In 1986, Congress honored the late Dr. McNair for his accomplishments as a scholar and NASA astronaut by funding the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This program is designed to prepare students from groups underrepresented in graduate education for doctoral studies and college teaching careers. This honor is particularly appropriate because McNair himself would have been eligible for the program, and therefore serves as an ideal role-model and inspiration to McNair Scholars.
Dr. McNair -- the second African-American to travel in outer space -- was born on October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina. He graduated as valedictorian of his Carver High School class in 1967. He attended North Carolina A&T State University where he graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in physics (1971).
At the age of 26, he earned a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). While working as a staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratory, Dr. McNair became nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics. He was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program in 1978. He and six other astronauts died aboard the Challenger space shuttle, his second shuttle flight, on January 28, 1986.