Program and Benefits

Who is the McNair Scholar?

The McNair Scholar is an undergraduate with a record of academic success and big plans for the future -- very big. A doctorate degree is not a distant, abstract goal for McNair Scholars. Each scholar makes a commitment of effort and time (despite a busy schedule) to develop skills necessary for success in graduate school-- while still working toward his or her bachelor's degree.

What McNair Scholars have most in common is a dedication to the process of higher education -- both their own, as students, and the education of others, as future professors and researchers. It is in this dedication, as well as their intellectual curiosity and ambition, that they uphold the spirit of the program's namesake: Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the African-American scientist/astronaut whose life and career were cut tragically short in the 1986 Space Shuttle explosion.

A McNair Scholar is an American citizen or permanent resident. A K-State McNair Scholar must be currently enrolled at Kansas State University as a sophomore or above. Additionally, McNair Scholars are from socio-economic groups which are under-represented in graduate programs and college faculties across the country. For example, many grew up in lower-income households and will be first-generation college graduates. Others qualify for the program as members of groups that are defined by Congress as under-represented in graduate education.

What is the McNair Scholars Program?

The McNair Scholars Program is a comprehensive program structured to prepare undergraduates for successful careers as graduate students, professors, and professional researchers. This preparation is offered in the form of classes, colloquia, advising, tutoring, faculty mentoring, and the completion of a Summer Research Internship.

Most students begin the program as sophomores or juniors. Initially, the program's primary purpose is to advise new scholars on how to get the most out of their undergraduate careers. To this end, McNair staff help scholars create an Academic Development Plan to see that students are making good progress toward their academic goals and preparing themselves to meet the challenges of graduate education. McNair Scholars also attend weekly seminars, to develop community within the program and share information relevant to the pursuit of a doctorate degree.

Upon entering the program, McNair Scholars complete a Colloquium on Research and Graduate Education to prepare for their summer research. They continue to develop relationships with faculty members, from whom each scholar chooses an internship mentor. Scholars also attend weekly seminars focused on subjects pertaining to the process of applying to graduate school, succeeding in graduate school, career exploration, and becoming a more informed member of the university community.

In the summer before their final year of program participation, McNair Scholars typically undertake an 8-week Summer Research Internship with the guidance of a K-State faculty mentor. During that time, scholars also take a course of preparation for the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), which is the standardized test required for admission to most graduate programs. Upon completion of their research, scholars write a report, an article, and an abstract for their mentors' approval and submission to the McNair Scholars Program. Scholars are then encouraged to seek publication and to present their papers at regional and national conferences.

In the McNair Scholar's final year of undergraduate study, the program focuses on the process of applying to graduate schools. Seminar topics include such things as how to write a strong statement of purpose and how to ask faculty for letters of reference. Students are encouraged to visit prospective campuses and consult with faculty and professionals in their chosen fields. After submitting an appropriate number of applications to graduate programs, McNair Scholars will continue to prepare for graduate school by participating in a weekly seminar on issues in higher education.

For a time line with a detailed list of activities for McNair Scholars, please refer to the Program Overview (PDF).

How do McNair Scholars benefit from the program?

In addition to the seminars and research opportunities, McNair Scholars benefit from a wide range of other services. Foremost is the advice and assistance of the McNair Scholars Program staff, who are available for consultation on all matters pertaining to the McNair Scholar's undergraduate progress, future graduate experience, and academic career thereafter. McNair staff help with the process of choosing schools, review application materials with the Scholar, and help find resources for financing a graduate education. The McNair staff will arrange for advanced content tutoring in undergraduate classes if needed, free of charge.

The McNair staff will facilitate making contacts within the scholar's area of academic interest. In addition, the Program may be able to offset expenses for scholars presenting papers at conferences, visiting prospective schools, or meeting with professionals in their chosen fields. The program also supports scholars by offering training and access to technology important to their success in academics, including desktop computers for use in the McNair office, laptops that can be checked out for use on campus and off, PowerPoint software and projectors for slideshow presentations, digital cameras for capturing still and video images, and CD burners for storing large amounts of data.

The research and presentation experience gained by McNair Scholars prepares them to succeed in graduate school, but also strengthens their applications, helping them to get into the graduate programs of their choice. Through participation in social and cultural activities, scholars gain a better understanding of diverse cultures, including the culture of academia. They also benefit from getting to know other high-achieving students bound for graduate study, as the McNair group forms a learning community to support higher academic achievement.

Status as a McNair Scholar entitles students to take advantage of a number of incentives while applying to graduate schools around the country, including fee waivers for applications and special fellowship opportunities.

Furthermore, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), in recognition of the McNair Scholars Program’s mission and success in helping underrepresented students excel in higher education, has made a limited number of reduced-fee GRE certificates available each year to participating programs.

What is expected of a McNair Scholar?

