The Legacy of Ronald E. McNair: The McNair Scholars Program

Photo:  AdobeStock

Photo: AdobeStock


In 1986, the Challenger space shuttle disintegrated taking the lives of all seven crew members, including Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the second African American in space. Throughout his lifetime, Dr. McNair followed his passion for laser physics and music. He received four honorary doctorates and became a sixth level black belt, all while facing segregation. Truly, the definition of black excellence. When Dr. McNair took flight aboard The Challenger he helped pave the way for many future scholars to not only take the journey into space but also take the journey into graduate school. 


The Ronald E. McNair Scholars program is a federal TRIO program that helps low income, first generation, and/or minority students prepare for doctoral studies by providing research teaching, GRE preparation, and mentoring. The main goal of the program is to increase the amount of underrepresented students that receive graduate degree awards. There are currently 151 McNair programs across the country at higher education institutions. Chances are your school has one and you just don’t know. From my experience the program isn’t talked about enough or given enough recognition. 


When I first started my college journey, I already knew that I wanted to go to graduate school for Psychology. I kept my grades up, joined psych organizations, and did proper networking. However the process of applying and what needed to be done to get in was still pretty vague to me. It wasn’t until my sophomore year, that I stumbled upon the McNair Scholars program in the student union. Honestly, as a broke college student what first caught my attention was that I was going to be receiving money for being a part of the program.


Couldn’t really say no to securing that bag! Although, for someone who hadn’t done much writing in the past or scientific work, the idea of doing research was a bit intimidating. Little did I know I was taking one of the best steps I could to start my journey to getting my Ph.D. 


The McNair program requires you to spend six weeks over the summer laying the groundwork of a research project you’re interested in, to later on execute the project during the following school semester. The program also gives you the opportunity to work with faculty within your desired department. This faculty member(s) acts as a mentor/supervisor of your research and graduate school goals. In these six weeks you will learn all you need to know about graduate school, from how to apply to how to ace your GRE, as well as how to improve your writing to a graduate school level. 


If you don’t already know most graduate schools are competitive to get into, especially Clinical Psychology. It’s not enough to just have good grades or good GRE scores. Schools want to see that you are passionate about what you want to do and have the skills necessary to be in a graduate program. Being a McNair scholar allowed me to complete, not one but three different research projects (one being a senior honors thesis), work in two different research labs, as well as present my research at McNair/national research conferences. Honestly my GRE scores weren’t the highest, so McNair and my research experiences were my saving grace.


But that’s not even the half of it. Through the McNair program I was able to find mentors who were truly invested in me. I was also able to find a McNair family. I’ve made great friends in my McNair cohort who truly understand the struggles of going to grad school and share similar experiences. Then there’s always a warming feeling meeting other McNair scholars at conferences, on social media, etc. The amount of support that McNair offers is truly unmatched. 


Hopefully I’ve made McNair sound like the best thing in the world or at least a helpful option to any underrepresented student hoping to go to grad school. But I would be lying if I said there weren’t times that were challenging, times that I was frustrated and worn out, and late nights of writing and reading. But these experiences have prepared me to handle graduate school and improved my confidence in being successful. 


If it wasn’t for McNair and my mentors, I wouldn’t be where I am today or have accomplished all that I did within my undergraduate career. Ronald E. McNair never gave up on his passions no matter what obstacles got in his way. The McNair Scholars program has provided me with the skills and support to never give up on mine. So much so, that I have the honor of entering a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program as a McNair graduate fellow!


Look for a McNair program on your campus!


About the Author

Deja Clement is originally from Upstate NY, a recent BA psychology graduate of West Virginia University, and a McNair Scholar. She's currently a Clinical Psychology PhD student at Oklahoma State University. She's interested in support for depressed or suicidal minorities and spreading mental health awareness within the minority community. As well as lover of food and cooking.

Related Posts