Student Spotlight: Kevin Mackey
Meet Kevin, an International Relations Online student in Kenya who is passionate about humanitarian relief and believes communication is the key to leadership.
Current Location: Nairobi, Kenya
What is your field of study and what line of work are you in?
I am in the Executive Master of International Service (MIS) program with a concentration in International Development. I am the program development director for a humanitarian relief and development organization. I am currently living in Nairobi, Kenya, providing support to our program in Somalia.
Why did you choose International Relations Online?
I am a busy professional with a new family. I live abroad as well. I cannot afford to take time off from my career to undertake my master’s. International Relations Online provided me the flexibility I needed to continue doing my job, live abroad, and provide for my family.
How do you see yourself making a difference in the world?
I believe that my work has a very tangible impact on the world. From a humanitarian perspective, my work helps save lives and alleviate suffering. At the same time, I am working to promote longer-term development goals, such as improving access to health care and education. Finally, I am working to help shape norms, such as promoting the role of women as decision makers in their own destinies.
How is the School of International Service making a difference in your world?
I have been working in the humanitarian and development field for almost 14 years. I have accumulated a wealth of experience designing and implementing projects aimed at helping the world’s most vulnerable communities. I am now in my fourth semester of my master’s program. Over the past few semesters, I have acquired a whole new vocabulary and series of concepts to help me frame my experience. As I have moved into leadership roles within my organization, I am increasingly called upon to be a teacher/mentor to others. The terms and concepts that I have learned through this course have made me a better communicator and mentor to young managers.
What makes the School of International Service special?
I really enjoy the online platform. Living abroad, I feared being disconnected from the school experience. However, the online platform allows me to participate in real time in discussions and get to know my fellow students and faculty members. I feel much more connected to my classmates and American University in general.
What does the word “service” mean to you?
I think that much of my professional life has centered around service towards others. I have been both an AmeriCorps and Peace Corps volunteer. Following these experiences, I became a humanitarian aid worker. I believe that a life worth living is a life in service to others. I have dedicated my energy and intellect in pursuit of these ideals.
What world issue or current event is of interest to you?
I am interested in the causes of conflict. Moreover, I am interested in how to address chronic conflict. Having worked in two conflict-affected countries—Sri Lanka and Somalia—I am keen to find solutions to help these countries heal.
Who is your professional role model?
There are many passionate professionals who I have had the honor of serving with. If I were to name leaders who I admire, I would say individuals like Steve Jobs. I appreciate the fact that he battled back to take the leadership of Apple. Leaders who have suffered adversity and come back to fight another day make better leaders.
What is your favorite class?
I really enjoyed the Global Health Politics and Policy class I took a couple of semesters back. The program I manage has large-scale health programming. I have, over the years, developed and managed a number of different health projects in a conflict-affected development context. However, I did not understand fully why we prioritized some types of health interventions over others. The class provided me the history of the decisions that led to the programs that I am currently implementing.
How has the program helped you to achieve your career goals? What is your next step?
The program has equipped me with the concepts and vocabulary to help me be a better leader and mentor. As you move up in an organization, you do less of the day-to-day and begin to provide guidance and vision to teams. Having a firm understanding of the concept and the words to express those concepts makes one a better communicator. Leaders need to communicate effectively, and the MIS program has made me a better communicator.
About the Immersion
What was it like to finally connect with your classmates face to face?
It was a lot of fun. In the online MIS program, I am surrounded by my peers, people of the same level of experience as myself. It was great to share old war stories over a couple of drinks after class. We all have such a diversity of experience, and it is great to be able to share those lessons learned in formal and informal ways.
What was your site visit like?
I chose think tanks. It was interesting because I had no understanding of what think tanks were. I was sort of a tourist of another career path.
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