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McNair Scholars Program prepares students for graduate school

By Melissa Broeckelman


"McNair is like a guidebook for survival and a wilderness training camp that prepares students who don't understand the academia trail of success to make that demanding yet satisfying journey," said Monique Quinton, a McNair Scholar and senior in fine arts at Kansas State University.Deidra and Monique

The McNair Scholars Program is designed to help low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented students prepare for graduate school. During their two years in the McNair Program, selected students learn about graduate school, are guided through the process of selecting and applying to their chosen graduate programs, and complete a summer research internship under the supervision of a K-State faculty mentor. To apply, students must be admitted to the college of their major, have at least a 3.0 cumulative grade point average, and meet the grant requirements of being either a first generation college student or from a low-income family.

"McNair Scholars can be from any discipline, but we prefer those for which a doctorate is the terminal," said Lora Boyer, assistant director of the K-State McNair Scholars Program. "In the past, we've had students from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Agriculture, Human Ecology, Education, Business and Engineering. Our goal is for these students to earn a doctoral degree."

Though students may enter the McNair Program as sophomores, they are typically selected early in the fall semester of the junior year and take a colloquium class on research and graduate education. In the spring semester, they work with faculty members to select and prepare for their research project. During the following summer, students receive a stipend to complete their research internships, take a GRE preparation course and write up their research. Students spend the fall of their senior year giving research presentations, attending conferences, submitting applications and visiting graduate schools. During their final spring semester, McNair Scholars look at issues that are related to graduate school, such as classroom management, selecting research committees and graduate student rules. Students also find out whether they've been accepted to their chosen graduate schools and may visit more campuses or attend conferences.

Tommy Wong"This program really depends on the in-kind contribution of time and guidance from faculty members," Boyer said. "The students identify the faculty members in their field and will either work with them on an on-going research project or develop their own research question. We've had excellent support from the faculty."

"I really can't say enough about how pivotal the McNair Scholars Program was in my decision to go to graduate school," said Alisa Abuzeineh, a former McNair Scholar and 2002 graduate of K-State. "It gave me a chance to experience, on a smaller scale, what being a graduate student would be like and gave me an advantage when it came to applying to graduate schools. But even more importantly, it gave us participants a chance to truly examine why we were planning to continue our education and what our expectations were."

Brandon Grossardt, a former McNair Scholar who earned both a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in statistics from K-State and is now working as a biostatistician in medical research at the Mayo Clinic, said he owes a lot of where he is today to the influence of the McNair Program.

"I learned the meaning of true scholarly research, which is more than just a term paper here and there, and was given a flavor of how much graduate school can really enhance your job and employment opportunities," Grossardt said.

Boyer explained that many students enter graduate school with little experience in scholarly research and no experience giving presentations. The McNair Scholars Program offers students the opportunity to do research and to present their findings at conferences.

"K-State's program is one of 156 McNair programs nationally," Boyer said, "Graduate schools are recognizing the value of the McNair program, and many are beginning to waive the application fee and have allocated specific fellowships that are targeted at McNair Scholars. That really affirms the value of the program and shows the desirability of well-prepared students. I wish we could extend it to everyone who wanted to go to graduate school, but we are limited to only 20 students each year."

The McNair Scholars Program, officially titled the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, is a federally funded program named in honor of Ronald McNair, a physicist who became the second African-American astronaut. He was killed in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.Aranda Jones

Congress funds the McNair Scholars Program as one of the TRIO programs, which are designed to help students overcome similar class, social and cultural barriers to higher education. The other TRIO programs at K-State are Upward Bound, which prepares eligible pre-college students for higher education, and Educational Supportive Services, which helps eligible students through tutoring and other academic services to stay in college until they earn a degree. The McNair Scholars Program is the one TRIO program and one of the few programs in the nation that is designed to encourage eligible students to consider careers in and prepare for college teaching.

Photos: (Top right) Monique Quinton, right, talks with fellow McNair scholar Deidra Saina during a poster presentation at the 2002 Penn State McNair Conference.

(Middle left) Kai Wai (Tommy) Wong presents his research at the K-State McNair Scholars Program Research Presentations Meeting July 29, 2003.

(Bottom right) McNair scholar Aranda Jones gives a poster presentation of her research.

Images courtesy Jeanne Gerhard.

Fall 2003