THE PATH FORGER
M.D./Ph.D. student, West Virginia University
SUPERPOWER: BEING A VOICE FOR OTHERS SO THEY DON’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH WHAT SHE WENT THROUGH
MacKinzie Smith went into the foster care system with her five siblings when she was 13. Bouncing between homes until she aged out of foster care at 18 gave her little consistency in her life. “School was the only constant thing. Rules at school were the same, so I clung onto that.”
But growing up without permanence in her home life did not take away from Smith’s persistence and success. As she pursued higher education, people told her how impressed they were with her achievements—not on their merits alone, but “given her background.” “Hearing that was heartbreaking,” she says, emphasizing the damaging nature of a mindset that expects less of those who come up through the foster system. She attended Davis and Elkins College for her undergraduate years, where she studied biology, chemistry, music, and philosophy. Halfway through college, Smith decided she wanted to pursue medical school and research childhood trauma. “I want to help make foster care not be a death sentence like it usually is.”
Smith is now in an eight-year postgraduate program at West Virginia University, with five years left. She works in a behavioral neuroscience laboratory studying the brain changes that can be caused by adverse childhood experiences, seeks to identify factors that may prevent negative consequences, and looks for ways to help people rebound from negative consequences.
Noticing a lack of diversity in her field, the barriers to getting underrepresented groups into higher education, medicine, and research become more and more apparent to Smith, inspiring her to make change. She aims to continue researching childhood trauma and to go into pediatrics one day. She also hopes to work with WVU to open up more postgraduate resources for people from foster youth backgrounds.
Written by Elizabeth Howard
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