A Morehead-Cain Scholar, Carolina Honors laureate and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sarah Mackenzie graduated from Carolina in 2020 with degrees in public policy and global studies and a minor in Arabic from the College of Arts & Sciences. She was an active member of Campus Y’s Criminal Justice Awareness Action Group and the Community Empowerment Fund. Mackenzie also served as an honor court member and teaching assistant in the global studies department. She was one of 11 Canadians selected for the honor on Nov. 23.
Carolina was the only university in the United States that Mackenzie applied to.
“I got to go visit Carolina as a Morehead-Cain finalist, and it was such a warm, beautiful, exciting space to be in,” said Mackenzie, who grew up in Calgary, Alberta. “When I was lucky enough to be offered the scholarship, I knew it would be an opportunity that I wouldn’t have at any other point in my life — to move to the South, go to a really amazing flagship public school and try something different with a unique program like Morehead-Cain.”
As a Tar Heel, Mackenzie pursued academic disciplines that allowed her to examine and work on issues relating to social justice, poverty alleviation and human rights — advocacy passions developed as a student at the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy.
After taking courses in economics and peace, war and defense at Carolina, Mackenzie landed on public policy as the major to prepare her to take on many of the world’s challenges.
“That felt like I was getting a lot of really important concrete research and analytical skills. At the same time, the work was grounded in real-world policy problems, and those were the things I cared about,” she said. “It just clicked that public policy felt like the happy medium between all the different things I cared about, and I just threw myself into public policy my junior spring and took exclusively public policy classes.”
When she wasn’t learning formally in the classroom, she was experiencing the real-world implications of public policy as a volunteer in the community. For all four years at Carolina, Mackenzie volunteered with the Community Empowerment Fund, a nonprofit in Chapel Hill working to end the racial wealth gap by helping community members transition out of homelessness and poverty. Mackenzie worked directly with community members to provide support and assisted in case management for fellow student advocates.
That experience, paired with internships in South Africa, New York and Washington, D.C., fueled her public policy interest.
“I felt personally invested in and put faces to the problems that I was reading about or studying. Too often in public policy, there’s a lack of awareness and concern for those most affected,” Mackenzie said. “Having the conversations and the work experience with people who were affected by the policies that I was interested in and studying felt important and very formative.”
Since graduating in May, Mackenzie has worked as a Thomas W. Ross North Carolina Leadership Fellow in Carolina’s public policy department and is currently a client advocate for the Center for Appellate Litigation in New York City. She has long-term plans of becoming a public defender.
Her stop at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, she said, will prepare her to be a better lawyer.
“Going to law school is obtaining a tool to be able to enact change if you want to do that, but you can’t use that tool without understanding the interaction between law and society — in particular law and marginalized people,” she said. “In order to use law effectively, you need to be able to evaluate and understand that.”
As a Rhodes Scholar, she plans to study social policy and interventions but is most looking forward to the community of scholars that she would be joining.
“The reason I’m so drawn to the Rhodes is because it’s a community of people who are dedicated to the same types of questions I’m asking myself and that I’ve encountered over my time at Carolina, but approached from different disciplines and different life experiences,” she said. “I think the opportunity to see beyond my own discipline in public policy and have really rich intellectual collaborations with other scholars is really exciting.”
Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said of Sarah’s excellence, “This incredible achievement is a testament to… Sarah’s hard work and dedication at Carolina. The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the highest honors bestowed upon our students, and I congratulate [her] on this opportunity to pursue [her] dreams at Oxford.”