AMSA’s new leader has a deep passion for lifelong learning


Steven Smyth

Dr. Mary Ann DeMello has served as AMSA’s interim executive director since August.

Picture this: A student walks in to talk to Dr. Mary Ann DeMello and their first encounter consists of a lesson on how to give a proper handshake. In the course of an elaborate demonstration, it is evident that strong character and manners are of great importance to AMSA’s interim Executive Director.

Dr. DeMello understands the significance of a gesture that demonstrates confidence. She is a woman and the leader of the AMSA community, moving in circles traditionally dominated by men, and her emphasis on presentation illustrates her belief that certain gestures reflect one’s character.

She explained that a good handshake is a sign of confidence and respect, a vital point for a job interview.

“I feel that we should be teaching you every skill we can,” Dr. DeMello said.

There is no doubt that Dr. DeMello’s desire to build character is connected to her exploration of various cultures, her love of science, and her ongoing research endeavors.

In January of 2003, Dr. DeMello embarked on a trip that very few people make, traveling to Antarctica for six weeks with a team of fellow graduate students from the University of Maine at Orano. They were joined by a team from New Zealand from the University of Waikato.

Dr. DeMello and her teammates collected sediment samples from the bottoms of lakes to study the history of previous water levels and to find evidence of different striations and living organisms.

This research would provide valuable insight into an idea with huge implications: Whether global climate change is occurring in the northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously.

Dr. DeMello’s experience living in tents in the dry valleys of Antarctica was extremely memorable for her because it fueled her passion for learning.

It is symbolic of her life and career as a whole.

Always try to be understanding of people because you can’t always walk in their shoes.

— Dr. Mary Ann DeMello

When she is not pursuing extracurricular interests, her day is spent balancing two jobs at once—the one she was hired for, interim Executive Director as the replacement for John Brucato, and a secondary role as acting Principal that she has adopted until a replacement is found for Jay Sweeney, who resigned the position in June.

Before she came to AMSA, Dr. DeMello taught at a school in Rockland, in Plymouth County, where she was a teacher and, in 1996, curriculum coordinator.

When asked why she moved from the classroom to administration, Dr. DeMello said that she wanted the “opportunity to impact the students and the school in a different way.”

It is evident that Dr. DeMello has much experience in the world of academia, yet her role at AMSA is unlike any other she has encountered before.

“I think that once there is a [permanent] Principal in place it will help a lot,” she said.

Dr. DeMello, who is vying to become AMSA’s permanent Executive Director, believes that this will enable her to interact with the school community more directly. She will have the time to visit classrooms and talk with students in the halls.

For the time being, Dr. DeMello’s career is a juggling act. She must balance her time in order to be an effective Principal and Executive Director.

“There are not enough hours in the day to get through the things I need to do,” she said.

But here is where the plot thickens: While Dr. DeMello is an authoritative and confident administrator, she is actually a student at heart. Although she is an educator, she is truly infatuated with learning.

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh I don’t know what I’m going to do when I retire,’ and I’m like, ‘I love learning. I want to keep learning,’” she said.

Dr. DeMello continued: “I like learning about people and places. It changes me personally. I also like learning about myself as well as learning about others.”

Dr. DeMello’s educational philosophy showcases her open-minded and compassionate nature.

“Always try to be understanding of people because you can’t always walk in their shoes,” she said. “Because you can’t walk in their shoes in some instances, your level of understanding will always have a bit of a roadblock in it.”

In order to minimize educational roadblocks and promote cultural and scientific awareness, Dr. DeMello hopes that the future of AMSA will consist of a surplus of technology. She hopes that students will be able to utilize all forms of technology to heighten their educational experience, giving them more access to the world, and various resources to collaborate with others.

Dr. DeMello’s vision is for the school to “shine compared to other places,” and she looks forward to implementing her passion for education into all that she does.

For a person willing to brave the wilds of Antarctica to seek knowledge, that passion is deep indeed.

Co-Editor Alli Caulfield contributed to this story.