McNair Scholars have big plans post-graduation

13 undergraduate scholars learn the ins and outs of graduate school and the importance of higher education

9/25/2013 | By: Abbie Walker  |

Students entering graduate school may be intimidated and feel a little overwhelmed. Add being a first-generation student with possible financial difficulties, and the emotions can be even more overwhelming. Sam Sedillos, Sarah Carl and 11 other 2013 Ronald E. McNair Scholars are not letting barriers hinder their access to higher education.

The McNair Scholars spent the past summer working with the University of Nevada, Reno Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program. The McNair Scholars Program was created by Congress to increase the number of first-generation students with financial needs and groups that are traditionally underrepresented in graduate school to pursue teaching, research and administrative careers in higher education. Since the University of Nevada, Reno's program received its first grant in 2003, it has prepared first-generation, low-income and underrepresented Nevada undergraduates for doctoral study. The program has been successfully funded for three consecutive 5-year grant cycles. Current federal funding is $231,000 per year through September of 2017.

Scholars participated in the 10th Annual Summer Research Colloquium, a seven-week program that focuses on providing students, usually in their junior year of study, a paid internship to complete a research project under the guidance of a University faculty member. In addition, participants completed a Graduate Record Examination preparation course, learned about the graduate school application process, and were given access to a two-day seminar conducted by a national expert in the area of the graduate school application process. Students also attended workshops on personal statements, created personal curriculum vitaes and presented research projects at a national McNair conference hosted by the University of California, Berkeley.

"The experience of presenting to fellow scholars on my research project that I conducted during the summer was thrilling and exciting," Carl said. "Also, watching others present was a learning experience, as I learned about research being done in different fields and how to be a better presenter. Also, exploring a different campus, like Berkeley, with my cohort was fun."

Beyond an enriching time in Berkeley, the McNair Scholars Program has influenced the lives of the students.

"It was one of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences of my life," Sedillos said. "I not only achieved great things for myself, but I was provided with the opportunity to be surrounded by some of the most intelligent and talented group of young students I have ever encountered."

Both Carl and Sedillos have high ambitions after receiving their undergraduate degrees this year.

"The McNair Scholars Program will be a symbol of accomplishment of all the hard work that I have done so far and will be a reminder for me to continue to do so as I start applying for graduate school," Carl said.

Sedillos is majoring in social work, a Division of Health Science, with an emphasis in generalist practice. He hopes to move on to graduate school and focus in community organization and social administration, management and planning.

"I choose this major due to its values of empowerment, cultural humility, understanding and empathy, evidence-based practices, and social justice," Sedillos said. "I also choose social work as a major because of the diverse areas of practices, research and academia that are available with this degree."

Carl said she enjoys chemistry and math and is majoring in chemical engineering through the College of Engineering, with an emphasis in process and energy engineering. Carl has big plans after completing her undergraduate degree and even beyond a master's degree.

"After graduate school, I think I will continue on to obtain a post-doctorate, since I am interested in being in an academic setting," Carl said. "I would love to teach classes as well as research on the side or at least guide others to research. My other option is to research for an industry, ideally in Japan - that would be great."

Marsha Dupree, McNair Scholars assistant director, could not be happier with this year's cohort and knows that Sedillos and Carl are headed for great things.

"Sam works extra hard to do all he can to prepare himself for graduate school," Dupree said. "I believe Sam entered the McNair Program knowing he was interested in pursuing a master's degree for sure, but now he realizes he doesn't need to stop at a master's level of education - he can become a bigger influence within the community and the field of social work. I believe our McNair Program and his mentor, Mary Hylton, have provided the support and encouragement he needed to think beyond his initial goals. We expect nothing less than a doctoral degree from Sam."

For Carl, Dupree is proud of her entering a field where men tend to outnumber women.

"Sarah is a good example to others to show that your socioeconomic status or gender doesn't have to limit you from pursuing your goals and dreams," Dupree said. "Sarah entered the McNair Scholars Program knowing she wanted to obtain a Ph.D., and we are just glad that we have been able to provide the support and give her the tools needed to help her maneuver through the graduate school application process. She has already been contacted by at least one research faculty member from a school in New York to encourage her to apply to their graduate program. I see her doing some great things in the area of renewable energy."

Carl and Sedillos know the importance of higher education and are grateful for the help the McNair Scholar Program has given them.

"Without the McNair Program, I would not have known much about graduate school or about research opportunities, like the one at Stony Brook University in New York," Carl said. "Also, since I joined the McNair Program in my sophomore year I have worked in Professor Hongfei Lin's lab longer than most undergraduate students, allowing me to gain valuable research experience. With him as a mentor, I have been able to conduct another research project about climate change that was funded by EPSCoR."

Sedillos agreed, without a great support system, things like obtaining a master's degree or even an undergraduate degree come with big challenges.

"While the McNair Program offers support and information, I strongly contend that the most critical aspect to a McNair Scholars success is the pairing with a faculty mentor," said Sedillos. "Without my mentor's assistance, guidance, wisdom and unconditional support, I would not be in the position I am in today. I truly owe a debt of gratitude to my mentor, Professor Mary Hylton."

For more information about the McNair Scholars Program, contact Marsha Dupree at or 775-784-6044.


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