NOVA Community Stories

Mackenzie Brown '02

Senior Educational Designer at Committee for Children, a global nonprofit that fosters the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development. Learn more about Committee for Children at

Tell us about your work.
I am in charge of supervising content writing for lessons. We are developing a product for "Out of School Time" where kids can develop their social-emotional skills outside of the structured classroom setting. Lessons are more likely to be centered around games, art projects, or mini-competitions, but still teaching kids key skills. Some of what we teach includes: Community Building; Executive Function; Growth Mindset; Goal Setting; Emotion Identification and Self-Regulation; Empathy, Kindness, and Relationships; and Problem Solving.  

What led you to pursue a career in social-emotional education?
It's so fascinating to me to consider how people develop emotional intelligence. I deeply believe in the importance of developing these skills. I taught K5 science for a few years, and saw how SEL skills really are the foundation for all learning (and general personal growth and ability to be happy!). In general, kids who can plan, have the ability to keep trying when things get hard, to regulate emotions and to build relationships, will have an easier time in all aspects of life. Also, I think there's generally an assumption that people are either born with SEL skills or not — I think it's profound (and an example of growth mindset) to consider that these are actually arenas that you can work on and develop.

Social-emotional education is what NOVA is all about! How was your NOVA experience?
Middle school was a tough and confusing time for me, like many people. My family was considering moving to Olympia from Seattle before my 8th grade year, and I had a chance to visit NOVA for a day as a 7th grader. I was blown away by the school — it was SO different from where I was coming from. I was immediately welcomed, the building felt more like a home than an institution, the teachers seemed cool and the classes were all so interesting. I begged my mom to move to Olympia, and sure enough, we did. As a new kid (at age 13, no less) I was blown away by how immediately welcomed I was. Within months, I had a whole new group of best friends, and a deep sense of belonging that is so crucial at that age. I was also academically pushed and challenged, and was engaged intellectually in a way I hadn't been for the previous two years. I felt respected, in a sense, when teachers encouraged me to read challenging books and trusted my ability to understand them.

What are some favorite memories of NOVA?
Breeding fruit flies in Mr. Welliver's science class. Reading a non-fiction book about the periodic table of elements and book clubbing it outside of formal class time. How being a nerd was cool! There were ten 8th grade girls in my class, and for every single one's birthday, all the other 8th grade girls were invited (truly remarkable). Going to "Nationals" with our award-winning Science Olympiad team. The incredibly close-knit community, teachers and students alike.  

Any advice for someone who is looking to pursue a career in your area?
It's REALLY useful to get some direct experience teaching before going into curriculum development. It gives you a much better sense of what kinds of issues students are facing, what they'll actually be interested in, and what's realistic.

Alumni Spotlight

Sarah Joy (Cundiff) White 2008

NOVA was really a key place for me at a pivotal time in life.

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Alumni Spotlight

Matthew Rosen 2012

NOVA taught me to think critically, to be curious, and to love learning.

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Alumni Spotlight

Laurel (Olfson-Manning) Schimelfenig 2007

NOVA was a safe place where I knew the staff, teachers, and fellow peers were there to support and guide me.

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