McNair Scholars Program hosts research competition and graduate school fair
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 23:10
The federally-funded Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program hosted the eleventh annual National McNair Scholars Research Competition and Graduate School Fair at the Trabant University Center Friday to provide McNair scholars with the chance to present their research to representatives from about 80 graduate schools, as well as provide interested students with the opportunity to learn more about research and graduate school.
The McNair Scholars Program is a facet of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning, which aims to serve first generation, low-income and underrepresented students who are interested in graduate pursuits after completing their undergraduate degree, said Kim Saunders, director of the program.
“We put the poster competition in the same venue with the graduate school fair to increase networking and the interaction between the recruiters and the students,” Saunders said.
Students moved through the crowd in the Trabant Multipurpose Room and chatted with recruiters about graduate school opportunities, while McNair Ambassadors participating in the research competition stood before their research posters ready to present their findings.
Approximately 56 students―many in the McNair Program―from the university, Delaware State University, Wesley College and Cheney University competed against one another in the research poster competition for cash prizes, Saunders said.
Seniors Omar Duran and Alexandra Davis, McNair scholars of the university, won the humanities and social science portions of the competition, respectively, while Kimberly Mella and doctoral student Axel Moore took first prize in their divisions, science and engineering, Scott said.
Having both the research competition and fair on the same night allows recruiters to see the scholars’ work and allows other students to learn more about research and graduate school opportunities, Saunders said. Three seminars were held in Trabant Room 209, which focused on outlining the graduate school application process, providing general information about the program and dissolving the myths about the lack of graduate school funding.
This is the only graduate school fair hosted by the university, so it is held not only for the benefit of the McNair scholars, but the university community as a whole, Coordinator Tiffany Scott said.
The McNair scholars, who participated in the competition, presented the research they completed during their required undergraduate summer research program.
“The students either do original research, or they work along with a faculty member on his or her research,” Scott said. “This is really going to mimic their experiences in graduate school.”
While undergraduate research is an important part of the program, the main function is to help scholars get into graduate school, Scott said. The program provides its scholars with a preparatory process for graduate school that not only requires undergraduate research during a ten-week summer program and also consists of GRE training and multiple seminars.
“We work one-on-one with each student in terms of creating a plan,” Scott said.
The program directors make the scholars aware of the fellowships and scholarships available to them, she said. Funding opportunities are greater for graduate students than undergraduate students, but many students do not realize that, Scott said.
The program leaders also help match the scholars with faculty to fulfill their summer research requirement and give suggestions for ways to find high quality letters of recommendations, Scott said. The program directors focus on increasing the scholars’ self-efficacy, confidence and knowledge of the application process, Saunders said.
“During their senior year, if we’ve had them for two years, we allow the students to look outside the university for mentors at institutions where they think they’d want to apply so they can begin building relationships with future mentors at the graduate level,” Saunders said.
Junior McNair Scholar Akilah Alleyne said being involved in the program has been a great experience for her.
“It helped enhance my GPA,” Alleyne said. “It helped socially—I networked much better through the program. I learned more about myself and established a really good relationship with my mentor.”
The McNair Program is currently in this academic year’s recruitment stage, as the application deadline is Dec. 6. Because the program is federally funded by grants, there are certain criteria the program must maintain, Scott said. Forty percent of the scholars must be in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields for the program to function. Since the program is grant-based, the program is restricted to supporting, on average, about 25 students, but this year they will be accepting 17 students into the program, Saunders said.
Saunders said they are hoping to expand the McNair program in the future, if funding allows, in order to reach more students at the university. However, for the time being they want to increase interest in research and graduate studies.
“We’re really hoping that students—if they’ve never had an opportunity to hear about their next step besides getting a job—come to hear about graduate opportunities,” Saunders said.