By Kira Clark
Patrick Henry College
Seth McKinnis began skiing in his native Alaska when he was 14.
Given that Seth McKinnis was born and raised on an island off the coast of Alaska, he is practically an international student. McKinnis did not grow up in typical suburbia and has done enough extreme sports to worry any protective parent. At PHC, McKinnis has jumped headlong into the IPP program and according to the track director, Stephen Baskerville, McKinnis has done more than any other student to advance and enhance the IPP program on campus.
Adventure is bred into McKinnis’ bones. His dad was a Coast Guard search and rescue pilot, his mom raised five kids in what was once a farming community started by FDR during the New Deal. The area he grew up in is famous for fishing, huge grizzly bears, and bad weather. During the winter, 14-year-old McKinnis would get up at the crack of dawn, finish his school by 11:30 and hit the ski slopes by noon.
In high school McKinnis staffed TeenPact and taught government courses to homeschoolers in state capitals all over the country. Over the past two summers, he worked at The Summit, a camp at the base of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, Colo. During this intensive worldview seminar, McKinnis guided students through mountain precipices and Zen Buddhism.
During the spring of 2010, McKinnis woke up to a strange crackling sound. Bolting upright, he realized yellow tongues of flame danced around his window.
“My parents, sister, brother, and visiting grandparents still remained on the floors beneath,” McKinnis said. With fear and adrenaline, McKinnis ran downstairs to wake up the rest of his family.
Within two minutes, the whole family stood outside on the icy driveway. Three minutes later, the entire house was engulfed and the family Suburban spontaneously burst into flame. The McKinnis family lost everything.
The following spring, McKinnis packed up his life in Alaska and moved to PHC. Soon this undecided government student found himself filling up all his electives with IPP courses. After taking International Relations with Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz, McKinnis decided that the IPP track was for him. “Dr. Chodakiewicz demonstrated how culture, economics and global affairs are all interconnected,” McKinnis said.
“IPP was the most versatile major at PHC since I could use it to go into business, academia, humanitarian work, and of course into international relations,” McKinnis said, noting that few Christians go into international relations. “Being a Christian is certainly not expected or normal,” McKinnis said. “I enjoy that.”
McKinnis encourages students to consider the IPP track. “There’s a lot of work to be done in international relations,” McKinnis said.
Most recently, McKinnis organized the first ever IPP retreat in DC for students to explore employment options and understand the track more fully. “The APP track has a retreat, the SI program has SI days, but my major did not,” McKinnis said.
Senior James Nelson and fellow IPP Government major said that McKinnis is the ultimate IPP student. “Not only does he always dress like a classy diplomat,” Nelson said. “But he’s taking active steps to get involved in foreign policy.”
Until graduation, McKinnis will continue to serve as an intern for National Security and Public Diplomacy at the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy, and as the personal assistant of two senior fellows, Peter Brookes and Helle Dale. Depending on the day, Brookes might be expected to talk on live television about Mali, so McKinnis would read everything about Mali currently in the news and brief Brookes before his interview. During a recent week, among other projects, McKinnis researched a cyber-security threat that involved Chinese hackers stealing trade secrets.
On another day, McKinnis attended a hearing by the House and Services Committee on Afghanistan and wrote a report for his supervisors.
Before that, McKinnis’ article Revolutions, Terrorists, and Tweets: Social Media and the Arab Spring, was published on Heritage’s blog, The Foundry.
After graduation, McKinnis hopes to find a job in the D.C. area for several years and pursue graduate studies in International Relations at the London School of Economics. “There are lots of opportunities,” McKinnis said. “But I don’t know what I am doing next year.”
In the midst of uncertainty, McKinnis said it is easy to think, ‘Oh I have worked really hard to get here,’ and forget how much God has blessed him.
“God’s leading undergirds all that I do,” McKinnis said. “Whether working at Heritage, studying international affairs, being an RA, or enjoying time with friends – my identity is in Christ.”