“Ebola Is Really Cool. Not To Get, but To Study.”

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By Sara Veltkamp, Account Manager, Minerva Strategies —


Malia Mackey is Minerva Strategies’ summer intern. She’s an Edmonds, WA native and is a senior at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She is in the College of Human Ecology majoring in human biology, health, and society with a minor in infectious disease. With that background, it should be obvious why she and the global health enthusiasts at Minerva hooked up for a summer fling.


Minerva: Your major and minor are focused on hardcore science. Why did you reach out to Minerva, a communications consultancy, for an internship? Why not one of Seattle’s many science or biotech labs?

Malia: Well, most people in my major are looking to go into medicine and become doctors. That’s not my goal. I want to focus my career on systemic change, research, and getting information out to the public. I want people to think about how they “do medicine,” and how we all think about health. Better communication skills will improve my ability to do this work. I also want to gain the confidence to work as a consultant. I want to learn what it takes to come in, learn, and give advice to people in a way that is helpful and effective. Plus, Minerva clients seemed like a great group of organizations to understand and get to know.


What needs to change first about the current system of public health in the US?

Number one is in the trenches of research. There isn’t enough funding for studies that can show us better, more innovative ways to care about our health and the health of all societies. Health needs to be one of our highest priorities and any approach we take must be strictly evidence-based – it’s too important to get wrong. Without the data from scientific research, we’re just guessing. Also, these conversations about personal and public health are too highly politicized – people are unhealthy, let’s help them. Stop getting so wrapped up in the politics.


waterfall in Ithaca
At the foot of said waterfall

You’ve described yourself as a West Coast girl. Why Cornell?

First, they have an excellent science program, and they have a gymnastics team that I wanted to be part of. I also wanted to see what the east side of the country is all about and get away from home for a while. Ithaca is beautiful. The saying around town is that “Ithaca is Gorges” because of all the glacially carved gorges in the area. I can be out my front door and at the foot of a waterfall in seven minutes.


But, being on the East Coast is the reason I can confidently say I’m a West Coast girl. I’m high-stress enough as a person, I need to be in a lower-key environment. I look forward to returning to the Pacific Northwest after I graduate next year.



I’ve heard that gymnastics is a time-consuming and demanding sport. Talk to me about your daily routine. How do you balance school and sports?

I need to sleep; let’s start there because it’s the most important part of the day. I’ve figured out that I need seven-and-a-half hours. Too much sleep leads to grogginess, too little and I don’t function well.


I wake up around 7:30 am and do some homework, then write out our team’s conditioning list – or workout – for the afternoon’s practice. I’m now a captain of the team, so it’s one of my responsibilities. Then I head to my first class at 10 am, which is, unfortunately, organic chemistry. After that, at least this past semester, I was a TA for anatomy and loved it.


After that, I head up to the vet school to work on my research project in an infectious disease lab. I work with Ebola because infectious diseases are really cool. Not to get, but to study. My job while there is to create the pseudo-virus or a version that mimics the surface layer of Ebola, but isn’t dangerous for people. This pseudo-virus is used to conduct experiments and determine how it infects human cells under different conditions.


Then I book it back to campus to tape up my ankles and practice from 3:30-6:30 pm. What’s interesting about gymnastics is that it’s probably one of the only sports where the college-level teams are less physically demanding than the high school teams. This doesn’t mean practice and conditioning is easy, but it’s less work than we were used to in high school.


Following practice, I work at the gym for a few hours as part of my work-study program. I can do homework while working because I’m checking out gear to gym-users. Around 11 pm, I head home to my off-campus apartment to hang out with my roommates for a bit before bed.


What’s something you’ve had to give up in order to participate in gymnastics?

Soft, lady-like hands and time. And time often means sleep. But gymnastics has also given me the ability to use time more effectively. I have to, as my dad says, “just suck it up.” If something has to be done, I figure out how to do it in the time I have. I’m too much of a perfectionist not to get things done. It’s also what helped me learn the importance of sleep. Gymnastics is challenging, and I can tell if my body is lacking what it needs to feel good because the sport requires you to be so in tune with your body.



What does your dream job look like?

I want to be a teacher at the college level. However, I know there are probably a lot of jobs between now and then. I’ve had a lot of great professors in subjects like public health and microbiology and I want to walk in their footsteps to help the students that come after me – hopefully in a more well-funded research environment.



parentsYour parents have had a lot of influence on you. What’s one thing your they taught you that has made a difference in your life?

My dad is a Judo coach and he drove home the importance of a strong work ethic by daily encouragement and leading by example.


My mom taught me a different, but equally valuable lesson: “You are not better than anyone else, ever.” She walked the walk by treating customer service agents, janitors, cashiers at the grocery store, and people that many others ignore the same as her bosses, colleagues, friends, and family. To this day, the janitor at her school is one of her closest friends. She was also very explicit in teaching this to my sister and me. Any time we did or said anything that even hinted at us feeling superior, she was quick to put us in our place.



When you have time – which it sounds like not often – what do you do for fun?

Like a proper PNW girl, I like to hike. I love to eat, but I’m not much of a cook. I also crochet and read. Right now, I’m catching up with pop culture and finally reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My favorite book is probably Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. It’s such a dark and symbolic story.


Any guilty pleasures?

Phone Swap on the stories page of Snap Chat. Two people go on a blind date and swap phones as a way of getting to know each other. I can’t stop myself from watching all of them.


What’s one thing about you that surprises people?

I’ve spent a lot of time in prison. I am a TA for classes at Auburn Correctional Facility near Ithaca. We teach a variety of classes – world literature, film and lit, bio and genetics – to students who are working to complete an associate degree through the Cornell Prison education program.


That concludes our polite grilling of Malia. Please feel free to stop by and meet Malia at our offices at 1809 7th Ave, Ste 1000, Monday through Friday. In case you missed meeting last year’s summer intern, Kendall Matt, you can check out her interview on The Goddess Speaks. If you’re interested in being an intern goddess, please reach out to us at info[at]minervastrategies[dot]com.

About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.