The IUP Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, known as the McNair Scholars Program, has received a grant of $228,800 in continued funding from the U.S. Department of Education.
Total funding for the program over the next five years is expected to be more than $1.14 million. IUP is one of two institutions in Pennsylvania and 151 nationally to have been awarded funding.
The McNair program is designed to help first-generation, low-income students and students from underrepresented groups who have strong academic potential to prepare for doctoral study. The goal is to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by providing academic counseling, assistance in finding financial aid, mentoring, tutoring, research opportunities and internships.
The new funding for IUP will target a cohort of 25 students per year.
IUP’s McNair grant proposal was developed by Calvin Masilela, professor of geography and regional planning. Masilela also directs the IUP TRIO Programs, which comprise the McNair Scholars Program and Upward Bound Math and Science, a program that encourages high school students to enroll in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines at the postsecondary level.
IUP first received funding for the McNair program in 2003.
“Sustaining a signature program like McNair at IUP not only provides access and a pathway to higher education for our students, but also demonstrates the commitment of our faculty to mentor undergraduates to think and aspire beyond the baccalaureate degree,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said.
As institutions competed for the limited resources the government allotted for McNair programs in 2012-13, many longstanding programs around the country were lost, Masilela said, including those at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University.
“To receive funding in this climate of federal budget cuts to TRIO programs which saw the McNair program lose $10 million is remarkable and a testament to the IUP McNair program’s success since its inception in academic year 2003-04,” Masilela said.
“As a first-generation college graduate in my family, much of my academic success is because of the professors who mentored me, so I know firsthand the importance of this kind of program.”
Since the first cohort was selected in 2004, 157 McNair scholars (including the current cohort) have participated in the program at IUP.
Of the program’s alumni, 54 have earned master’s degrees or are currently enrolled in master’s programs, two have earned Juris Doctor degrees and two more are pursuing the degree, and 19 are enrolled in Ph.D. programs.
Adam Crain, who has completed the work for his doctorate in biochemistry at Montana State University and will officially graduate in May 2013, is the first graduate of the IUP McNair program to earn his Ph.D. A 2007 graduate of IUP, Crain participated in the McNair program in 2006 and was accepted directly into the Montana State Ph.D. program in fall 2007.
Masilela expects at least two other IUP McNair alumni to complete their doctorates this academic year.
The program serves incoming juniors and seniors, who must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.8 or higher to be selected. By the time they graduate, 95 percent will have a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or higher, Masilela said.
In addition to benefiting from a strong faculty mentoring process, McNair Scholars actively participate in academic and other types of support services until they complete their senior year.
Part of that support is an assessment of the students’ academic status and strengths and weaknesses. They also are offered courses in research writing and methodology, important tools for postgraduate success, as well as workshops to explore the graduate school application process and to prepare for standardized tests. In addition, the students participate in organized visits to select graduate schools in the region.
The program’s high point is an intensive, four-week, residential summer research experience to prepare students for academic life beyond the baccalaureate degree. During the program, students are paired with a faculty mentor in their discipline who guides the development of original research projects. At the end of the summer program, the students present their research at a symposium, as well as at regional and national McNair conferences and other discipline-specific conferences.
One key to the McNair program’s success is the willingness of faculty members to work with the students, Masilela said.
“Our faculty have been actively involved and incredibly supportive of the program,” he said. Fifteen faculty members are currently McNair faculty mentors.
“Additionally, Hilary Staples, assistant director, has done a phenomenal job maintaining close contact with both current scholars and alumni to provide continued counseling and advising services, as well as assistance with graduate school applications to ensure students’ academic success,” Masilela added.
The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is one of seven federal TRIO Programs authorized by the Higher Education Act of 1965 and reauthorized in 2008 to help low-income Americans enter college, graduate and become active citizens. The program is named in honor of Ronald E. McNair, who served as mission specialist during the 1986 disaster of the space shuttle Challenger.