Graduate student David McKinney embraced his love of agriculture at a very young age. Growing up, McKinney spent summers on his grandparent’s ranch fixing fences, tending to livestock, and occasionally aiding in the calving process.
“For a long time I wanted to be a veterinarian,” said McKinney, “I realized that I preferred plants because they don't bleed or scream. They don't move around! I really started getting more interested in plants.”
(When McKinney was a toddler, his mother took him to the Denver Zoo and quickly realized he was more interested in the petunias than the animals.)
“After I discovered that, for my entire life, I have loved plants and just getting exposure to see that I wasn't an animal person - plants were the clear choice for me. Throughout high school, I kept a home garden. I'd go to the garden centers and look for jobs and tried to get hired everywhere.”
CSU became McKinney’s natural choice to pursue a double major in horticulture with a concentration of floriculture and environmental horticulture, and a major in nursery landscape management.
In December of 2018, McKinney was set to graduate with his bachelor’s degree. After finishing two bachelor’s degrees in 3.5 years, McKinney wasn’t ready to leave CSU. I finished two bachelor's degrees in three and a half years and I was like, that was not enough time. “I wanted to learn more! So, I approached Dr. Jessica Davis and I asked what opportunities there were for me to continue learning at CSU. I got paired with Dr. Joshua Craver and now I’m finishing my master's degree is in horticulture with an emphasis in controlled environment horticulture. I'm in a whole new subsection of horticulture that I have no experience in – I love it!”
Around 2016, McKinney met Horticulture Extension Agent, Dr. Allison O’Connor. Over the last four years, he has been mentored by O’Connor and learned the landscape (pun intended) of the Extension Service through two Extension courses and internships. “I learned I had a passion more for the human aspect of horticulture over just the plants,” McKinney said, “I developed a passion for teaching and for really helping people understand how plants work.”
McKinney admits there are a plethora of people at CSU that have offered him a seat at the table. One vivid example is from Ram Welcome his freshman year.
“I was this little 18-year kid on a brand new adventure,” started McKinney, “I remember sitting in the HLA student lounge with all of the other admitted hort students, talking to Dr. James Klett. He gave us a good scope of what to expect from our bachelor's degree and he told us all the opportunities to get involved in, that was the first time I heard about Horticulture Club.” The next year, McKinney would be the President of the Horticulture Club.
“Dr. Klett let us talk about what we were interested in and he was genuinely interested in all of our pathways. It was just a genuine moment where someone who could have been super intimidating was super personal with the undergrads, and it changed my whole experience.”
McKinney went on to work with Dr. Klett for three years, and Dr. Klett advised him throughout his undergraduate degree.
Today, McKinney has had the opportunity to offer others a seat at the table.
“One of my favorite instances is with Rachel Wildman. She and I connected during her Ram Welcome that year. We went out to ARDEC and came back to campus for lunch, and I remember sitting down with her just talking about what she was excited about – the same thing that Dr. Klett did for us.” McKinney brought her into Horticulture Club, and soon Wildman was working at the CSU Annual Trial Gardens alongside McKinney. “Then, I brought her with me on the extension journey and through all of that, we have become such good friends. Now that she's graduated, we still stay connected. It's been a really great experience.”
Whether he is TA’ing a class, giving a presentation, or leading a student organization, David McKinney wants to show students that anyone can achieve the things he has. “It's not hard to develop valuable leadership skills, and anybody should be able to learn how to do what I did. I don't want anyone feeling left out! I come into the room and I talk to everyone like they’re my best friend.”