McNair Scholars Program helps disadvantaged students succeed

Thad Ray

Northern Michigan University is helping students from underrepresented segments of society increase their attainment of doctoral degrees with the help of the McNair Scholars Program.

The program is named for Ronald Ervin McNair, P.h.D, a distinguished astronaut and physicist and the second African American to fly in space. Tragically, Dr. McNair was killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on launch in 1986.

Pickett has been the director of the McNair Scholars Program at NMU for three of the five years that it has been in operationIn that time, 68 people have gone through the program, which has room for 28 scholars at a time. Currently there are nine vacancies.

Rachel McOwusu, an NMU McNair Scholar alumna, is currently pursuing her Master of Science in social work at Columbia University.“Everything about the McNair Scholarship Program has helped me and is still helping me while in graduate school,” McOwusu said.

Pickett said the program provides students with many resources, guidance and opportunities. This includes faculty mentoring, strategic planning, research assistance and networking opportunities that are important elements in graduate and post-doctoral programs.

According to their website, the McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded program of the U.S. Department of Education. It was implemented to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

The target audience of this program includes those from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as first-generation college students, and show academic potential.The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.

McOwusu said the three most useful aspects of the program are the faculty-student mentorship developed while conducting research, the presentation of research at a McNair regional conference and attending the McNair retreat.Potential McNair Scholar candidates should think of the program as research for a graduate or postdoctoral program, McOwusu said.

“Once you build a relationship with your faculty mentor and you’re researching a topic you’re passionate about, it becomes a hobby,” McOwusu said. “It’s such a great opportunity that I truly wish everyone could take advantage of.”Nathan Crane, a senior fisheries and wildlife major, is a current participant in the program.

Crane said he plans to enter a grad program in aquatic biology or a similar field after attaining his degree from NMU.“The McNair Scholars Program has helped focus my interests and guide me to seek a post-baccalaureate education,” Crane said.

He also said the resources they provide make searching and applying to graduate programs much easier and more affordable, and encourages anyone who has even the slightest interest to apply.Pickett said this is a great opportunity for students and encourages anyone who might be interested to consider applying. She can be reached via phone at 906-227-2583, or by email at www.nmu.edu/mcnair.