Dr. Samuel P. McKinney graduated from Rensselaer in 1884 and went on to enjoy a long career as a physician. After his retirement, Dr. McKinney became deeply interested in the liberal arts activities at his alma mater, for he felt that more should be done to recognize and reward the communication skills of Rensselaer students.
In 1941 he established the Mary A. Earl McKinney endowment as a memorial to his late wife. Each year since then the McKinney Competition has awarded prizes to students who have demonstrated talent in various genres of writing. From its inception the McKinney Competition has been administered and judged by the faculty of the Department of Communication and Media. This competition has been going strong at Rensselaer for 78 years!