For Wheeler senior, trip to Alaska village sparks growth

Macie Mancini, 17, of North Stonington, a senior at Wheeler High School, on Friday, May 25, 2018, exhibits bones she found while on her research trip to Point Lay, Alaska, last year. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Macie Mancini, 17, of North Stonington, a senior at Wheeler High School, on Friday, May 25, 2018, exhibits bones she found while on her research trip to Point Lay, Alaska, last year. (Tim Martin/The Day)

North Stonington — For Macie Mancini, a trip to a tiny isolated village in Alaska proved an eye-opening experience and one that helped her figure out what she wanted to do.

Last summer Mancini, a senior who will graduate next month from Wheeler High School, traveled all the way to Point Lay for a one-of-a-kind education experience as part of a Mystic Aquarium program.

She spent 10 days immersed in a small Alaskan Native community of about 200 people, learning about the culture and a great deal of science, as well. She learned all about how the villagers engage in subsistence harvesting to meet the needs of the community, and got to participate in an organ harvest of whales the people hunted for their survival.

"You live in one place and you think that's all that's out there," Mancini said. "You may have an idea of someplace different but you don't really understand what's out there until you go and live in it."

Mancini, 17, describes the experience — which was a central part of her senior project focusing on marine biology and the study of an Alaskan Native people — as a formative experience, one that taught her a lot about community and inspired her to reflect on what people prioritize in their lives.

It also gave her firsthand experience in something she hopes to make a career of some day: surgery.

Mancini's next steps after graduation will take her to the University of Vermont, where she'll be studying animal science. Although — by her own admission — she suspects that might change, right now she thinks she'd like a career working in the surgical field. Regardless of what exactly she ends up doing, she knows she wants a career where every day is not the same and she's always learning something new.

"That's kind of what drives me, I love to learn," said Mancini, who spends a lot of her free time working at Mystic Aquarium and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. "Whether it's in school or outside of it with culture or the social aspect of things ... I just like observing and taking in information and using that in the real world."

Strong, real, tenacious, responsible, kind, thoughtful and mature are among the many words Mancini's teachers use to describe her. And if you sit and talk with her for an hour, it's easy to see why.

Wheeler High School/Middle School Principal Kristen St. Germain praised Mancini as someone who is unafraid to go after what she wants and more than willing to question things and propose thoughtful solutions.

St. Germain also said that although Mancini may not think herself a social butterfly, she's still social in a way that many people aren't, always quick to welcome and engage people who are new or different than her.

"She's social in cases where I wish more kids would be like that. ... We had two students that came from Africa last year and she's inviting them to do things outside of school," St. Germain said. "There are kids in the building that I don't think said 'hello' to them because they don't know how to approach someone new that they don't know."

A commitment to always doing her best and being tenacious in pursuing what she wants, are things Mancini said really guide her, and are lessons she learned from her mother, who inspires her and taught her, "You have to tell the world how to treat you and work for what you want."

"That's kind of what I live by, I do it in the best way I can," Mancini said. "I'm not demanding of things, but if I want something, I'm going to work as hard as I can to get it."

Aside from hard work, Mancini also puts a high priority on equality and trying to really understand people instead of just judging them, a value she credits her parents for teaching her and her sister. She also knows firsthand how difficult it can be when people don't try to do that.

Being bullied was a large part of Mancini's high school experience, and was really challenging for her to work through. For a while she tried to just endure it, but it wasn't until she stood up for herself and just accepted the fallout, that she was really able to put it behind her.

In fact that part of the legacy she hopes she leaves at Wheeler, an example that people can get through the difficult times.

"I want to have people know they can make it out of whatever they're going through," Mancini said. "It sounds cliché, but if you do it the right way and you're willing to stand up for yourself, it's all you can really do."

c.clark@theday.com

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