Some Northern students seeking graduate and doctoral studies will receive an extra boost in support in upcoming years, thanks to a new grant from the federal government awarded to the university this fall.
Northern was given the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Grant by the U.S. Department of Education, worth $880,000 over four years. The program is designed to help disadvantaged and minority college students pursue graduate and doctoral studies, with the ultimate goal being to increase the number of post-baccalaureate degrees earned by that population. Only 185 colleges and universities across the county have the grant, and NMU is the only one in the U.P.
“It’s a great program. I’m thrilled we get to be a part of it,” said Cynthia Prosen, the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research.
At NMU, the grant will mostly target low-income and first-generation students, a group that is usually underrepresented in graduate studies, said Prosen.
“We kind of felt like we were perfect for it, like we couldn’t be any better for it, because while we don’t have minority students that you would traditionally think about, we do have a whole lot of first generation, low income students,” she said.
Every year, the program will accept 25 students through a yet to be determined application process. Those students will be paired with a faculty member during their sophomore year who will serve as a mentor for them through the completion of undergraduate study. Students will have opportunities to visit graduate schools, attend conferences and get help prepping for the graduate requisite exam (GRE). A $2,800 stipend is part of the package for students, as compensation for a summer research project. Faculty mentors are also compensated through the grant.
Around 50 faculty members expressed interest in being mentors for students in the McNair program, according to Peter Holliday, Director of Student Support Services.
“We have both talented students and talented faculty, and what we were looking for was the mechanism to go between. This brings them together,” he said.
Holliday added that the McNair grant will offer the kind of support many students are lacking when it comes to pursuing post-baccalaureate education.
“For students thinking about going into a doctoral program it’s like, ‘How do you even get there,’ especially for students who maybe haven’t had a parent go to college,” said Holliday.
The grant will help NMU target students who have their academics in line but may be lacking the necessary support in other areas to make it to graduate school and beyond, said Prosen.
“You come in here with all of the academics in line and you’re a wonderful candidate to go on and get a Ph.D. What we’d like to do is help you think about how you would do that, and anything that we can say that would help a student go on to get a Ph.D. we’ll be that support,” she said.
The grant only applies to students in certain academic majors, which are determined by the government. The McNair grant also allows NMU to hire both a director and a coordinator to run the program.
The grant requires schools to track the successes of their students after they graduate, including the number of years it took them to get through graduate school and get their Ph.D., said Andrew Smentkowski, Associate Director of Grants and Research, who helped write the grant with Holliday in 2007.
“They [the Department of Education] are very specific about what you have to do to keep the grant. So it is very easy to say it is effective.”
Although the initial grant is only for four years, all three are confident that it will be renewed after that.
The McNair grant is named for Ronald McNair, an African-American astronaut with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who perished in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger launch.