side graphic
side graphic


Christine McKinley takes her Cal Poly education in unexpected directions

By Scott T. Burns

Christine McKinley (Photos courtesy Christine McKinley)

By day, Christine McKinley practices engineering through the Los Angeles Community College District. At night, she sings and composes musicals to indulge her more artistic interests.

And occasionally, she finds an enterprise that touches both sides of her personality – such as her recent stints as a host of an episode of the Discovery Channel’s “Under New York” and as co-host of the History Channel series “Decoded.”

Whatever the venue, McKinley (B.S., Mechanical Engineering, 1988) traces much of her success in these varied interests to her Cal Poly education.

“Engineering has opened all the doors for me,” McKinley said. “And Cal Poly instilled in me my persistence, which is what allows me to excel at whatever work I choose to do.”

In her day job, McKinley is the commissioning program manager for the Los Angeles Community College District’s sustainable building bond program – a $5 billion operation that oversees equipment and maintenance-staff training to help nine college campuses meet their high sustainability and energy-use goals.

When she’s not on the job, she spends much of her time singing and composing musicals.

McKinley has recorded five CDs – one while signed to a record label led by former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. And she has toured as opening act for rock legend David Crosby.

McKinley loves to find ways to merge her engineering background with her passion for the arts. Sometimes, she creates those opportunities herself, such as one recent musical, “Gracie and the Atom,” which combines physics and religious themes and which won McKinley an Original Score award at the 2010 Portland Drammys.

And that marriage of science and the arts – the core of the comprehensive polytechnic education at Cal Poly – is what led McKinley to her recent television jobs.

The "Under New York" episode, which aired in fall 2009, looked at how billions of gallons of water per day reach the residents of the largest city in the U.S. And on "Brad Meltzer's Decoded," McKinley is part of a team of investigators who examine the history of the symbols and codes that surround us every day, from the dollar bill to the hidden messages of the Statue of Liberty.

“My engineering background is a key to these hosting positions,” McKinley said. “Without it, I would not have been considered.

“Under New York” utilized her engineering knowledge concretely, allowing her to identify valves, understand how the fluid dynamics worked in the water system and appreciate the history of its engineering design. “Decoded” uses her background in more abstract ways, she said, such as when she applies the scientific method to the show’s investigations.

A strong combination of the arts and sciences, persistence and hard work has enabled McKinley to live the life she desires and pursue her interests without boundaries.

“Every day,” she said, “I wake up before my alarm and think ‘What I am going to do next?’”

For more information on McKinley’s artistic endeavors, visit