Lasting Impact: An Andrew Goodman Alumni Q&A With MacKenzie Bills, Simpson College

MacKenzie Bills was an Andrew Goodman Ambassador at Simpson College from 2014-2016, until her graduation in 2016, and served on the Andrew Goodman Alumni Network Board and as the Co-Chair from 2020-2022. At Simpson, she majored in Political Science and International Relations and minored in French and Religion. Since graduating, MacKenzie served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Pahang, Malaysia, worked as a Report Editor for the International Religious Freedom Reports covering sub-Saharan Africa, and as a Research Analyst in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. State Department. In 2021, MacKenzie moved back home to Iowa and ran for Iowa State House District 40 in her hometown and lost by 421 votes (3% of the vote). MacKenzie is now the Senior Associate of Public Policy at Opportunity Finance Fund, the largest coalition of CDFIs, also known as community lenders, in the country and focuses on rural and Indigenous policy.


Tell us about your experience as an Andrew Goodman Ambassador. Was there a campaign you championed as an Ambassador that you are particularly proud of?

During my time as an Andrew Goodman Ambassador at Simpson College, we greatly increased voter registration and turnout during the 2014 Midterm Elections. However, we stumbled upon a hiccup in the system. Iowa law, at the time, allowed Election Day registration, which meant students could go to their polling place, register, and vote. Unfortunately, since the campus was split into three different voting precincts due to the sizeable population of the institution vs. the town, students who had moved to a different dorm on the other side of campus needed to re-register to vote. This seemed fine, except Iowa law requires voters to provide an address associated with shelter where they can receive mail. As a student, your dorm address and PO Box in the Student Center are not the same. Additionally, students were not provided a proof of residency for the dorm address, as opposed to the PO Box, which did not allow a lawful registration. This frustrated students and inhibited a number of them from registering to vote. Together, with other institutions dealing with the same issue across the state, our Simpson Andrew Goodman Campus Team, with my lead, worked with the Secretary of State’s office to draft a lease agreement that colleges in Iowa could be dispense with both the dorm address and the PO Box on one page that could be used to register to vote. Today, we see a significant number of students registering to vote.

As an Ambassador, how did you contribute to creating lasting change and a more democratic culture on your campus?

During my first year of college, I started Simpson Votes, which encouraged students to register to vote no matter their party affiliation. Through the support of The Andrew Goodman Foundation, we were able to expand the program and Simpson Votes remains today. Simpson College has one of the highest voter registration rates in the county (92.4%) and a voting rate of 81.4% in 2020, making it the No. 3 ranked institution in the nation for student voting.

Tell us about what you’re doing today. How did your time as an Ambassador inform your continuing education, work, or volunteerism?

My professional career has been in the advocacy and public service realm because I believe in helping people and fighting for justice. I wouldn’t have begun this career if it wasn’t for the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program and its support of me to lead a lifestyle rooted in justice.

As an Alumni of our program, how are you continuing to reflect on our story and to carry forward the Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner legacy today?

The Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner legacy is about doing what is right no matter the societal standards, risks, and consequences. Often, we know what we need to do, but are fearful of the outcome, the judgement, and the impact it has on our lives, family, and communities. However, history is on the side of those dedicated to justice, and it is better to be on the right side of history than the wrong side. For me, whether it was deciding to run for office, work for a nonprofit that doesn’t make much money but is doing good work, or spending my free time helping people and disadvantaged communities, I try to live the Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner legacy with every personal and professional life choice that I make.

What advice would you give to our current Ambassadors?

Don’t be afraid to take risks and go after things you’re passionate about. You never know what opportunities are there on the other side of the door. It is always better to be involved in the game than sitting on the sidelines, even if you feel it is over your head. Chances are it isn’t, and you learned something new!


Stay tuned as we continue our Lasting Impact series, featuring alumni of our Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program, what they’re doing today, and how they are still living the legacy.