Texas A&M University-Texarkana
Director of Nursing and Associate Professor Dr. Heather McKnight has been at Texas A&M University – Texarkana for six years. In her position, she is focused on student success and meeting the needs of a rapidly changing healthcare landscape. She chose to enter the field of nursing education because of her deep passion for mentoring and teaching. “As a nurse educator, I am able to make an impact on nurses from the early stages of their educational journeys, and I continue to mentor them as their careers evolve over the years,” Dr. McKnight says. “The most rewarding aspect of my profession is seeing the ‘ah-ha’ moments in our students and nurses. These moments make all the hard work and late nights worth it.”
For Dr. McKnight, the most challenging part of being an educator is learning not to take all the work—including the mental and spiritual aspects—home with her. “I work every day to practice self-care and allow myself to unplug for nursing,” Dr. McKnight says. “On the tough days, I take time to reflect on why I am a nurse educator, which usually gives me the motivation I need. When reflection isn’t enough, I reach out to my mentors to get a little pep talk.”
As the pandemic has shown the world, educators need to be able to pivot their teaching methods quickly. Dr. McKnight sees this continuing at a smaller scale, so she advocates for continued professional development. “If we are constantly seeking to learn more, we are better able to meet the needs of the changing education landscape,” Dr. McKnight says. “I am honored to be a change agent at TAMUT. I serve on a variety of committees that are focused on curricular updates, and I am involved in numerous new program idea proposals to expand the offerings at TAMUT to meet the needs of our East Texas community.”
Dr. McKnight’s proudest accomplishment to date is earning tenure at TAMUT. “For me, tenure was a major career milestone that I was able to earn while launching new nursing programs, mentoring faculty and staff, and still maintaining a life at home,” Dr. McKnight says.
Outside of work, Dr. McKnight enjoys many eclectic hobbies, from reading to fishing, but she predominantly spends her time with family and friends. Her family attends Beech Street First Baptist Church, and Dr. McKnight can also be found cheering on Arkansas High, her alma mater, throughout the year. “Throughout my time at TASD, I was involved in as much as possible, including NIKE, National Honor Society, band, honors courses, Miss Arkansas High, and many other leadership opportunities,” Dr. McKnight says. “The extensive opportunities I had throughout my K-12 education allowed me to learn to speak, network, and set the foundation for who I am today.”
After high school, Dr. McKnight attended Southern Arkansas University for her undergraduate degrees in psychology and nursing. She was also actively involved in leadership and honor organizations and was a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha. “I was focused, competitive, and driven as a teenager, and I still carry those characteristics today,” Dr. McKnight says. “I learned at an early age that in order to grow, you had to put in the work, so I have never let go of that mantra.”
Today, Dr. McKnight is married to her high school sweetheart, Tony McKnight. In October, the couple will celebrate their 23rd anniversary. The couple also has two daughters: Berkley and Laiken. Berkley is a 2019 graduate of Arkansas High and currently attends TAMUT. Laiken is an Arkansas High senior and still deciding on her college path. “Each of our girls brings a different personality and dynamic to our family. Berkley is outgoing and social which brings so many young people into our home. I deeply love meeting all her old and new friends, seeing how she grows with each relationship, and am beyond blessed to call her my daughter,” Dr. McKnight says. “Laiken is quiet and extremely observant. She teaches us to slow down and enjoy each moment. I am also beyond blessed to call her my daughter as well. While Tony and I do our best to nurture and teach them, Berkley and Laiken teach us so much in return.”