McNair Scholars Program gives hope to future graduate students

Luncheon celebrates student success and $1.15 million grant renewal

10/3/2012 - By: Stephany Kirby
2012 cohort of McNair Scholars The 2012 cohort of McNair Scholars. Photo by Heather Penrod.

Each year there are students who come to the University of Nevada, Reno and exceed all expectations by fulfilling their dreams of graduate school. These are students who wish to spend their lives helping others, but to make this happen; they often need help getting there.

Steven Hammonds, a first-generation student, has worked hard to make the most out of his college experience as a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity, a marketing employee for a local restaurant and a promotions intern for the National Basketball Association. These, however, are not the most impressive things on his resume.

Hammonds spent his summer taking part in the McNair Research Colloquium, a seven week guided research program that includes intensive preparation for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which is the standardized, graduate-school entrance exam. Hammonds is a member of the McNair Scholars Program, which gives students the opportunity to work on research projects with academic mentors, as well as offers the academic experiences that help college juniors and seniors gain admittance to graduate school.

"The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded program designed to prepare students from underrepresented backgrounds for the rigor of graduate school," said Rita Escher, director of the McNair Program. "The long term mission of McNair programs across the United States is to diversify higher education by assisting those who might not otherwise consider graduate school to become professors, researchers and university administrators."

The program is made up of 26 undergraduate students with diverse majors and future plans, but the one thing they have in common is their shared effort to get into graduate school.

The focus of the McNair Research Colloquium is to provide participants with a paid internship to complete a research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor. In addition, participants complete a GRE preparation course, requiring students to complete 60 hours of intense preparation. In addition, participants learn about the graduate school application process by attending a two day seminar conducted by a national expert in the field.

"We are paired up with a mentor to do research," Hammonds, a Psychology and Spanish dual-major, said. "The research itself, which is one of the main components of graduate school, gives us the opportunity to add to our academic resume, which gives us more credibility for graduate school admittance."

The summer program also included a trip to a national McNair conference in Berkeley, where the students presented the research projects they had been working on with their mentors.

The McNair Scholars Program hosted a luncheon for the students in early September to give the students a chance to celebrate and show off their hard work.

"The luncheon was to mark the end of the program, though there isn't really an end to this journey," Hammonds said. "It was great to share the success of the cohort with friends, family, administration, and mentors."

Students were given the chance to speak about their research topics, the names and influences of their mentors, what they learned from the past summer and to thank those who have helped them throughout their journey. Hammonds, whose research topic is titled, "Minority College Students' Response to an Innovative First Year Experience (FYE) Course: Acceptability and Perceived Usefulness" spoke highly of his mentor, Jacqueline Pistorello, before giving a presentation on the research he conducted.

The research of Mariela Castro, a fellow McNair Scholar, focuses on working with children with intellectual disabilities and measuring the relative roles of speed and accuracy with these children. Castro also participated in the McNair Research Colloquium this past summer and said it has helped her future plans to attend graduate school and earn her doctorate in psychology.

"This program has pushed me to continue my education and to see what is really out there," Castro said. "It has made me even more interested in doing research in my field."

The end of a successful summer wasn't the only thing the McNair Scholars Program seemed to be celebrating. Staff and faculty members of the program were informed they would receive a $1.15 million grant for the next five years of work.

"We are especially gratified to receive word of our funding since federal budget cuts have resulted in a loss of 30 to 35 percent of previously funded McNair programs nationally," said Escher.

The money will go to helping students pay for things such as their trip to the Berkeley conference, future McNair Research Colloquiums, and increase the summer research stipend from $2,800 to $3,500. This new grant means many more years helping change lives for students, like Hammonds and Castro, who rely on the McNair Program to help them achieve their goals.

"The McNair Scholars Program was the best decision I've made academically," Hammonds said. "It has shed light upon life-changing opportunities that are in reach for me that were preciously unforeseen. I couldn't be more grateful for what the McNair Scholars Program has done for me thus far, and I'm incredibly excited to see where it leads me in the future."

Castro also praised the McNair program and believes it has helped encourage her to succeed in the future.

"I would encourage anyone ever thinking about furthering their education to apply for the program," she said. "It gave me the extra push I didn't think I needed to take my education to the next level. From graduate research preparation to filling out graduate applications, I got all the help I could ever ask for."

For more information on the program, and other students like Hammonds and Castro, go to the McNair Scholar Program website.


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