By Mallory Sherwood, Staff Writer
Ronald McNair, the first black astronaut to fly in space, had a dream and a vision. Eighteen years after his tragic death in the space shuttle Challenger explosion, his dream is being passed on to students at ACU.
In his memory, the government set up a federal grant program called the McNair Scholars Program that is designed to help prepare low-income, first-generation college students for doctoral education, and to produce students who complete graduate school to accept teaching positions at universities or research institutes.
Jason Morris, director of the McNair Scholars Program, said 35-40 students are involved during the year, and from those 40 students, 20 students are selected in December to participate in a summer internship with a faculty mentor to research a topic of their choice.
Each student participating in the McNair Scholars Program attends workshops and seminars geared toward community learning, strategies to applying to graduate schools and building portfolios.
In the past, students have completed research on subjects from the architectural design of churches to the Roma minority in Hungary to researching limited English-proficient students in Abilene.
“If a student is considering going to grad school but isn’t sure, I would highly recommend being in the program,” said Nickalina Cooper, former McNair Scholar and senior elementary education major from Abilene. “It was very helpful because I’ve never done anything like that before. It really helped me see if I really want to go when I graduate.”
Morris said students benefit from participating in this program because of the knowledge they gain from conducting their own research study, it will look good on their resume, and those who are chosen to do the summer internship are paid a comparable amount for their work.
When the internship is complete, students then have the chance to go to conferences across the nation to present their findings at universities in Colorado, California, Pennsylvania and Texas. Students present their findings orally or through demonstrations they set up, get a chance to connect with other students involved in the McNair Scholars program across the nation and to talk to representatives from grad schools, Morris said.
ACU was granted the McNair Scholars Program in 1996 and joins a list of 170 colleges in the nation who offer this unique opportunity to their students.