Board member spotlight: Kathy McKinney
By Baker Maultsby
This article appeared originally in the Fall 2018 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
When Kathy McKinney was a child, her father was a dedicated reader of the stock market report in the daily newspaper. She was intrigued by the various abbreviations and symbols and data, and her father helped her to make sense of it all. “By the time I was 8, I could read and understand the stocks page,” she said.
A strong grasp of financial markets has served McKinney well. An attorney with Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, in Greenville, she works with hospital systems, colleges, and other institutions on mergers, expansions, and capital projects. She has particular expertise in the issuance of bonds.
McKinney brings her considerable understanding of financial management and institutional growth to Spartanburg Methodist College, where she serves as vice chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of the audit and finance committee. Her committee works closely with the administration on budget issues, including tuition and salaries.
McKinney takes her role as a trustee seriously, giving careful consideration to the areas where Board members should — and should not — be directly involved. “An effective board keeps its focus on strategic planning and the fundraising needed to implement that strategy,” she said.
The SMC board is not the first to benefit from McKinney’s skill and judgment as
a leader. She has served on the boards of organizations ranging from professional associations to museums. She was a founder of the Upstate SC Alliance, an economic development organization that promotes the Upstate as a destination for growing companies. McKinney is also the former chair of the Furman University board of trustees.
Her experience with Furman provided key insights on higher education leadership, and she developed a special interest in opportunities for students who come from challenging circumstances. She pointed to a program called Bridges to a Brighter Future. Based at Furman, the program selects Greenville County teenagers who show academic promise but face economic and social barriers to attending college. Participants benefit from frequent exposure to the Furman campus as well as intensive academic support.
Bridges to a Brighter Future has informed McKinney’s perspective on SMC, where nearly 40 percent of those who enroll are first-generation college students. She believes it is critical that these students and others who face challenges to graduation — such as the need to manage work and an academic course load — receive a layer of support that might not be as necessary for young people from more affluent backgrounds. Providing that support is integral to SMC’s mission, McKinney said.
“SMC offers a high-touch approach where a student won’t get lost,” she said. “We have professors who I think are truly committed to the success of first-generation college students and providing the extra attention that requires.”
McKinney believes that SMC’s commitment to the achievement of students overcoming economic and cultural disadvantages forms the basis for an important niche in the higher education marketplace. It also puts the College in a unique position to contribute to the economic vitality of the region.
As McKinney explained, the Upstate is becoming more demographically diverse, a larger number of first-generation students are attending college, and companies increasingly demand higher levels of education and training.
“SMC is ready to handle that,” she said, pointing to the College’s higher-than-average graduation rate among two-year institutions.
SMC students, of course, take a variety of paths following graduation. Some attend a four-year college or university, while others pursue jobs or the military.
McKinney is excited that SMC is exploring the viability of an additional option — a four-year degree in targeted programs that she believes promise marketable experiences and skills as graduates seek employment or start their own businesses. The plan is in keeping, she said, with the College’s founding and the philosophy of Dr. David English Camak.
“When I read the biography of our founder, Dr. Camak, I was struck by how forward-thinking his concept was for his time and how our board’s decision to prepare for a four-year degree is totally consistent with Dr. Camak’s view that our students need the skills to succeed in the workplace,” she said.
McKinney has enjoyed an illustrious career as an attorney and as a civic leader. Widely respected in her field, she has worked to help community institutions grow so that they can serve more people. Her work has resulted in capital investments that have boosted the region’s economy. And her support of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations has enhanced the culture of the Upstate while advancing important social causes.
McKinney is pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the continued success and growth of SMC. A member of the search committee process that led to the hiring of President Scott Cochran, she’s impressed by his leadership and the energy he has brought to the institution.
“I think he has put together a highly motivated team of educators and other professionals who are willing to think outside the box, who aren’t looking for SMC to just be another school on the college landscape,” she said.
“And most importantly, they are attuned
to what our SMC students need.”