Communication Is Key
Aspiring Professor Named Semifinalist for Cooke Transfer Scholarship
By Misty Browning
Soon-to-be Weatherford College graduate Mya McKinney is a rare breed of student. The 23-year-old is driven by a love of connections and conversations, not social media likes and shares.
Weatherford College helped to shape her love of in-person communication when she started college during the COVID pandemic in 2020.
“What I search for in this life is interesting conversations, and I get to have them more when I’m in a college environment like this,” she explained. “Weatherford College has done so much for me. Even though it is a small campus, their work with the honors program is so interesting and cool; you get to be around like-minded people.”
A former Aledo High School student, McKinney has always had the drive to be something bigger than her surroundings. She homeschooled her junior and senior years of high school, graduating in 2018, to be home with her sick father.
McKinney started WC as a member of the first group of students admitted to the Honors Program in 2020. During her time on campus, her achievements were extraordinary. She won the Brad Tibbitts Scholarship, awarded by the WC faculty, and the WC Creative Writing contest. She was co-president of the Creative Writing Club and volunteered with the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and the philosophy conference.
In March, McKinney presented a paper on the reality of literary influence at John Hopkins University, focusing on World War I poets. It was a paper she had worked on for more than a year with Dr. William Smith in the English department at WC.
“I looked at the validity of literary influence when we use it as a comparative tool in literature,” she said. “It seems to me that it’s more our personal opinions getting pressed onto our conception of the authors more than they were influenced by the people in their lives.”
McKinney did so well with her presentation that Johns Hopkins reached out for her to author a complete paper to be published in their journal, a feat most academics don’t see until graduate school. She said it’s still surreal to be working on such a momentous task.
“You know, it’s cool and strange,” she said. “You spend so much time on your work and like it yourself. But you think your work is not that interesting because you’ve done so much work on it over time.”
Smith said he was impressed by McKinney’s deep intellect from the first week she was in his class.
“What makes Mya such a special student to me is the insight she brings into her classes,” he said. “The first time I met Mya was in the fall of 2021 when she was a student in my English class. It was a rough semester, and the students were all masked and socially distant.
“For Mya, it was her first day of college, and on the second day of class, I asked students to define the word ‘community.’ A few students volunteered definitions that were fine but very literal. Mya shyly raised her hand, so I called on her. She defined community as ‘a group of people who can imagine the same ideas.’ I immediately wrote her name down, knowing she would be a special student.”
As McKinney prepares to transfer to continue her education, she finds herself a semifinalist for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship. This highly selective scholarship was designed to create a clear pathway to a four-year degree by offering up to $55,000 per year. The foundation awards community college students who have demonstrated exceptional academic ability, leadership, service and a determination to complete their bachelor’s degrees at top four-year institutions.
McKinney is one of 459 semifinalists nationwide chosen from more than 1,700 applicants and was the only student from Weatherford College to move onto the semifinalist level.
Whether she wins the scholarship or not, she plans to attend the University of North Texas, where she was accepted into the honors college. She will study in the accelerated master’s program while working on a double major in philosophy, followed by a master’s degree in literature and a Ph.D. in English literature.
“The goal is to be a professor or be in academia,” McKinney said. “I know that it is a difficult goal since there are not a lot of job openings. They can stick me in a broom closet—I just want to teach and talk to students while being around people with cool ideas and see where they go.”