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McNair Scholars Director
Praises Students, Faculty Mentors

Five CSULB McNair Scholars were recognized recently in the annual Student Research Competition held on campus.

The purpose of the competition is to focus attention on the accomplishments of students engaged in research and creative activity at both the graduate and undergraduate levels in all academic disciplines, explained Rachel Brophy, student program coordinator for the Office of Academic Events at CSULB. The student academic conference features oral presentations to an audience of fellow students and a faculty jury. The best two presentations in each category won their authors cash prizes ($200 for first place, $100 for second place, funded by the President's office) and award certificates.

Papers were grouped for presentation in several categories including Biological and Agricultural Sciences, Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Engineering and Computer Science, Humanities and Letters, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Business, Economics and Public Administration, Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences and Education.

Some of the student winners from this competition will go on to compete in the 22nd Annual CSU Statewide Student Research Competition hosted by CSU East Bay on May 2 and 3. This system-wide competition will showcase research conducted by CSU undergraduate and graduate students in the full range of academic programs offered by the CSU. Student participants will make oral presentations before juries of experts from major state corporations, foundations, public agencies, colleges and universities.

First place in Physical and Mathematical Sciences/Engineering was Aerospace Engineering’s President’s Scholar Oscar Mejia, who presented on “Trajectory Simulation for the P-8 Launch Vehicle.” His faculty mentors were Aerospace Engineering’s Eric Besnard and Charles Hoult.

Second place in Biological and Agricultural Sciences went to Chemistry/Biochemistry’s President’s Scholar Rebecca Graziano, who addressed the topic “Phenyldialkyl Phosphate Inhibitors of Butyrylcholinesterase and Applications for Alzheimer’s Disease.” Her mentor was Chemistry/Biochemistry’s Roger Acey.

Second place in Humanities and Letters went to Art’s Seija Rohkea, a President’s Scholar who presented on the topic “The North Wall Murals of San Bartolo, El Petén, Guatemala: Analyzing Current Methods of Interpreting Significance and Meaning.” Her faculty mentor was Art History’s Catha Paquette.                      

Second place in Social and Behavioral Sciences went to President’s Scholar and Communication Studies major Yuhua Liang, while an honorable mention was voted in Biological and Agricultural Sciences to Biological Sciences major Theresa Austria, who spoke on the topic “A Non-Culture Based Method for Quantifying Fungal Load.” Her faculty mentor was Biological Sciences’ Mason Zhang. 

Howard Wray, director of the McNair Scholars Program, praised the CSULB students and their faculty mentors. “One of the keys to the McNair Scholars Program’s success is its strong faculty participation,” said Wray, who joined the university in 1988. “Faculty mentors provide lots of hours of work one-on-one with their students. It should be remembered that many of the mentees are first-generation low-income students.”

The Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program is named in honor of the late Ronald E. McNair, a NASA astronaut and physicist who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and includes Saturday workshops during the fall and spring semesters, a six-week workshop during the summer and a one-week preparation for the GRE––the test needed to get into graduate school.

The program has as its purpose the increase of the number of low-income, first-generation college students and students from groups underrepresented in graduate education that leads toward a Ph.D. and ultimately, to take college professor or professional research positions, Wray explained. “The program is not designed for those seeking professional degrees such as law or medicine,” he said. “CSULB generally has 25 participants each year.”

By participating in competitions like these, the McNair Scholars will acquire a skill set that includes a solid knowledge about their areas of research. “They find themselves questioned by such a broad spectrum of experts that they really must know what they’re talking about,” said Wray. “As part of their preparation, students learn about oral presentation, how to package their research in a presentable fashion and how to use Power Point.”

In return, students learn about academic life and how to conduct research by attending McNair activities during the academic year and on selected Saturdays, in addition to its summer research program. They write a research article for the CSULB McNair Scholars Journal, present their findings to campus audiences and have the opportunity to present their scholarship at state and national McNair symposia as well as at other academic conferences.

Student feedback has been positive, Wray said. “They see themselves as transformed from novices who don’t know much about being a college professor to confident students on their way to graduate school to compete with the best,” he said. “They speak about the program very highly.”

Brophy is confident that the McNair Scholars will distinguish themselves at the upcoming state competition. “From what I understand, CSULB students have done very well in statewide competitions,” she said. “As such, those students who are chosen from the CSULB Student Research Competition to go forward to represent CSULB at the state level, do so very competently. In that sense, our instruction and faculty support have been very strong.”

This success is representative of the McNair Scholars Program’s overall excellence, Wray believes. He compared it to the return to CSULB as faculty members of two former McNair Scholars. Kagba Suaray, who earned his bachelor of dcience degree in math from CSULB in 1999, joined the Mathematics and Statistics Department and Hannah-Hanh Nguyen, who received her bachelor of arts degree in Psychology from CSULB in 2000, went on to join CSULB’s Psychology Department. “We need a new crop of scholars,” Wray said, “and what better way could this country be equipped to handle the globalized 21st century than to have underrepresented students come back as faculty members?”