Latino studies minor MacKenzie Isaac ’20 named 2022 Rhodes Scholar

Author: Erin Blasko

Mackenzie Isaac
MacKenzie Isaac ’20

Notre Dame alumna MacKenzie Isaac will study at the University of Oxford in England next year as a member of the U.S. Rhodes Scholar Class of 2022. She is one of 32 Rhodes Scholars selected from a pool of 826 candidates this year, and is Notre Dame’s 21st Rhodes Scholar overall and fourth in the past five years.


Isaac worked closely with the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) to apply for the award. CUSE promotes the intellectual development of Notre Dame students through scholarly engagement, research, creative endeavors and the pursuit of fellowships.

“Notre Dame could not be prouder of MacKenzie because she was selected not for scholarly achievement alone, but — in the words of the Rhodes Trust — for ‘character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead,’” said Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “On behalf of the entire University community, I offer sincere congratulations to MacKenzie, to her family, and to the faculty and staff who provided invaluable support and encouragement, especially those in the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement.”

Jeffrey Thibert, the Paul and Maureen Stefanick Director of CUSE, said, “On behalf of CUSE, I would like to congratulate MacKenzie for being selected to join the U.S. Rhodes Scholar Class of 2022. It has truly been an honor to advise her throughout the extensive discernment, endorsement, application and interview process involved in being considered for the Rhodes Scholarship. It has also been humbling, as I have seen how much good she has already added to the world; studying at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar will multiply this positive impact.”

“Notre Dame could not be prouder of MacKenzie because she was selected not for scholarly achievement alone, but — in the words of the Rhodes Trust — for ‘character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead.’”

He continued, “I would like to thank the many administrators, faculty, staff and alumni who generously made the time to help prepare MacKenzie and all of our finalists for their interviews. And I would like to express my admiration for this year’s applicants for the Rhodes, Marshall and Mitchell scholarships, all of whom had the courage to engage in the intensive and introspective application process. I hope that we lived up to CUSE’s ideal of ensuring that all applicants gain value from the application process commensurate with the work that they are willing to put in, regardless of the ultimate outcome.”

Isaac, of Indianapolis, graduated from Notre Dame in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. She minored in data science and Latino studies. She was a Kellogg International Scholar, a Building Bridges mentee and a nominee for the Truman Scholarship. Isaac wrote a senior thesis on the practice of skin bleaching in the Caribbean diaspora and shed light on how community health programs can address the dangerous practice in culturally competent and empathetic ways.

Mackenzie Isaac Research
Isaac presenting research she conducted through a Harvard School of Public Health summer research program called Fostering Advancement & Careers through Enrichment Training in Science (FACETS).

Isaac is the 16th Arts & Letters student to be named a Rhodes Scholar, and the fifth since 2015.

She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in health education from Columbia University Teachers College in New York. She was a Rhodes finalist last year as well. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

As a student and scholar, and as a Black woman, Isaac is interested in health equity. Particularly, she is interested in factors such as racism and discrimination that contribute to chronic disease in communities of color, and in promoting holistic well-being for people of color through the creation, delivery, and evaluation of health education curricula that take into account the importance of cultural competency and social justice.

As a Kellogg Scholar, Isaac documented the evolution of outmigration and political response to natural disasters in Haiti with Karen Richman, professor of the practice and director of undergraduate studies at the Institute for Latino Studies. She also served as a research assistant to Kim Rollings, former assistant professor of architecture, with the Architecture, Health and Sustainability Research Group in the School of Architecture, a research assistant and assistant community liaison with the Diabetes Impact Project-Indianapolis Neighborhoods (DIP-IN) at the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health, and as a student research fellow with the FACETS program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Mackenzie Isaac Dolores Huerta
Isaac meeting social activist Dolores Huerta during her 2018 visit to Notre Dame, hosted by the Institute for Latino Studies.

