Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the program prepares Texas Tech students who demonstrate strong academic potential for doctoral studies.
Last fall, Texas Tech University was named the recipient of a five-year, $1,161,325 grant from the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, one of eight educational opportunity programs within the U.S. Department of Education's Federal TRIO Programs.
The grant, named after a NASA astronaut killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, allowed the university to establish the Texas Tech McNair Scholars Program, a graduate school preparatory program for undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups who demonstrate strong academic potential for graduate research.
This fall, the first two cohorts of 26 scholars began in the program, which is housed within the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DDEI). The program provides access to research opportunities with faculty mentors, research conference funding, graduate school application assistance and academic and professional training. The scholars receive assistance in preparing for their Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE, along with fee reductions for the exam and waivers for graduate school applications. The program includes an eight-week summer research-intensive internship and stipend.
"A primary focus of our strategic plan is educating and empowering a diverse student body. This grant advances that priority by enhancing opportunities for many deserving students seeking a college degree," said Lawrence Schovanec, Texas Tech president. "We are grateful to the McNair program for their support of Texas Tech students, and for the cause of higher education in general."
Texas Tech alumnus Jon Crider was named director of the program in August. He most recently served as director of the McNair Scholars Program at Knox College. Prior to that, Crider was an adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey, where he taught history and led courses in the college's Institute for Prison Teaching and Outreach, formerly the Center for Prison Outreach and Education.
"I have a deep love for the McNair Scholars Program," Crider said. "It is one of the few nationally recognized programs that helps first-generation, low-income and underrepresented undergraduate students prepare for graduate-level research and doctoral studies. The support provided by McNair aids students in gaining many of the necessary skills and tools they will need to successfully enter graduate school and begin their careers."
Crider completed a bachelor's degree in history from Kennesaw State University, and a master's degree at Texas Tech and a doctorate at Temple University, both in 19th century United States history.
"The Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is ecstatic to have Dr. Crider return to the Texas Tech community," said Carol A. Sumner, vice president of DDEI. "His expertise and passion for student success will create life-changing opportunities for students by creating transformative experiences while creating a pathway to further their education. I have no doubt that the McNair Scholars Program will continue to strengthen under his direction.
"We know that having a McNair Program on a university campus can have a far-reaching impact on undergraduates and their awareness and enrollment in graduate school programs. We are excited to know we could have a role in facilitating these conversations and activities across Texas Tech University."
Darin Williams, a doctoral student in technical communication and rhetoric, served as interim director prior to Crider's appointment. Williams and interim assistant director LaTricia Phillips, a doctoral candidate in higher education research, led recruitment and organizational efforts this summer during the establishment of the program on campus. Both are former McNair Scholars.
"The McNair Program has shown me the benefits of building a network of like-minded individuals and fostering a love for research," said Williams, who participated in the program as a scholar at Morehouse College. "True research requires genuine creativity and physical activity as well as rigorous scholarship. The McNair Program helped me develop my identity as an engineer and provided my first exposure to the importance of safety and quality in engineering. The practical experience I gained as a McNair Scholar was the sole factor that led to my recruitment with an engineering firm that permanently changed my career trajectory."
Phillips, who is now program coordinator, was a McNair Scholar at Grand Valley State University where she completed her bachelor's degree in creative writing. She also was a Thurgood Marshall Fellow at Western Michigan University, where she earned two master's degrees in creative writing (poetry) and higher education and student affairs.
"As a former McNair Scholar, I am honored to be in a position where I am able to make an impact and serve future McNair Scholars," Williams said. "The McNair Scholars Program has played a critical role in preparing and guiding me through all of my academic endeavors, especially when conducting research and publishing articles. This program is truly important for first-generation students and underrepresented groups to provide that cultural capital necessary to navigate and succeed in graduate school and other scholarly activities."
Call for mentors
Faculty mentoring is one of the most critical aspects of the program. Mentors are asked to commit their time, share knowledge and insight and guide McNair Scholars through the process and completion of a research project.
"Quality mentoring is so important to student success and completion of graduate programs," said Mark Sheridan, dean of the Texas Tech Graduate School. "When we look at the underlying issues causing students to not complete a program, there tends to be a lack of support and effective mentoring. The McNair Program focuses on increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). You need positive role models and mentors who show students the sciences are viable career options and a support structure to help them succeed in their undergraduate studies and motivate them to continue into graduate education."
Mentors are asked to provide full support to the scholars for the duration of their undergraduate careers by introducing respective fields and professional networks, assisting with the graduate school process and empowering and instilling confidence within their endeavors. They must have a terminal degree – the highest degree awarded in their given field – in an area of competency and a minimum of 2-3 years of teaching experience in that area. Those interested may apply online.
The Texas Tech McNair Scholars
The scholars represent several colleges and departments and a variety of research interests:
- Sidney Abeyta, a junior economics major from San Antonio
- Marqui Benavides, a junior nutritional sciences and dietetics major from George's County, Maryland
- Legrand Bouyi, a senior animal science major from Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
- Ashley Briseno, a senior psychology major from El Paso
- Priscilla Dominguez, a senior human sciences major from Mission
- Mercedez Fuentes, a senior psychology major from Pleasanton
- Paige Gonzalez, a senior psychology major from Houston
- Gabriella Hale, a junior plant and soil science major from Fredericksburg
- Colton Hernandez, a senior biochemistry major from Lubbock
- Genesis Hernandez, a senior psychology and sociology major from Dallas
- Tien Hoang, a senior accounting major from Hue, Vietnam
- Aundrea Jackson, a senior journalism major from Ferris
- Quentin Johnson, a junior computer science major from Lubbock
- Amber Lopez, a junior psychology major from Midland
- Mayra Maldonado, a senior business management and marketing major from Hart
- Clayton Miller, a junior mechanical engineering major from Italy, Texas
- Franco Navas, a junior mathematics major from Ennis
- Rebekkah Navas, a junior apparel design and manufacturing major from Waxahachie
- Kiera Nevels-Washington, a senior kinesiology major from Houston
- Alfred Ongolo, a junior mechanical engineering major from Kisumu, Kenya
- Juliet Owuor, a senior environmental engineering major from Lubbock
- Nelly Rubio, a junior biology and general studies major from Garland
- Juridia Roman, a junior industrial engineering major from Houston
- Aaron Tejeda, a junior business management major from Midland
- Rick Trevino, a junior computer engineering major from Dumas
- Alejandra Viveros, a senior interdisciplinary agriculture major from Buena Park, California