Texas Tech University

Cynthia McKenney

Rockwell Endowed Professor in Horticulture
Associate Chair
Department of Plant and Soil Science
College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

portrait of mckenney in greenhouse

What are your research objectives and interests?

My primary field of interest has been in the development of water conserving landscapes for semiarid regions. To this end, I have worked with native plant enhancement and tolerance of native plants to salinity which allows the use of marginal water resources for the landscape, rather than potable water.

How do you feel your research impacts the globe?

Water will continue to be a global issue as time passes. Identification of plant materials tolerant of demanding environmental factors provides results that are applicable to many regions of the world.

What types of service projects have you been involved with?

On a local level, I have been active with programming for Texas Master Gardeners and for the Lubbock Arboretum. On a regional and national level, I serve on multiple committees within the horticulture professional societies and am currently the vice president for the educational division for the American Society for Horticultural Science. Globally, I have worked with several graduate students to help train a community in Turkana, Kenya how to capture and store water and how to raise fruits and vegetables with minimal water inputs.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I am working on several diverse projects with my graduate students. One student is focusing on identifying native salinity tolerant wildflowers for use in the landscape. A second student is determining pollinator richness as impacted by the types of plant materials attracting bees in the urban landscape. Additionally, another student is investigating disease resistance in grafted tomatoes grown hydroponically in a greenhouse environment. Undergraduate student scholars are working on overcoming germination issues in native plants and a comparison of LED lighting and HD lighting on vegetable production in the greenhouse.

mckenney holding plant in greenhouse

Where do you find your inspiration?

My greatest inspiration comes from my students who have inquiring minds and want to find answers to their questions. Their energy and vitality helps to make completing research projects a pleasure. I also am inspired by the environment around us. Throughout my career, I have had a keen interest in reducing resource consumption, addressing urban heat load issues and conserving water as these problems surface daily in semiarid regions such as ours.

What advice do you have for new faculty members
about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—
teaching, research, and service—in their careers?

Teaching, research and service are all interrelated. A dynamic research program spills over into both teaching and public service activities. Keeping your classes up to date through the introduction of current research provides a catalyst for discussion. Those discussions then help to trigger new areas of investigation. Sharing those concepts by providing experiential learning opportunities like gardening camp for children, gardening technique workshops for adults, and research utilizing community member's landscapes helps to bring the research, teaching and service into a complete circle.

More About Cynthia McKenney

Cynthia McKenney is the Rockwell Endowed Professor in Horticulture and Associate Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Science. She is a native of Missouri and received both her B.S. and M.S. in Horticulture. McKenney received her Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration from Texas Tech University where she has been on faculty for over 30 years.

McKenney has spent the majority of her professional career with the development of new drought tolerant crops and their incorporation into water conserving landscapes. This effort has resulted in eight germplasm releases and two plant patents. In addition, she has participated in food production activities in Kenya assisting nomadic herdsmen learn how to harvest water and use key line design techniques to maximize water availability. She also has investigated the tolerance of native plants to saline water, thus allowing the use of this limited quality water for use in the landscape while conserving potable water for human consumption.

During her career, McKenney has been PI or Co-PI on external support totaling over $4 million and has generated two books and 46 refereed publications. In addition, she has 135 abstracts and 39 technical publications. With her background in higher education administration, McKenney has overseen the development and implementation of the distance education program for the department including three online degree programs and four online graduate certificate programs. She has also served on Dean's Advisory Committees for two institutions of higher education and has been an expert consultant for an agriculture program at a land grant institution. McKenney has directed 52 graduate students and conducted 32 agricultural workshops. She has served the American Society for Horticultural Science as the Vice President for the Education Division, has chaired the Teaching Methods Working Group, and has served frequently reviewing manuscripts for both HortScience and HortTechnology.