Over the past decade, more than 130 low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students have been guided toward graduate studies thanks to the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Central Florida.
The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which is federally-funded at 158 institutions by the U.S. Department of Education, is designed to prepare students for post-baccalaureate degrees by encouraging research and faculty mentorship. The program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary at UCF this year, has included 132 scholars.
Melonie Williams Sexton graduated from UCF in 2007 with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and political science. She conducted research on the production of false memories alongside faculty mentor Dr. Alvin Wang, dean of UCF’s Burnett Honors College.
Williams Sexton said the McNair Scholars Program prepared her to pursue an advanced degree by exposing her to research and giving her the opportunity to present at national and international conferences.
“Participating in the McNair Scholars Program has ultimately defined my career,” she said. “Because of the McNair Scholars Program, I was already aware of the rigors of research that were expected at the graduate level.”
This spring, Williams Sexton will become the first McNair Scholar from UCF’s program to receive a Ph.D., earning a degree in cognitive neuroscience from Vanderbilt University. She has accepted a position as an academic advisor at Vanderbilt, where she will also teach and continue her research.
UCF senior Sara Bolivar Wagers, a molecular biology and microbiology major, will travel to Germany this summer to conduct research on infectious disease at the Paul Ehrlich Institute. Under the mentorship of Dr. Yvonne Maldonado from Stanford University, Bolivar Wagers has already been awarded at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and presented her research on polio at STEM conferences. Bolivar Wages was also a former participant in the PRIME STEM Program and is currently mentored by biology Professor Linda Walters.
“The McNair Scholars Program has motivated me to continue to do well in school while balancing my attendance at all of the great research conferences that I get to travel to in order to present my research,” said Bolivar Wagers.
Since the McNair Scholars Program was first funded at UCF, 88 percent of its participants have gone on to attend graduate or professional schools. Four of UCF’s McNair Scholars have received the Order of Pegasus, UCF’s highest honor, and eight have served on the President’s Leadership Council.
The McNair Scholars receive individualized academic and personal support from program staff members, and they are offered GRE preparation courses and free workshops on the graduate school application process, financial aid, scholarships and fellowships.
To be eligible for the McNair program, students must take courses full time and either be U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents. They must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0, have completed 60 credit hours and have a serious interest in pursuing a doctoral degree. Students must also qualify as a low-income student who is a first-generation college student or a member of a group that is underrepresented in graduate education.
“The McNair Scholars Program means having an academic family and community that will always be there to support you,” said Williams Sexton. “Even if you’re not from the same college, McNair Scholars universally know what it means to be a part of something special.”
For more information about the McNair Scholars Program at UCF, visit http://www.mcnair.ucf.edu.