous venues.

“Once you’ve been there, you always have that -- you can always say you performed at Carnegie Hall,” he said at the time. “And the University will always have that, too.”

As for Allert, she’ll have the memories, and the diploma. And the future.