Shaina Mackin: Fulbright scholar returns to Seattle for Gates Foundation role

Shaina Mackin knew she wanted to change the world. She just wasn’t sure how.

Shaina, who graduated from SPU in 2015, wanted to make a global impact. So she took a gander at the political science major. Thanks to the mentorship and frequent kind nudges by Professor of Political Science Reed Davis, Shaina said she knew it was the answer.

Shaina Mackin poses in front of Seattle landmarks

“To me, political science, specifically the international affairs track, encompassed all of my interests,” Shaina says. “I knew that no matter what I did, ultimately I wanted to do work in a global context. By studying international affairs, I knew it would set me up in whatever niche I decided to pursue within that.”

The task to mentor her came easy to Davis, who calls Shaina a model student. “Shaina Mackin was a triple threat. She was wicked smart, focused, and above all else, hardworking,” Davis says.

Shaina soon found the niche she was looking for — global health. She credits the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Seattle-based organization she currently works at, for helping her find her passion.

The Gates Foundation, which is a 15-minute drive from SPU, focuses on global health, reducing poverty, and improving education in the U.S. and around the world. Shaina is the program assistant in the HIV division, the sector that works to expand treatment and improve intervention methods in populations at high risk of infection, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Last year, Shaina tried something new — become a Fulbright scholar.

The Fulbright Program is a federally-funded grant for students and recent graduates to conduct research or teach English in foreign country for one year.

In January 2017, Shaina began working at a rural secondary school in Malaysia, teaching students English, creating after-school programs and crafting weekend language-development activities for kids.

The year-long experience was instrumental for Shaina. As she returns to life in the U.S. and rejoins the Gates Foundation this year, she often reflects on her time in Malaysia.

“Living in a community in another country that operates so differently than the one that I grew up in made me realize that innovations in health science and technology … [must be] tailored for the needs for the people on the ground. The culture and the societal norms should be taken into account. That’s what determines if the innovations will be effective and successful.”

At the Gates Foundation, she’s seen how many fields are needed for global health work. Scientists improve diagnosis and develop vaccines. Social scientists work on prevention and treatment programs. In political science, people work with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and in the private sector to make sure local and global policy supports needs and programs.

“It doesn’t matter what discipline you pursue … The work that any field does can touch populations or individuals or societies that have needs … We need every sector.”

“It doesn’t matter what discipline you pursue … The work that any field does can touch populations or individuals or societies that have needs … We need every sector.”

Shaina is the first to admit that the fight to make the world a better place can be exhausting. What helps her is an attitude she’s learned at the Gates Foundation.

“We call ourselves impatient optimists. We want to demand change and success, but that doesn’t mean we are satisfied with how things are. We try to do that through [an] optimistic lens,” she says. “Yes, there’s a long way to go, but we are making steps toward that. That helps with perspective.”

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