The chemistry of leadership

“Mount Holyoke has challenged me to think about leadership and this all-encompassing thought of how to be a leader with others from so many different backgrounds and levels of leadership knowledge.”

If you were to need an example of the liberal arts at work, Mackenzie Windus ’24 is a strong candidate as proof of its benefits. There isn’t much on campus that she hasn’t tried at least once. From playing in the symphony orchestra to rowing on the crew team to serving as a Residential Fellow, Windus has made the most of her four years at Mount Holyoke.

Windus wasn’t sure what she wanted when she joined the community in the fall of 2020. She started her Mount Holyoke experience online with her classmates, which initially made forming bonds difficult.

“Do I fit in here?” Windus caught herself asking that question quite a bit during the fall 2022 semester. The virtual connections created surface-level get-to-know-you moments, but the transition to in-person interactions made cultivating more profound connections initially more challenging.

However, she persevered. Hailing from a small-town environment in western New York in the shadow of Buffalo and Lake Erie, she followed the guide of her elder sister, a Mount Holyoke graduate. She was inspired by the growth she saw in her sibling during her time in South Hadley and knew she would feel the same with time.

Joining the rowing team as a walk-on was the first step in acclimating to her new journey. Despite a lack of experience in the sport, she immersed herself in the team and recalls the moment that confirmed her decision to be at Mount Holyoke. Consistently attending the early-morning practices had been demanding for Windus during her first year. Yet when she received a paper plate award — a team tradition — in the mail from then-junior Katherine Dailey ’22, Windus knew she had found a home.

“It was amazing to know that I had a team of people there for me to lean on when I came to campus in the fall,” she said.

With foundational support secured, everything else began to fall into place for her.

One of the main reasons she was drawn to Mount Holyoke, other than familial ties, was the opportunities to try different things. A self-described people person, Windus had her eyes beyond just her studies as a chemistry major and her newfound interest in rowing. She realized how much she missed being involved in music after being heavily involved in high school. Her hesitancy to follow directly in her sister’s shoes at the outset waned once she realized she could still forge her own path by taking on leadership roles in performance groups such as the Glee Club and the Chamber Singers.

Her schedule was filling up entering the spring semester of her second year, but Windus had a yearning to add one more thing to her plate: serving others. Before the end of the fall semester, Jenna Caputo ’14, an area coordinator in residential life at the time, pulled her aside to encourage her to give being a Resident Assistant a try. Windus had been looking for a chance to put the leadership skills she had been learning into practice and jumped at the opportunity.

Residence life was a natural fit for Windus, who fed off the energy from the daily interactions with her residents, even during challenging situations. A trial run during that semester led to a longer tenure in the residential life programming that ultimately ended up with Windus serving as an RF, a perfect role to flex her growing confidence and leadership chops.

“Mount Holyoke has challenged me to think about leadership and this all-encompassing thought of how to be a leader with others from so many different backgrounds and levels of leadership knowledge,” said Windus. “Within all of my leadership experiences, including co-captain of the crew team and as an RF, I’ve been able to keep the focus on learning and growing together as a team.”

Windus specifically credits Caputo with changing the trajectory of her four-year journey by pushing her outside her comfort zone.

“She really made me feel like I was capable of something,” she said. “Sometimes you have the most capable person sitting right in front of you, and the only thing keeping them from realizing that is the fear of not being good enough. Watching her reaffirm people’s thoughts and confidence in themselves is something I will definitely be taking away from my time at Mount Holyoke.”

Windus has recently committed to pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. With the goal to remain involved with residential life, she hopes to apply the lessons learned at Mount Holyoke to the next stage of her academic journey.

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Christian Feuerstein
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