McNair Scholars are expected to participate fully in the program. The terms of the program are spelled out in a series of contracts signed by the scholar. Full participation includes attendance at weekly seminars; completion of the Colloquium on Research and Graduate Education, the Summer Research Internship, and reports and presentations based on the research; and making an appropriate number of applications to graduate programs in a field in which a Ph.D. is the terminal degree.

Any scholar who refuses to sign or fails to uphold the terms of a contract may be removed from the program or placed on probationary status. Scholars are expected to maintain the academic standards of the program and to work at developing the skills necessary for success in graduate school. The McNair staff encourage scholars to use the list of Six Competencies to measure progress toward this goal.

Terms Explained (in alphabetical order)

Academic Development Plan

The first order of business for a new McNair Scholar is to meet with a staff member to generate an Academic Development Plan (ADP). This should happen within the first ten days after a scholar is accepted into the program. Taking into account a number of possible indicators (e.g., college transcripts, standardized test scores, faculty opinions, program assessment tests, and the scholar's own self-assessment), the scholar and staff member will map out a strategy for meeting the scholar's academic and career goals. McNair Scholars and staff will meet periodically to review their ADPs and make sure plans are being carried out.

Colloquium on Research and Graduate Education

In the fall, usually before their Summer Research Internships, McNair Scholars attend a Colloquium on Research and Graduate Education. The colloquium consists of four sessions designed to teach and to allow hands-on practice of skills and techniques necessary to do research. This training is conducted by McNair staff in cooperation with faculty members in the same academic area as the scholar.

Contracts

At various points in the program, McNair Scholars will be asked to sign contracts. These contracts are partly for accountability's sake, as the program has the resources to serve only a few of the deserving students who apply. However, the contracts' main purpose is to guarantee that scholars always know exactly what is expected of them by the program.

Scholars sign initial contracts, stating that they accept their admittance to the program and intend to participate fully in it. Scholars also sign contracts outlining the terms of their participation in the Colloquium on Research and Graduate Education. A third contract will spell out the conditions of the Summer Research Internship and the associated stipend support (currently up to $2600). Refusal to sign or honor a contract may be grounds for placement on probationary status or removal from the program.

Mentoring

Mentoring is a vital aspect of the McNair Scholars Program, as it offers an invaluable opportunity for scholars to develop close professional relationships with faculty members (mentors) -- relationships which are mutually beneficial and have the potential to last throughout their careers. Mentors teach what textbooks and journals cannot. Mentors can serve as navigators through the waters of academia, as role models, as advocates and interpreters of the "rules of the game."

To find the right mentor, scholars first define their goals and decide what they expect from the relationship. Scholars are encouraged to talk to prior mentees, academic advisors, faculty members, and McNair staff for help in choosing a mentor. Scholars must be sensitive, of course, to mentors' busy schedules, as they take on mentoring duties with no additional compensation. The ideal mentor, however, displays enthusiasm for the McNair Scholars Program and a desire to be open and approachable.

Not every student's needs will be met by a single mentor. Good mentors understand that, and so must McNair Scholars. Scholars should not hesitate to ask their mentors for referrals to other contacts. This is among the most important ways they can help.

The McNair Scholar Program's commitment to mentoring applies within the program as well. Scholars are encouraged to serve as mentors for each other. More experienced scholars may be asked to work with newer scholars. This networking provides social support and an active exchange of information.

Six Competencies

The Kansas State McNair Scholars Program has identified a number of basic skill areas which are necessary for anyone seeking a career in higher education. These can be expressed as "Six Competencies" which McNair Scholars and staff can use to measure their progress. They are:

1. Communication -- ability to acquire and convey information and ideas effectively in all modes of academic discourse, e.g. oral, written, non-verbal, or electronic.

2. Self-Assessment -- ability to recognize personal strengths and how to utilize them, weaknesses and how to overcome them, and appropriate goals and how to reach them, through effective management of time, stress, and personal resources.

3. Research -- ability to use all research tools appropriate to the scholar's academic discipline, in the library, the laboratory, and the electronic environment of computers and the Internet.

4. Career & Professional -- ability to recognize and adapt to opportunities and trends for Ph.D. professionals in the scholar's field, to identify an effective career plan and put it into action with the help of a strong network of professional contacts.

5. University Environment -- ability to understand and take advantage of the university environment with all its resources and opportunities.

6. Cultural -- ability to understand one's own cultural background, to appreciate and form sensitive relationships with those of other cultural backgrounds, and to recognize the cultural implications involved in academic research.

Summer Research Internship

In the summer before their final year of undergraduate study, McNair Scholars complete a research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor in the scholar's area of academic interest. The research may contribute to the mentor's ongoing work, or it may be a project originating with the scholar. The summer internship lasts 8 weeks, during which McNair Scholars receive stipends totaling up to $2600.

Upon completion of the summer projects, scholars submit an article based on their research to the program. In preparation, scholars work with their mentors to see that articles are formatted and documented correctly, and that the articles meet the standards of scholarship in their academic fields. Scholars are encouraged to present their papers at conferences in their fields, and to submit them for publication in professional journals.