Student Voice


April 25, 2024



McNair Program offers scholarships to first-generation students

November 16, 2006

College tuition has been rising significantly over the past quarter-century, making it harder every year for students to fund their education. But there is hope at UW-River Falls.

The McNair Scholars Program offered on campus helps low-income, first-generation students pay for their education, get into graduate school and earn doctorate degrees. However, many students are unaware of their eligibility, the program and its benefits.

“Many students would qualify,” McNair Scholars Program Coordinator Njia Lawrence-Porter said. “They just don’t know it.”

UWRF is one of 179 universities and colleges participating in the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education since 1989.

The program was created in honor of McNair, a laser physicist and astronaut who was killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

Students qualify for the McNair Scholars Program if they come from a low-income family, are a first-generation college student, or are from an underrepresented group in as post-graduate education and have the desire to earn a Ph.D.

Independent students may qualify based solely on their own income rather than family income.

“When students sign up for the program, we are looking for those who want to go to graduate school,” Lawrence-Porter said. “The program’s main goal is to increase the number of UWRF students that go on to graduate school.”

But not enough students have been applying to the program.

“The number of applicants has dropped,” Lawrence-Porter said. “This is important because the success of the program depends on students applying for it.”

The program has a total of 24 McNair scholars each year, 12 juniors and 12 seniors.
It has accepted eight juniors this year and needs four more.

Phil George, UWRF McNair Scholars Program director, said though the program only accepts 12 juniors each year, he is willing to increase the number to 15.

“If more students applied and qualified, we would take them in a heartbeat,” George said.
Lawrence-Porter said the program has met its quota every year, but that has been getting tougher because of the low number of applications that have come in.

“Part of the reason is not a lot of low-income students are coming to UWRF. The income levels are getting higher here,” she said. “But we know there are low-income students still out there, we just need to find them.”

Another reason not many students are applying, Lawrence-Porter said, is because students are assuming they don’t qualify.

“We want students to put in an application and let us decide if they qualify,” she said.
Furthermore, students simply don’t know about the program and its benefits.

Lawrence-Porter said the support and funding provided by the program encourage students to complete their education and go on to get their Ph.D., which they may otherwise not do on their own.

“We have this money to assist students, and they are missing out on a great opportunity,” she said. “It makes a huge difference because really what the program does is change their aspirations.”

Once accepted, students work on research projects to develop their research skills, attend conferences that allow them to present their research and prepare for graduate school, introduce them to the doctoral and professional culture, and help get them into graduate school.

“About 80 percent of the program’s students have gone to graduate school,” Lawrence-Porter said.

Two UWRF McNair scholars recently earned their doctorate degrees.

Dwight Luhman graduated from UWRF in May 2001 and holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“The McNair program provided me with the opportunity to conduct research, which is an important step in preparation for grad school,” Luhman said. “This was the most important and successful aspect of the program for me.”

Luhman recommends students take advantage of the program.

“Any research experience students obtain during their time as an undergraduate will not only help them develop the necessary skills, but will also make them more desirable candidates to potential graduate programs,” Luhman said.

Patricia Skinkis graduated from UWRF in December 2002 and holds a doctorate in horticulture/viticulture from Purdue University.

Skinkis said she loved the McNair program and also recommends qualifying students join.

“The program provided me assistance in conducting a summer research project I was working on, information regarding selection of graduate schools, explanations of expectations in graduate school, speakers that were currently in a master’s or doctorate program, and of course plenty of guidance and encouragement along the way,” Skinkis said. “If students qualify for the program, they should seriously consider taking part if they want to pursue graduate studies.”

Senior Jessica Crocker has been with the McNair program for almost two years and said it has been a great experience.

“It has given me a lot of research experience,” she said. “I have a mentor right now that is helping me put together my research project.”

Crocker said she knew the program would be beneficial to her.

“I thought it would be helpful to get into the program to help me get into grad school,” she said. “To be a first-generation student and then go to grad school was pretty overwhelming for me. [The program] provided me with the help I needed.”

The McNair Scholars Program has been available to UWRF students for eight years and is in the competitive process of getting funding again.

Both George and Lawrence-Porter are confident the UWRF program will be funded yet again.

The program is accepting applications from juniors until the end of fall semester and until September for sophomores.

For more information, contact Lawrence-Porter at 425-3531 or visit the UWRF McNair Web site at