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K-State graduate guided by PILOTS, Developing Scholars, and McNair Scholars Programs

By Melissa Broeckelman


When it comes to academic diversity programs at Kansas State University, Deidra Saina, pictured below, is definitely an expert. Saina, a 2003 graduate in sociology and American ethnic studies, is one of the few students to go through not only the PILOTS program during her time at K-State, but also the Developing Scholars and McNair Scholars programs.

Deidra Saina"When I enrolled as a freshman, they suggested that I try out this program called the PILOTS program since I had a low ACT score coming out of high school," Saina said. "That was the best thing I could have ever done for my college career. Not only did I meet a lot of people that have been valuable in my life, but I also achieved a 4.0 GPA that year that helped me establish my GPA for the remainder of my college career."

Saina said the PILOTS program, with its smaller core classes, study lab and tutors, was a stepping stone that helped her find out about other resources and opportunities on campus that she otherwise would not have known about, including the Developing Scholars and McNair Scholars programs.

"The Developing Scholars Program was wonderful because I got to work with my faculty mentor, Betsy Cauble in the department of social work, and keep in close contact with Anita Cortez, who became sort of like my university angels," Saina said. Cortez oversees both PILOTS and the Developing Scholars Program, which allows selected undergraduate students to work as research assistants for K-State faculty.

"McNair was very rewarding in that it helped me really understand the research process," Saina said of the program that prepares historically underrepresented students for graduate school. "I was able to do a full research project from beginning to end and was doing things that many undergraduates do not get a chance to do. We got to travel all over to present our research projects, including Puerto Rico. It also helped me to get fully prepared for applying to graduate school and helped me learn what to expect."

However, when Saina began to apply for graduate school, she was not able to apply to all of the schools she wanted to because she knew that her husband, who was in the military, was going to be transferred to Hawaii. Because of this, she worked to perfect her application for the University of Hawaii, but after she was accepted, her husband received orders to go to Iraq instead.

"I knew I couldn't go to Hawaii without him because they had no clue as to when they were coming back from Iraq. I couldn't just sit around and do nothing, so I told myself that I might as well keep working toward my goal and to not let anything get in my way," Saina said. "The University of Kansas was at the top of my list for master's of social work programs, but since I thought I couldn't go to KU, I hadn't applied. When I found out that my husband was going to Iraq, my mentor talked with KU and they agreed to let me apply, even though it was right at the April deadline. I sent in my application materials and received my acceptance letter just a few days later."

Besides attending graduate school at KU in the fall, Saina will also be returning to help with the PILOTS program at K-State.

"Oh, I am so excited to start working for the PILOTS program. I am going to try my best to be an influence and to help these students because it wasn't too long ago that I was in their same shoes," Saina said. "Anita Cortez, Betsy Cauble, the McNair staff and so many other people have made my K-State experience something I will never forget. My goals are to never, ever stop learning and to make a difference in the life of one individual, just as these people have done for me. I have been so lucky to attend this school and to have achieved everything that I achieved here."

Photo courtesy Jeanne Gerhard.

Fall 2003