The director of Texas Tech’s McNair Scholars Program shares his thoughts on working with historically underrepresented student groups and helping make the campus more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
In 1923, Texas Tech University welcomed its first class of 914 students. Since then, the university has grown to include more than 40,000 people who come from their hometowns around the world to teach, learn and work at Texas Tech.
In 2019, the university achieved official designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), an effort of the entire university community serving the needs of its diverse campus. The HSI designation makes Texas Tech eligible for up to $10 million in additional funding from the U.S. Department of Education to support the enhancement of educational opportunities for all students. As the Texas Tech community celebrates this achievement, students, faculty and staff are taking a moment to reflect not just on their own time in Raiderland, but to also celebrate those who have worked to make Texas Tech a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.
Jon Crider, Ph.D., is the director of 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.
These groups include students who identify as African American, Latino and Native American; students from low-income homes; first-generation college students who have parents or guardians who have not received a bachelor's degree; and nontraditional students who may have taken a few years off between high school and college, may be older and have other responsibilities in addition to their academics, like full-time employment and a family to support.
Crider, a Texas Tech alumnus, has a lengthy background in serving first-generation, nontraditional and low-income students. Before returning to Texas Tech to lead the McNair Program, he served as director of the McNair Scholars Program at Knox College and 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.
We sat down with Crider to learn more about him, his journey in academia and how he's helping make the Texas Tech more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
How long have you worked at Texas Tech University and in what roles?
"I have been at Texas Tech since September 2018, when I began my role as director of the McNair Scholars Program. Previously, I earned my master's degree in history at Texas Tech and worked as a teaching assistant in the Department of History and as a graduate assistant in the McNair Scholars Program and the Center for Undergraduate Research (CUR)."
How do you personally relate to your work?
Crider said that although he is not a first-generation student, his father was, which familiarized Crider with the struggles these students may face in college and the benefits that come with academic success. His experience as a nontraditional student also helps him connect with the students he leads and mentors within the McNair Program.
"I am the result of a first-generation student earning a degree and instilling the importance of an education in me," Crider said. "I also was a nontraditional student. I was a little older when I finished my bachelor's degree and had a wife and kids. I also worked full time while going to school full time. I understand many of the financial struggles my students go through. I can relate as I help them balance school and work obligations."
What motivates you to continue the work you're doing at the university?
"It is the students," Crider said. "I am honored to work with so many amazing students, who desire to continue their studies outside of the classroom. Every semester, I learn something new from them."
As Texas Tech approaches its 100th year, with a community that is its most diverse
ever, how do you think your work has contributed to a campus environment that reflects
diversity, equity and inclusion?
In addition to providing students access to research opportunities with faculty mentors, research conference funding, graduate school application assistance and academic and professional training, the McNair Program assists scholars in preparing for their Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), provides fee reductions for the exam and waivers for graduate school applications. The program also gives the students opportunities to build a network of like-minded peers and researchers and includes an eight-week summer research-intensive internship and stipend.
"The purpose of the program is to prepare first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students for graduate studies," Crider said. "My staff, faculty mentors and I assist these students in completing an undergraduate research project and in compiling a competitive graduate school application. The program is challenged with diversifying those who obtain doctorates. We help provide information and opportunities for those students who sometimes get lost in the shuffle or lack the resources needed for going to graduate school. Our goal is to help a more diverse population of students enter and be successful as undergraduates and in graduate school."
The number of students from historically underrepresented groups who earn a graduate degree is significantly lower than from other student groups. This ultimately means a less diverse pool of people with graduate degrees contributing to scholarly work and becoming faculty members. The ability to lead students toward a path they did not think was possible is a key way to not only forge a new path for these students but to also enhance the academic setting and work that is produced from these efforts.
Can you tell us of a student who made an impact on your life and your work?
"I remember working with a student who was committed to going to law school," Crider said. "But when she talked about what she wanted to do as a lawyer, it did not quite match up with the type of training she would receive as a law student. I encouraged her to look at a doctoral degree in political science. Right before she graduated, she came in to my office and boldly stated that I was the reason she was not going to law school. Before I had a chance to respond, she said, 'Thank you.' She explained that after completing her project in political science and exploring the options opened up to her through a doctoral degree, she realized that law school was not for her at the moment. She was excited about the possibilities opened to her because of the McNair Program.
"It is students like this one who keep me going. I realized at that moment that I was making a difference in these students' lives. I was helping them make educated decisions for their own careers and futures. Every spring, I am honored to see my seniors graduate and witness the wonderful human beings they have become. I feel humbled to know that I played a small part in their educational journey."
As Texas Tech University continues to foster a culture of excellence, diversity and inclusivity, it's efforts like those from Jon Crider and the McNair Scholars Program that will continue to show students, faculty and staff, from here, it's possible.