Rene Diaz’s UCF education is helping him pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut.

He has taken rigorous classes, published nanotechnology research and worked with NASA’s space shuttle program. This summer, an opportunity provided through UCF’s McNair Scholars program is moving Diaz one step closer to achieving his goal of making it to space “for the sake of the advancement of mankind.”

Diaz and fellow McNair scholar Felipe Guerrero are participating in the California Institute of Technology’s Minority Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which enables talented undergraduates to work in research labs at one of the nation’s most prestigious research universities.

All of Diaz’s classmates in the first year of the McNair program also will be completing summer external research programs — experiences that will help prepare them for graduate studies and success after they finish school.

The McNair Scholars Program aims to increase the number of first-generation college students from low-income families and underrepresented groups pursuing doctoral degrees. The summer programs around the globe compliment students’ research experiences on campus during the fall and spring semesters.

While at CalTech, Diaz will be working on an emerging super-strong and super-elastic material known as bulk metallic glass. “The project is to develop tough, stainless steel bulk metallic glass for Swiss Army Watches,” he explained.

Diaz, a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering major, attributes many of the opportunities he’s experienced at UCF and beyond to his membership in the McNair Scholar program. He has met with graduate school recruiters from several of the top schools in the University of California system.

McNair scholars Stephanie Parenti and Candice Torres also will become one step closer to their career aspirations this summer. Both were selected to participate in the United Nations Intensive Summer Study Program.

Designed for graduate students and advanced undergraduates, the weeklong program immerses participants in the political dynamics of the United Nations. Parenti and Torres will attend official sessions at U.N. Headquarters and meet with distinguished practitioners working in the field of multilateral diplomacy.

“It’s really a chance of a lifetime,” said Parenti, a Political Science major.

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.

“What I believe is the most significant of my gains as a McNair Scholar is the advice and unwavering support from my fellow scholars and from the faculty and staff,” said McNair Scholar Elise Hernandez.

 Hernandez will be traveling to the University of California, Irvine this summer to participate in the Irvine Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. With a passion for research and aiding the elderly, she will be analyzing data to try and better understand some of the difficulties that can arise in communication with and among older adults.

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.

To learn more about the McNair Scholars Program, visit