NDISC Alumna Spotlight: Mackenzie Nolan

Author: Notre Dame International Security Center

For us at the Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC), the success of our students both as college students and as alumni of the University is a personal matter. We treasure the relationships we, as a Center, build with our students throughout their academic journeys. In this blog, we’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to Mackenzie Nolan and discuss her experiences in our program and in the professional world. 


First, where are you from and why did you go to Notre Dame?  

I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago. When I was applying to different colleges, I watched my brother go to Notre Dame.  In the months leading up to my application, I experienced a football Saturday, walked around campus, and met many of his friends. This early insight into campus life, coupled with the university’s academic rigor, pushed Notre Dame to the top of the list. 


When and why did you decide International Relations was the field you wanted to go into?  

My fascination with foreign affairs began at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C., during my junior year of high school. Through case studies, simulations, and discussions, I became immersed in the complexities of political challenges – from drafting memos on the landmark DC v. Heller Supreme Court case to debating the ethics of drone warfare in Yemen, the group addressed real-world questions. At the end of the semester, presenting our work at the Pentagon convinced me that I wanted to study political science. 


How did you discover NDISC and why did you decide to earn the Certificate?  

As part of the Kellogg Institute’s International Scholars Program, I was a research assistant to Professor Michael Desch. Through this work, I got to know Professor Desch and his research. I decided to apply to the NDISC Certificate Program and am thankful I did. 


Which class resonated with you most? 

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During my senior year, I took Professor Joseph Parent’s Strategy class, which analyzed the development of strategies—specifically in the context of war and peace. We took turns deliberating about the effectiveness of political leaders’ strategy while also sharpening our own ability to advance an argument. That class continues to have an influence on my personal and professional thinking even years later. 


You worked with Director Desch on one of his books. Please tell us about that.  

Through supporting Professor Desch’s book "Cult of the Irrelevant," I learned the importance of developing a detailed understanding of the existing political science literature and addressing a relevant question that other scholars have not yet fully answered. Through this process, I was struck by the breadth of Professor Desch’s sources. 


You were also VP of the Notre Dame Chapter of WIIS. How did that experience shape your view of IR scholarship?  

Through my academic studies and professional experiences, I learned about the gender gap in the field of international security. I joined the Women In International Security (WIIS) club, which aimed to advance the leadership of women in the field of international peace and security. During my senior year, we invited Rose Gottemoeller, the first female Deputy Secretary General of NATO, to speak at Notre Dame. She shared her perspective about often being the only woman at the table. Secretary Gottemoeller stressed the importance of not letting that fact deter her from pushing her agenda forward. This experience piqued my interest in addressing systemic gender inequities and reinforced the importance of ensuring a diversity of perspectives—both in and out of the classroom. 


You're now a Senior Business Analyst at McKinsey. How do you apply your NDISC education to your role?  

My NDISC education equipped me with the skills necessary to tackle tough problems. At McKinsey, I have had the opportunity to serve clients in the public and social sector—from city governments to universities to nonprofits. While serving these clients, I have leveraged the skills attained at Notre Dame to clearly articulate problems, analyze large data sets, and propose recommendations.  


What would you tell someone who is considering the NDISC program but isn't sure if it's the right fit?  

One of the advantages of the NDISC Certificate Program is that it provides flexibility in the courses and experiences and allows you to participate more deeply in areas that excite you. Honing your interests this way sharpens your perspective as you consider your thesis and post-graduate opportunities. The skills I attained through NDISC have been applicable beyond the field of international relations. Moreover, the relationships forged with other students and professors have continued outside the classroom and have been invaluable to my career development. 


We are incredibly proud of Mackenzie and the work she did while she was a part of the program and the skills she’s taken into the professional world. If you are interested in joining NDISC, contact us today!