Active in service and leadership, Isaac served as director of diversity and inclusion for Notre Dame Student Government and a senior multicultural fellow with Lyons Hall Council. She was a seminar co-leader with the Center for Social Concerns, a member and secretary of the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir, a peer advocate and undergraduate programming assistant with the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being and student coordinator of Africana ministry with Notre Dame Campus Ministry.

As part of her work with student government, Isaac was the sole student on the organizing committee for Walk the Walk Week and lead organizer of Race Relations Week, and she successfully brought disability advocacy under the purview of the Department of Diversity and Inclusion. She launched a discussion series on identity and mental health stigmas as an extension of her peer advocacy with the McDonald Center. Additionally, she was an executive board member with the Notre Dame Diversity Council, was a member of the vice president for student affairs’ advisory committee on student climate related to race and ethnicity, and played an instrumental role in broaching topics of cultural competency, sensitivity and equity within the Moreau Student Advisory Council.

Through her close partnership with Multicultural Student Programs and Services, Isaac contributed to the development of miNDful, a series of cultural competency-oriented workshops specially designed for residence halls and other residential, spiritual and academic communities on campus.

In addition to her studies at Columbia, Isaac currently oversees projects at the intersection of urban planning, community organization and health promotion at Health by Design, where she previously served as an apprentice. She also serves as director of volunteer engagement with Omena Madagascar, where she assists with the creation of an emotional abuse prevention curriculum for the organization’s global network of youth and young adult peer educators; as a Northeast Neighborhood steering committee member with DIP-IN; and as a program instructor and outreach ambassador for the Center for Leadership Development in Indianapolis. 

As a Rhodes Scholar, Isaac plans to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in population health. Long term, she hopes to work in the area of community health education, advocating for programs and curricula that thoughtfully capture community narratives and resolutely push marginalized narratives toward the center of focus, with the ultimate goal of health care justice.

“I would like to thank Dr. Thibert, Elise Rudt and my recommenders for all they have poured into me throughout my scholarship and fellowship application process,” Isaac said. “I would not have this opportunity without them and the numerous others who comprise my not-so-small village. I recognize and embrace the fact that I stand on the shoulders of so many, including and especially the wise and driven leaders in my hometown community. They saw — and continue to draw out — assets in me that I don’t always see in myself, and have offered continuous guidance as I explore how to put these assets to best use in service to the world. I am so excited to see how my experience as a Rhodes Scholar contributes to this ongoing journey of exploration.”

“I recognize and embrace the fact that I stand on the shoulders of so many, including and especially the wise and driven leaders in my hometown community. They saw — and continue to draw out — assets in me that I don’t always see in myself, and have offered continuous guidance as I explore how to put these assets to best use in service to the world.”

William Carbonaro, professor and chair in the Department of Sociology at Notre Dame, taught Isaac in two of his courses: Linear Regression, a graduate-level statistics course, and Inner City America.

Mackenzie Isaac Doan Scholars
Isaac (far right) at her 2018 induction into the Doan Scholars, a program for Arts & Letters students who have demonstrated academic success, provided substantial service to the University or surrounding community, and show promise as African American scholars and leaders.

“MacKenzie is one of the best undergraduate students that I have taught in my 20 years at Notre Dame,” Carbonaro said. “She is very mature, both intellectually and as a person. In her writing and comments in class, it was clear that she had both a cognitive and moral empathy. In other words, she is very good at thinking about the perspective of others in order to understand the world, and also how to respond to others in a humane and equitable way. I will also say that MacKenzie is eager to learn about the world around her. She has a great deal of humility, and that serves her well as a student and a person. She is the type of student who is a joy to work with, and who gives me hope for the future.”

Named for English businessman and politician Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest international fellowships in the world, recognizing American students from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories, for their scholarly achievements, character, commitment to others and to the common good and potential for leadership.

Notre Dame seniors Patrick Aimone, Jack Boland, Devin Diggs and Greg Miller were also selected as finalists for the Class of 2022.

Originally published at news.nd.edu.

Originally published by Erin Blasko at news.nd.edu on November 21, 2021.