Participants of the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program come from a variety of backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: the quest for higher education.
The program, named for the NASA astronaut who perished in the Challenger explosion, is designed to prepare low-income, first-generation and ethnic minority undergraduate students at different universities for doctoral studies through funding and mentorship.
According to Lydia Fox, the McNair Scholars Program director at Sam Houston State University, approximately 80 Sam students have benefited from the program since its establishment in 2004.
“It’s definitely given me an edge,” said Kristina Nungaray, a senior McNair scholar in the 2007-2008 cohort.
Nungaray said she didn’t know how helpful the program was when she first applied last year. Not only do scholars receive mentoring from a variety of university staff members – each member must chose a faculty mentor – she said the program also gives her endless networking opportunities.
Nungaray said McNair also gives scholars necessary, hands-on research experience and the opportunity to present their projects at SHSU and various conferences.
Nungaray, who studied developmental pyschobiologoy for her McNair thesis, said the graduate clinical psychology programs she’s interested in hardly look twice at applicants without research experience.
The annual McNair Conference at Sam Houston State University is held in late August. Fox said scholars are able to present the research they’ve been conducting since the Spring to family and university members.
“It’s a culmination of their project,” she said.
Nicole Lozano, student regent with the Texas State Board of Regents and SHSU McNair scholar, presented at the conference this year. Scholar Jason Randall and Elizabeth Jackson also presented.
Nine students were chosen for the 2008-2009 cohort, or cohort VI. The scholars are as follows: Portia Adams, Lauren Bottoms, Mario Diaz, Daniel Dooley, Antoinette King, Brittany L. Lee, Bethany Moore, Amica Dawn Onyemeh-Sea and Maverick Wagner.
Junior Lauren Bottoms said she decided to apply because she heard good things about McNair scholars. Bottoms is an English major, but she’s looking into education for her graduate studies.
“It’s very inspiring,” she said. “The program has opened my eyes to grad school.”
The program is funded by the United States Department of Education and provides each scholar a $1,600 summer research stipend, waiver for a 3-hour research class, paid travel to research conferences and programs, personal mentoring and other incentives.
Fox said applications are accepted in the Spring until the beginning of Fall. She said the scholars have already been chosen for the year, but the program will continue to accept applications as a spot may become available.
According to the Web site, applicants must qualify as a first-generation college student and meet low-income guidelines or be a member of an unrepresented ethnic group in graduate education.