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USU Leading Ladies: Mica McKinney

Who runs the world? Girls. Who runs Utah State University? Also girls.

USU is fortunate to operate under the leadership of countless incredible women. Whether they're students, teachers, employees or administration members, women at Utah State are doing amazing things every day that make the university better and encourage women to reach higher. The following profile is the sixth in a six-part series that will highlight a few of the women at USU who are taking charge and leading by example.
 

Mica McKinney

Mica McKinney is currently serving as the General Counsel for Utah State University. She grew up in Northern Utah County, in the Highland/Alpine area. She began college at the University of Utah, but transferred to Utah State after one year because she liked the college atmosphere in Logan. She graduated from USU with a double major in Political Science and Journalism. In her spare time, she loves to read and travel, and she also enjoys running and casual games of golf and tennis.

Mica did the following interview with us, giving us a closer look into her life, job, and views about women in the workplace.

CWG: What’s your favorite place to travel?
MM: I don’t think I could pick. I love every trip. The part I love about it is just getting to see such different cultures, and expanding your horizons about different approaches to life and how people approach life. I really like that.

I like seeing places that are kind of different from our Western approach, and perspective to life. I think you find you have lots of common ground, regardless of how diverse the culture may be. There’s lots of commonality, but at the same time, it is those differences that make life interesting and beautiful and so it’s cool to see that too.
 

CWG: What did your career path look like?
MM: I always wanted to be a press secretary. That was my goal. So I worked in jobs like that. I worked for the Lieutenant Governor as the Outreach person. I worked on a lot of voting issues and that was really fun. At that point, when I was there, the Help America Vote Act had just been passed, so we were rolling out kind of a new approach to voting. That’s when electronic voting was coming online and there were lots of concerns about that, so that was a really interesting job, working with a lot of constituency groups, and trying to develop some comfort levels with what we were doing. While I was working in that though, that was a political position, and I quickly came to realize I didn’t like my job being political. I didn’t like the idea that it could change every four years depending on who was elected, because I was much more interested in the communications and the legal side of things. So I decided to go to law school, and maybe get into a position that was less political and more oriented on the legal side. So I went to law school at the University of Utah, graduated from there, and did a couple of clerkships.

Following that, I was in private practice, and then kind of took a sharp turn. I was planning on staying in private practice, but this opportunity at Utah State opened up, and I was really interested in that. I had worked in the University of Utah’s General Counsel’s office when I was in law school and loved it. I thought it was such an interesting job because of the variety of issues. I never anticipated going back to that, but it was really interesting, so when this job opened up, I just kind of jumped at it. And here I am! I’ve been here about a year and a half.

It’s interesting how opportunities present themselves and doors open up that you maybe weren’t looking for or thinking about, but your career kind of takes some ebbs and flows and turns along the way. But I think that’s what makes it exciting. I like change, I like working on things that I maybe wasn’t anticipating. For me it’s been great! I know some people kind of want a path charted and they want to stick to it, but I think life is more interesting when you go in new directions.

CWG: What is it like working as the General Counsel for USU?
MM: It is interesting. That’s probably a boring word, but it is the best word. My days are never the same, and when I come into the office I usually have an idea of what I am going to work on, and that never actually happens to be the case. I get phone calls with things that I am not anticipating, issues all over campus. But that’s what’s so great about it. It’s so diverse, the things that I work on. 

It’s also really great to be in a position where I work with everybody on campus. I work with department heads, students, administrators; everything from 4-H to clinical services to engineering. It’s really varied and I like that. Even from the legal perspective, compared to other lawyers, the number of issues I work on is incredibly diverse. I do everything from reviewing a contract, which is a very transactional piece, to advising on a First Amendment issue. Universities are unique, I think, in the number of legal issues that are presented to them, and that’s what I like the most about it.


CWG: What kinds of challenges do you face in this career?
MM: I probably can’t describe a lot of them, but there are challenging issues. I think some of the pieces that are the most difficult are trying to navigate regulatory obligations and legal requirements in a way that really, truly serves our students. Working for both President Albrecht and President Cockett, their primary focus is making sure that Utah State remains a student focused institution that is providing education that serves our students’ needs – both their intellectual interests as well as something that will help them chart their own path and have a bright future. I think that’s both challenging and great about working in the General Counsel’s office. But because of that, there are pieces that are difficult. The university is working on mental health, and that’s challenging. It’s hard when we see students that are struggling with mental health issues, so I am trying to support the university in finding policy solutions and other things to help with that piece. Similarly, sexual assault and Title IX is an issue that our university and all universities are trying to make sure that we’re answering. I am excited about some of the huge strides that we have made in that area, and I hope that it is having an impact on students. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

CWG: As a woman in a position of authority, have you ever dealt with any oppression or resistance?
MM: The answer is probably yes, but sometimes it’s hard to know. When you’re feeling resistance, is it because you’re young? Some people make jokes about my office being the Principal’s Office, so it’s an area that there is naturally sometimes friction with others. But sometimes it’s hard to say whether it is really a gender based piece. But, that being said, I think women in leadership are making huge strides. There are natural, I think, challenges to that. A lot of that comes in the form of implicit bias. I haven’t run into a lot of individuals who are just outright, “I’m going to resist working with you because you’re a woman.” I think a lot of it comes as a result of social conditioning and some of the things we’ve just kind of learned. Some of those things are built into women ourselves and how we have been socially conditioned, and trying to sort some of that out. So I think, yes, generally there are challenges, but at the end of the day, nothing has stopped me from progressing in my career and doing what I want to do.

I work with an incredibly supportive team. I think the university administration is great to work with. There are not obstacles you can’t overcome. A lot of them are just small, little things that you notice but they are not necessarily impeding what I am trying to do on campus. I think we are really fortunate right now that we have the first woman president. It’s not lost on me when we’re sitting in meetings with the president and myself, and that’s just a cool thing, as we negotiate deals and transactions, and work on some big pieces. I think it’s an exciting time. There’s a lot of work to be done, but there’s huge progress being made.


CWG: Would you consider yourself to be a feminist? If so, why?
MM: Without question. I know there’s a lot of controversy around that word but I just think it’s not controversial at all. It’s very simple. I’m very supportive of equality amongst all groups, whether it is gender or other areas. I think for me, that goes both ways. I think part of feminism is supporting work-life balance for men and women, and other areas like that. So yes, I definitely consider myself a feminist.

CWG: What advice would you give to students?
MM: My advice would be to take advantage of all of the different opportunities aside from school. Get engaged in something that you really like. I think there are a number of things that you can benefit from with that. With some, it’s just the social network – getting to meet different people – but also I just think that college is a unique time to engage with things that you care about and expose yourself to some new areas. So that would be my advice: Get involved with something, and I don’t think it matters what. If it’s a soccer group, or a political issue you’re involved with and really committed to - just get involved. I think for most people who look back at their time in college, that’s what they really value most.

Know any remarkable women at USU? To nominate them for a feature story, email us at cwg@usu.edu