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Vol 58 No. 4 : April 2006
Vol 58 No. 4 : April 2006
McNair Scholars Soar

The tragic death in 1986 of Dr. Ronald E. McNair, an African-American physicist and crewmember of the Challenger space shuttle, was not in vain.

It inspired the United States Department of Education to start the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program as one of its TRIO programs.

“Its purpose is to increase 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, said CSULB’s Howard Wray, executive director, Educational Equity Services and director of Student Support Services and McNair Scholars programs. The program is not designed for those seeking professional degrees such as law or medicine. CSULB generally has 25 participants each year.

Faculty members are encouraged to identify prospective students who must meet certain socio-economic and academic eligibility criteria. Students can apply any time during a semester and once selected, receive support including research opportunities with a faculty mentor, a financial stipend, and academic counseling.

In return, they 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 potential to present their scholarship at state and national McNair symposia as well as at other academic conferences.

This demonstrates their ability to perform advanced academic work, essential for graduate school admission, said Eve Oishi, CSULB McNair Scholars research coordinator and professor of Women’s Studies.

“When they’re admitted into the program, we pair them up with a faculty mentor,” Oishi said. “Students have access to the mentor’s expertise and advice both about the research process and about graduate programs.” Helping them get into graduate school “is a big component of the summer program–how to identify graduate programs in their field, how to apply to graduate programs, how to ask for letters of recommendation, how to write a statement of purpose.”

CSULB’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics welcomed back one of its McNair scholars as a new faculty member last fall. Kagba Suaray initially started at Loyola Marymount University, but transferred to CSULB in his freshman year. He completed his undergraduate math major and physics minor at Long Beach and later his Ph.D. at UC San Diego.

He credits Mathematics and Statistics’ Kent Merryfield for introducing him to the McNair program. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I just get a credential and teach high school and go from there?’ But McNair made something that was kind of vague and amorphous and gave me a clear picture of what it was to apply to grad school, take the GRE–I had no idea before that–and to become a college professor,” Suaray recalled.

“I study something called survival analysis and density estimation. Survival analysis looks at what we call time to event data or failure time data. It pops up a lot in medical studies. We’re looking at the time until some certain event of interest happens. Or, it pops up in engineering when you time until a component or a machine fails. It has a lot of practical applications,” Suaray said.

Once he has settled into CSULB, Suaray plans to become a McNair mentor. “This program helped me immensely. Not only is it a duty, but it would be a delight for me to give back in that way.”

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