Student Voice


July 14, 2024

McNair program guides students to advanced degrees

December 3, 2021

UW-River Falls offers an achievement program for first generation and low-income students based in research-centered degrees. The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is available through about 150 other universities in the nation and River Falls can offer this option to select students.

To be eligible for the program, a student must be the first generation to pursue a college degree and come from a low-income background, or be a member of a historically underrepresented group. The students who are chosen go through a process of preparation during their undergraduate education that sets them up for success within their pursuit of doctorate degrees.

The funding for the program comes from the U.S. Department of Education and UWRF has funding to support 26 students.

UWRF student Crystal Malagon is in the McNair program and hopes to earn a doctorate beyond her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“I applied right before COVID and that summer I did all the research,” she said. “One of my professors encouraged me to apply for the program and then I went through the interview process and things took off from there.”

She currently is a senior and wants to travel out of state for her post-graduate degree. Malagon said, “I’m looking at 12 different programs, two or three are master’s programs and the rest are Ph.D. programs. There are two in Texas and then one in Oklahoma and then some other states as well.”

The research that she has done through the McNair program has helped her to narrow down what she wants to study further. After the past two years with the program, she wants to focus on ending stigmas around mental health and go into counseling.

“I’m a psychology major with an emphasis on mental health and the grad school programs I am applying to are counseling psychology programs with a background in domestic violence prevention and human sexuality education,” said Malagon.

The program honors Ronald E. McNair, a Black laser physicist who was killed during the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986.

“Dr. McNair had been a first-generation college student from a low-income background, and he was also a member of one of the populations that has been historically underrepresented in advanced degree programs,” said Antonio T. Freeman, program coordinator for the McNair program.

Following the Challenger explosion, Freeman said, “In 1989 Congress created the McNair program to work with eligible students who come from one of those populations similar to Dr. McNair’s experience as they prepare for and pursue a graduate program with a significant research focus,” said Freeman.

At UWRF there are typically 13 new junior students and 13 continuing senior students chosen for the program each year. They all work as a group to support each other as well as working individually on their research. Currently the program is recruiting for 2023.

UWRF has also introduced a sub-project in the McNair program called “Bridge to McNair” that is designed for freshmen and sophomores.

Brianna Samson, the communication specialist for the program, said, “We just started this program, and it is for our first-year and sophomore students, and it kind of teaches more of what the program entails and if the program would be a good fit for them.”

Through the bridge program, students can get a look into what they might be doing if chosen to be a part of the McNair program. Samson said, “They get to go to some of the different scholarly presentations on campus. They also meet with Dr. Freeman and Dr. (Sierra) Howry, who is the director of the program, and discuss with them their goals for going into a grad program.”

The program allows for mentorships as well. Students are usually guided by staff and faculty who are mentors for the program. Professors at UWRF are available to these students to help them achieve their goals within the program and during their path to their post-grad education.

There is a research period during the summer that is overseen by the faculty mentors. During the research process, students are given a stipend for housing and meals and for their research work done in their field.

For more information about the McNair program, see the website