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Looking on the bright side
Graduate student Patricia McKinnes' brush with fame on 'The Today Show' 

Feb. 22, 2007
By Elizabeth Boyle

"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity," Winston Churchill once said. "The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." According to Churchill's estimation, you could say Ohio University graduate student Patricia McKinnes is a glass-half-full kind of girl. She's the charismatic mother of five and grandmother of two who -- after 30 years and five different institutions -- completed her bachelor's degree here in 2005. 

Photo courtesy of Patricia McKinnes."No matter what," she says, explaining her triumphs over myriad health problems and personal challenges, "you can just keep going and bloom where you're planted."

McKinnes recently appeared on NBC's "Today Show" with three of the 15 semifinalists in the show's "Anchor for TODAY Sweepstakes," in which contestants vie to join the cast of the show for a day. Though viewers didn't vote the 49-year-old into the group of four finalists, she said she was pleased to have been chosen out of the thousands of entries for the first semifinal round.

Each contestant entered a one- to two-minute video demonstrating why he or she should be host for a day. The show aired the semifinalists' videos and posted them to its Web site for viewer voting.

McKinnes' quirky spot features her on the Athens campus with "Matt Lauer" (a tall man holding a cardboard cut-out photo of Lauer's face in front of his head). 

In the video, which MFA student Melissa Forte shot and edited, McKinnes explains that she can compel anyone to talk with her and you just have to know her story to understand how much tenacity she has. (Bouts with kidney aneurisms, a car accident, neck surgery and familial struggles left her homebound for several years before she could continue her education.)

"I knew I was going to at least get called," she says. "I thought I had a compelling story. I show that you can still reinvent yourself."

McKinnes says she wasn't nervous about being on air -- she appeared standing with the other contestants and chatted with the hosts before they announced the winner -- and adds that visiting New York, hanging out in the green room and putting on tons of makeup for the broadcast was a singular experience.

Though McKinnes, born in New Jersey and raised in Florida, didn't get to meet Matt Lauer, she did run into someone who rubs shoulders with him regularly. "Today Show" intern and Ohio University senior broadcast journalism major Carin Fitzgerald sought out McKinnes while she was at the studios. Fitzgerald, who has helped with an on-air 'tween fashion show and other segments, holds a position supported by an Ohio University Foundation endowment that Lauer inaugurated. Ohio University students are guaranteed at least one internship with the show each quarter, but this quarter both Fitzgerald and senior Kirsten Brown hold spots.

"I love working here and don't want to leave New York," she told McKinnes.

McKinnes would love to be that close to the TV world, though she says her dream job would be to play the role of the mom or grandmother on a sitcom someday. However, she says, it seems most likely that her education will lead her down a different path. 

She has a bachelor's in specialized studies, and she'll receive her master's degree in communication and development studies this spring. With a specialization in health communication, she hopes to end up working at a hospital facilitating communication between hospital staff and patients. 

"I know that I can communicate well with people and connect with a lot of people," she says. 

Elizabeth Boyle is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.


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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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