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McNair Scholars Research Symposium held in Anatol Center

Published: August 3, 2009

CSULB recognized 13 students in July’s 2009 McNair Scholars Research Symposium held in the Karl W.E. Anatol Center.

The symposium focused attention on the accomplishments of McNair Scholars engaged in research and creative activity at both the graduate and undergraduate level in all academic disciplines. The symposium featured oral presentations to an audience of fellow students, faculty, staff, and general public.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program represents a collaboration between CSULB’s Divisions of Student Services and Academic Affairs. The 2009 McNair Summer Research Internship Program Scholars included Jose Caprile, Nadia Castro, Maria Flores, Alfredo Garcia, Janette Gradney, Marian Hilliard, Michael Ramirez, Maria Rodriguez, Lorena Romero, Rogelio Rosas, Daisy Sanchez, Elizabeth Santana and Massiel Trujillo.

The McNair Scholars Program, named after the late Ronald E. McNair, an African-American physicist and NASA astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion, is a federal TRIO program. The program is funded at 156 institutions across the U.S. and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education and is designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented segments of society and disadvantaged backgrounds who have demonstrated strong, academic potential to go on to doctoral study, Ph.D. or Ed.D.

The CSULB McNair Scholars Program provides academic support services, research opportunities and involvement in scholarly activities to 30 low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students enrolled at CSULB and prepares them for doctoral studies by working closely with them through their undergraduate requirements, encouraging their entrance into graduate programs and tracking their progress to successful completion of the doctorate.

McNair Scholars are matched with faculty mentors whose research interests are related to the scholars’ academic interests. The students participate in a competitive six-week summer research project under the direction of their faculty mentor and gain recommendations to receive up to a $2,800 competitive stipend. They write an abstract and paper based on their summer research findings which will be published in the CSULB McNair Scholars’ Journal. They are eligible for individualized tutorial assistance and attend seminars that introduce participants to the nature of graduate education and to successful role models who have obtained doctoral degrees. They attend research and teaching institutes designed to increase their knowledge of the culture of the academy as well as participate in an intensive Graduate Record Exam workshop.

“The overarching goal of the McNair Scholars program is to produce Ph.D.s or Ed.D.s for teaching positions in colleges and universities across the nation,” said Howard Wray, executive director of Educational Equity Services and director of the McNair Scholars and Student Support Services programs. “What we do at CSULB is select students from low-income, first-generation, underrepresented groups and prepare them for graduate education. Scholars are selected based on their potential to be successful in graduate school and their motivation to attain a doctorate degree. The Summer Research Internship Program gives them the research experience they need to pursue graduate studies. The program has been so successful that several former CSULB McNair Scholars have returned here as faculty members after attaining their doctorates.”

The Summer Research Internship Program is the tip of the iceberg as far as helping students apply to grad schools, said Galen Pickett, professor and undergraduate advisor for Physics and Astronomy as well as faculty research coordinator for the McNair Scholars program. “We want to offer these students a chance to reach the Ph.D. level with the university’s full support,” he said. “Some of the McNair Scholars go on to compete in the CSU Statewide Student Research Competition in May.” That competition showcases research in the full range of academic programs offered by the CSU. Participants make oral presentations before juries of experts from major state corporations, foundations, public agencies, colleges and universities.

The McNair Summer Research Internship Program reflects the mission of the McNair Scholars by giving students an opportunity to work with faculty members on research, said Wray. “McNair scholars can apply those research skills in graduate studies which eventually lead to their dissertations and their doctorates,” he said.

“What faculty members get out of their commitment is fulfilling their role as educators,” said Pickett. “It is every faculty member’s dream to teach the best students so they go in exactly the same path as the teacher and go discover new things. Working on the McNair Scholars program is one way to start people on that path. Working with a student on research skills is one of the most complicated and personally intensive things a teacher does. Mostly, participating in the McNair Scholars program is a labor of love.”

Feedback from participating students has been extremely positive, noted Pickett. “The transformation that begins with this program continues through the scholars’ careers,” he said. “Support like this is not often available in the usual graduate program. Every student who wants to go to graduate school ought to have these resources available.”

Wray encourages CSULB faculty members to become involved with the McNair summer program. “It offers a rare opportunity for faculty members to work closely with undergraduate students on research projects that are of mutual interest to both parties,” he said. “Without faculty participation, there is no Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. If faculty are not willing to step up to the plate to nominate students to the program and help mentor them, the students may never have this unique experience again in their lifetimes.”