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Jan. 28, 2010 Volume 31, No. 17

McNair program sees hundreds of students succeed at graduate study

Mizzou mentors

Faculty are key to the program's success

Only 28 students each year share the prestige of being an MU McNair Scholar.

In 1989, Mizzou was one of 14 colleges and universities that received federal funding from the Department of Education to set up a McNair Scholars Program. Today there are 197 such programs nationwide named in honor of Ronald E. McNair, an African-American scientist and astronaut who perished in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The long-term goal of the program is to increase the number of doctoral degrees attained by students from groups underrepresented in graduate education.

During the past 20 years, more than 450 students and more than 300 faculty members have participated in MU’s program, says NaTashua Davis, director. “We have nearly 100 students who have received doctoral level degrees with another 35 students currently enrolled in PhD programs,” she says. “Along with that, more than 175 have completed master’s degrees with dozens more in the pipeline.”

Annually, an advisory board selects 19 eligible MU juniors or seniors for the program who join nine continuing scholars in acquiring skills needed for entry into graduate study. Davis says McNair Scholars attend activities, seminars and workshops on topics related to graduate school preparation; complete a research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor; and have the opportunity to present their research at local, regional and national conferences. Because the program’s further purpose is to encourage the students to consider becoming college professors, there is a course offered on the roles and responsibilities of becoming a teaching assistant.

The year-long enrichment experience puts scholars ahead of their peers in preparing for the Graduate Record Exam and for getting into graduate school. “I can’t say enough good things about the program,” says former scholar Melissa Herzog, research assistant professor. “From the student perspective it gave me a leg up once I moved into graduate school, because I felt much more confident about what the graduate culture would look like, about my skills as a researcher and a writer, and about what to expect out of being a graduate student.”

Herzog, who received a master’s and PhD from Arizona State University, returned to Mizzou in 2008. She holds appointments in both the special education and human development and family studies departments, and serves as a member of the McNair program’s advisory committee. “This is a terrific program,” she says. “As long as it continues to get its support, I see it continuing long and into the future, which is a wonderful thing for students.”

The program would not be successful or even possible if it did not have the support of campuswide faculty who, like Herzog, serve as mentors and board members.  “The mentors play a critical role in the program,” Davis says. “They are the main contributors to the success of the McNair Scholars Program because they not only help the students in conducting and reporting their research but also help them develop professional habits, increase their knowledge of their field and gain the necessary skills to pursue future doctoral work.”