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Grant prepares students for doctorate programs

April 10, 2008

Nine UW-River Falls seniors are graduating as McNair Scholars this May, continuing on to graduate school and doctoral degrees.

“The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded grant that UWRF receives from the department of education,” Njia Lawrence-Porter, the assistant director of the McNair Scholars Program, said. “The purpose of the program is to prepare first generation, low income and underrepresented students for doctoral studies.”

  The program is available to juniors and seniors.

  As part of the application process, students also write an essay about their goals, have a minimum GPA of 2.8 and the desire to achieve a Ph.D.

  The nine UWRF seniors are Rebecca Cote (biotechnology and biomedical biology), Hsajune Dyan (history), Travis Getzie (physics), Jacquelyn Harvey (speech communication), Crystal Mathisrud (English and broad field science), Mitra Naseri (biology-biomedical), Martha O’Brien (mathematics and biochemistry), Ashley Styczynski (sociology) and Paul Borofka-Webb (history).

  The program is named for Ronald E. McNair, a black astronaut who was killed on the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in January 1986.

  According to the McNair Scholars Program Web site, McNair grew up poor in South Carolina and “worked diligently to earn his B. S. in physics from North Carolina A&T University and then his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

McNair Scholars receive benefits such as academic counseling and support for taking the Graduate Record Exam. McNair Scholars are also assigned a faculty mentor from their department who helps the students develop a research project as part of an internship.

  Each student receives a $3,700 stipend for their research.

  “The purpose of that internship is so they can develop research experience, which is really important for being admitted to graduate school,” Lawrence-Porter said. “It allows them for that summer to not focus on working a summer job, but actually getting paid to do research.”

  Samantha Wenwoi, a Dec. 2007 UWRF graduate who majored in journalism, did her research project on the Atlanta Constitution’s coverage of lynching from 1884-1930.

  “The aim of my research was to determine when the coverage became less racist and more objective,” Wenwoi said in an e-mail interview.

  As part of the research project, McNair Scholars travel to academic conferences at places such as the University of California-Berkeley and Penn State to present their findings.

  “I presented my preliminary findings at last summer’s National McNair conference at Penn State, and presented my final results at the AMSLC (American Multicultural Student Leadership Conference) conference and National McNair conference last fall, both of which were in Delavan, Wis.,” Wenwoi said.

  The program is available at 181 universities around the country and is available to any major where a Ph.D. is likely.

  “There are some majors where people are not really pursuing a Ph.D. and are not going to graduate school right away,” Lawrence-Porter said.

  Every four years UWRF has to compete with other schools to receive the grant, and over the course of each four year time period, the grant brings in almost $1 million.

  UWRF has received the grant three times.

  With that money, UWRF is able to take on 12-15 new students per year and have a total of 24-27 students per year as part of the program.

  “[The program] has helped me to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Wenwoi said. “[It] has given me the confidence to believe that I can achieve that goal.”