Meet alumna Mary Lou Viola

The UConn Women’s Rugby Club won the 1993 National Championship.

As a 1993 national championship UConn Women’s Rugby Club teammate and later the captain, alumna Mary Lou Viola knew the value of a try and a drop goal. She also experienced hard work when she and her fellow players swept up Gampel Pavilion after basketball games to raise travel money for rugby matches.

Today, this accomplished hospital program coordinator tries equally as hard in pursuing her professional and personal goals. Here is what she said in an interview.

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? I received a BS in nutritional sciences in 1993.

What class was most useful to you? The food sciences classes were unique and taught me the chemistry of food. Because I like templates and processes, I enjoyed learning why things happen the way they do.

In addition, the biostatistics class relates to my duties now with data extraction, accessing outcomes and analytics.

#1 Mary Lou Viola’s UConn rugby uniform

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. Rugby is one of my greatest experiences at UConn. I loved it. Even though I didn’t really know what rugby was, I was hooked instantly and gained a “family” when the team took me under its wing. I became the club’s captain in fall 1993. In this team sport with its comradery, I made strong friendships that continue to this day.

Please describe your current job. I am employed at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut as a program coordinator for weight loss surgery and hepatobiliary surgery. I work with doctors in each of these areas.

As part of my job, I maintain a national database that records outcomes of our surgeries and weight loss progress. I also look for trends, which will help us improve our performance. For the weight loss surgery, which is elective, it takes six to eight months to complete all pre-op clearances. So, I assist in moving patients through the process.

In addition, I do marketing to promote our program. I am also designated as a wellness champion. I promote better health by helping to organize walks, for example.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? No. I was a registered dietitian at Danbury before my promotion. And, it was a hard step to move from the one-on-one patient care I did as the major role of my job. I loved helping my patients.

Now, I have a more administrative role where I help at a different level. In the future, I hope to get an MBA with a healthcare focus to help build the programs that we have.

Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? Be open minded by looking for a non-traditional role in a traditional position. Try the role you might not be expecting. Be flexible, find a new path and try looking at the big picture.

For example, I did undergraduate research with Professor Polly Fritz. I had no idea that the experience would help me in the future. However, I am now doing research in my profession.

Viola with children
Mary Lou Viola with her children Ava (left) and Lenna (right)

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I like to have goals. The first adult goal that I accomplished was to earn a black belt in Muay Thai, one of the martial arts. My next goal is to run in the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon in November. I entered the drawing, but I didn’t expect it to happen. I made it! I will be running for the National Migraine Research Foundation charity.

With my charity work, I want to bring help to migraine sufferers, like my 11-year-old daughter Lenna, so that they can have a normal life without pain. I understand their struggle because I know the degree of pain from experience. There are some new developments in medicines that stop the migraine before it hits instead of just treating the pain.

Soon, I will participate, for the second time, in Miles for Migraine-Philadelphia with my extended family. We want to run, help someone and have fun with it at the same time. So, we wear shirts with mottos created by my daughter and compete on Team Live Love Lenna in honor of her. This year, we are wearing tutus and capes to keep it fun. But, I haven’t told the men in my family yet!

By Patsy Evans