Claire Halffield & Mackenzie Fusco
This edition of Behind the Key features two members who have spent the summer as part of the ΦΒΚ National Office team – Claire Halffield, ΦΒΚ Communications Assistant, who graduated from DePauw University this past spring, and Mackenzie Fusco, ΦΒΚ Arts & Sciences Initiative Assistant, who is currently a rising senior at The George Washington University.
Claire was student body president at DePauw and interned for It’s On Us, a campaign to end sexual assault on campuses across the country. As a Communications major, she wrote her senior honors thesis about the prevalence of sexual assault in teen comedy film. A self-described “extreme extrovert,” she loves interacting with people and in her free time, doing yoga and reading books.
Mackenzie is a senior this fall, studying Anthropology and Cross Cultural Communication at GW. She has interned at the Brookings Center for Universal Education and the DC State Board of Education. She has also visited Taiwan during the past two summers and become active with a Taiwanese organization that facilitates English language camps. In her free time, she enjoys reading and attending events across DC.
Tell us a bit about what you do at Phi Beta Kappa.
Claire: I have been working with the Chapter & Association Relations Team to help plan and execute our Key Connections events, which are focused on engaging young professionals across the country this fall. Looking down the road to what’s next for those members, I drafted a strategic plan to help ΦΒΚ cultivate young leaders and keep them engaged as volunteers.
Mackenzie: ΦΒΚ’s advocacy campaign to protect the National Endowment for the Humanities in the upcoming federal budget was a major focus for me this summer. Working with the ΦΒΚ National Arts & Sciences Initiative, I analyzed our engagement data and designed a pilot project to connect younger members with opportunities to advocate on behalf of the liberal arts and sciences in higher education.
Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and an arts & sciences education are important in today’s society?
Claire: ΦΒΚ’s values are extremely important in today’s society; having gone to a liberal arts institution makes me an extremely well-rounded job applicant who is able to easily adapt and learn whatever skills are needed to be successful in a career, rather than just having the hard skills.
Mackenzie: I agree. My background in anthropology has taught me skills in critical thinking and how to be an effective writer and reader. My classes have forced me to learn how to ask big questions and formulate new ideas. This ability to articulate complex ideas and translate them into something that is easy to understand is a skill that you can transfer to any workplace.
Both of your college experiences have been different, one at a large urban university and one at a smaller liberal arts college. How has your school shaped your understanding of the value of liberal arts and sciences and your connection with Phi Beta Kappa?
Claire: My university is a small liberal arts university, so you have to have that breadth and depth of knowledge. In that way, our campus takes a holistic approach to education and values experience outside the classroom, almost to the same level they value in classroom experiences. This approach makes DePauw graduates incredibly well rounded and able to navigate difficult circumstances.
Mackenzie: GW is a much bigger institution and it’s not specifically focused on the liberal arts. But, it’s a heavily research-oriented institution so professors and students are always doing really interesting work related to the liberal arts and sciences. GW is also consistently among the most politically active campuses in the country so the ΦΒΚ values of freedom of expression and inquiry are very present on our campus.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
Claire: As student body president, I was told by many of my predecessors that even if I stayed up every single night during my presidency, I still wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything I wanted to. So, I try to remember that it’s important to take care of myself, take breaks, and know that self-care is just as important as focusing in and getting work done when I want to be truly effective.
Mackenzie: The best advice that I ever got was actually from my second grade teacher. When I was eight years old, she told my mom she was worried that when I got older, I would be very frustrated when I wasn’t the best at everything, or couldn’t figure something out. I’ve remembered that comment since then, and it’s helped me learn to take a step back and accept when I don’t understand things. It’s made me willing to ask questions and try to learn from the people who do know more than I do.
Thinking about your next steps, how do you plan to frame your arts & sciences education (and membership) to employers?
Mackenzie: I’m often asked how my degree is relevant to working in education, and I usually explain how my liberal arts background provides the lens through which I see my work. The skills that I have learned through my coursework provide the framework for how I formulate ideas and ask questions. It has allowed me to think analytically and critically, which is an important skill in any position.
Claire: It’s really important to remind potential employers that being a liberal arts student makes me adaptable to circumstances, a quick learner, a good communicator, and overall a well-rounded individual. Right now I’m looking for a full time job for the next few years, hopefully in the nonprofit advocacy world in DC, but I’m also studying for my LSAT and expect to go to grad school and earn my JD/MBA.
What advice do you have for others?
Claire & Mackenzie: I think we’d both say that it’s important to be confident in what you have to offer to a company or an employer, and to not let anyone discredit your liberal arts education. Your experience gives you a unique set of skills and perspectives that only you can contribute, and it prepares you to take on any challenges that come your way.