Humans of NAU: McKenzie McLoughlin

McKenzie McLoughlin in her office holding a book with other books on the desk.

When McKenzie McLoughlin became vice president-elect of NAU’s Staff Advisory Council in 2022, her plan was to lay low, work behind the scenes and learn what she needed to when she took on the presidency. That worked—for about a week, when she was voluntold to speak at the May 2022 commencement. That’s four ceremonies over two days, speaking to thousands of students, parents and alumni, with about three days’ notice. McLoughlin, now in University Marketing but also a public speaking teacher, stepped to the dais and offered her advice. Now the SAC president, she has great advice about how to get involved at NAU, how to learn geography from a talking globe and how to accept the similarities and differences of all people in the world. But maybe don’t take her advice on what to do when an earthquake strikes while you’re fast asleep in a hotel in Peru. 😃

What brought you to NAU?

Growing up in Tucson, Flagstaff was the place we’d visit in the winter. It’s where I learned how to make snow angels, ski and hear all about the stories of my mom’s time being a Lumberjack in the ‘80s. Through dreams of going to college on a beach and reality checks of said beach colleges, NAU was always there. I went on my Daily Campus Visit and felt at home. I studied strategic communications and Spanish, I studied abroad (twice!), participated in Model UN, worked on campus and built a community I wasn’t expecting, but in the best way possible.

When I graduated, I started a job working for University Admissions, found my way over to NAU Communications, where I contributed to NAU Social and The NAU Review (how meta!), started teaching classes in the School of Communication as an adjunct instructor and now work in University Marketing.

So, the question is really, how did I come to stay at NAU? The simple answer is that I love the people who work here, the students we serve, the mission we have and the physical location we get to do it all in!

How did you get involved in SAC?Twenty people, including one man, stand in front of a sign that says "we appreciate you, NAU staff members!"

One of the past presidents encouraged me to get involved when it was still the Service Professional Advisory Council as a way to get involved with folks across campus. Within the year, the merger between SPAC and the Classified Staff Advisory Council happened, and I was happy to continue serving with an even greater collaboration across the university. The continued evolution of the council gets me really excited to be a part of the group, with an opportunity to make connections for our staff to bring them deeper into their work and the culture at NAU.

Two monkeys sit on top of a bus in front of trees in India.What’s your favorite travel destination?

This is like picking a favorite child and incredibly difficult. I’d like to refuse out of principle, but that wouldn’t be fun so I will give you a few:

  • Tamil Nadu, India, was a pretty special place. My mom and I visited one of her friends there, and we took golf lessons on a tea farm. I watched a monkey open the door to the house we were staying in and steal a pie from the counter. I was too in awe to make it stop.
  • Sleeping under the stars in the Saharan desert in Morocco. Our tour guide led the group in singing a popular J Balvin song, “Ginza,” using our gear as drums. That song is always perpetually stuck in my head because of that memory.
  • Visiting Peru, I had an eventful trip. We saw the Nazca lines—if you don’t believe in aliens now, wait till you see the lines—visited Machu Picchu and spent time in the Amazon rainforest learning all about the flora and fauna. But more than that, I was in a big earthquake! Growing up in Arizona, I am very unaccustomed to earthquakes, so it was quite the fright. I learned that I did not react appropriately leaving the 12th story of the building at 3 a.m. with no shoes, no glasses, no passports, no phone … just my water bottle.

Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today. Teenage McKenzie standing on a cruise ship with the ocean and Alaska in the background.

I was raised by two moms, who’ve been together for 26ish years. Between the summer of eighth grade and my freshman year of high school, they brought my brother and me on a cruise for kids with gay parents. It was incredible. Growing up, I felt like I had one of those cookie-cutter families, just made with different dough. But sometimes, the difference between my family and other families was all I could see, and I’d shy away from talking about my family for fear of not being accepted. I had never met anyone with gay parents until I went on this cruise.

With Alaskan glaciers as the backdrop, I met so many other kids my age who grew up with gay parents. Someone would walk up to me and the first thing they would say was “Two moms or two dads?” I had never felt more seen or understood until that trip. It helped me accept that the idea of normal was subjective, what it meant to be an ally and how to celebrate not just my own family’s differences, but the differences of others as well. I think it has helped me develop an open and curious mind when meeting new people and building space for folks to engage in their most authentic way.

McKenzie McLoughlin standing in front of Macchu PicchuWhat did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a navigator growing up. I have always loved things like maps and geography and why borders exist like they do. I had giant books of world maps and talking globes that quizzed me on country capitals. My mom still has that talking globe to pass onto her grandchildren someday.

What have you been most proud of recently?

  • My co-ed soccer team won our season’s championship!
  • Our Staff Advisory Council fall retreat was fruitful with great discussion and goals for this upcoming year.
  • Riding uphill on my mountain bike for more than 20 minutes…. it’s the little things.

What is your favorite way to spend a day off?  

Well, since it is summer, I love to wake up without an alarm, sit on my hammock with an iced coffee and call a long-distance friend. Then, I’d pack a little picnic, grab my stand-up paddle board and meet some friends on the water at Lake Mary or gather up some teammates for a pickup soccer game. I’d come home, get cleaned up and cook a yummy dinner on the grill before cuddling up with my dogs and husband while binging a new TV show.

What are three things on your bucket list?McKenzie with her two moms and her brother

  • I’d like to take a river trip through the Grand Canyon—I read “The Emerald Mile” this year, so of course it is on my bucket list to raft the mighty Colorado.
  • I’d love to play soccer recreationally through my 70s.
  • I’d like to eat at a Michelin star restaurant.

What do you want people to know about SAC?

A few things, but first, that our monthly meetings are open to ALL staff members at NAU and we have hybrid meetings so folks not on the Flagstaff campus can participate. Second, we are prioritizing service and community building and are standing up committees to support that work. Folks can serve on those committees without needing to be voting members of the council. Lastly, check out our newsletter! It is built by staff, for staff, to expand on resources and opportunities for employees at NAU.

Our first meeting is on Aug. 17 at 8:30 a.m.! Participate in person at the Grand Canyon Room in the University Union or via Zoom.


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