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McNair Scholars receives new federal funding
November 28, 2012Tweet
The McNair Scholars Program at Binghamton University has received federal funding for another five-year term and will focus on increasing the number of students from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
McNair Scholars, a federal TRiO program, helps low-income, first-generation and/or underrepresented minority students prepare for graduate school and receive their doctorate. Binghamton University is one of nearly 200 U.S. schools that has offered the program. The refunding provides the program with more than $1.2 million over the life of the grant.
“This was a difficult funding year because 60 programs were slated to be cut,” said Shanise Kent, associate director of the University’s McNair Scholars Program. “But we were optimistic because we do a good job here.”
The program serves about 40 students per year and has helped to send dozens of students to graduate schools across the country, including Jennifer Hinojosa ’07, MA ’09, a doctoral student studying geography at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“To be honest, without the help from the McNair Scholars Program, I would not be here,” she said. “McNair’s workshops, scholar/professor networks and social support played an essential role when I was an undergraduate student at Binghamton University. I am so thankful for the program’s goals and support.”
To be eligible for the program, a student must be U.S. citizen or permanent resident interested in pursuing a doctorate; a full-time Binghamton undergraduate with a 3.0 GPA over three semesters; have completed 48 credit hours; and be from a low-income family, a first-generation student and/or a historically underrepresented minority. Candidates must then submit an application that details their future goals and take part in an interview.
Kent uses campus communications such as B-Line and information sessions to reach prospective students, but much of the program knowledge comes via “word of mouth” from current students and alumni, she said.
“It’s amazing how much Binghamton students know each other,” she said. “I’m always surprised to see the connection between current and past students.”
The keys to success
David Cingranelli has served as program director since Binghamton University received its initial funding in 1994. There are several factors for the continued success of the McNair program on campus, he said. First is the quality of the University.
“Our University has a wide range of doctoral programs and provides opportunities for undergraduates to interact with faculty who are at the frontier of their own disciplines and graduate students who are working with those faculty,” said Cingranelli, who is also a political science professor.
A second factor is the importance of research. Students not only conduct research with a faculty member during the academic year, but they also receive a stipend for their summer work in the McNair Summer Research Internship. Students take part in regional and national research conferences and some have even earned national awards.
The year-round work enables McNair students to get “consistent and intense exposure to research,” said Cingranelli, who added that being a research assistant can be more rewarding than pursuing an independent study.
“It should be more rigorous than what undergraduate students could design on their own,” he said. “When students do this, they learn what is like to get a research degree and make a contribution to their field.”
A third success factor: Faculty members who serve as mentors to the McNair students. Cingranelli pointed to professors such as John Frazier of the Geography Department as examples of strong role models for students.
“We have faculty who are interested in mentoring students,” Cingranelli said. “That’s the key to a successful program: Find those faculty members who care about the mission of the program and are willing to mentor students from low-income and minority backgrounds.”
The McNair Scholars Program on campus can now be considered as a model for undergraduate education. In the spring of 2011, a University task force recommended that undergraduate research and faculty mentoring – two hallmarks of the McNair program – serve as priorities for improving undergraduate education.
“It’s great that the group independently reached that conclusion,” said Cingranelli, who added that McNair mentoring works because the faculty member and the student benefit from it.
The program’s future
Binghamton University is well-positioned to support the STEM emphasis that has been recommended by the Department of Education, Cingranelli said. A 2-credit course on STEM opportunities is planned for next fall, while Kent already serves as associate director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) at Binghamton University, which works to increase the number of minority students earning baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields.
Kent said Robert Dextre ’12 is an example of a successful student who transitioned from LSAMP to McNair. Dextre is now part of the University of Alabama at Huntsville’s aerospace engineering graduate program.
“The McNair Program at Binghamton University provided me with the specific skills and mindset needed to get in the best possible path in my life right now,” Dexter said. “I never imagined to be pursuing my PhD in the beginning of my undergraduate years, but after just one semester in graduate school, I have realized it was the best decision I will ever make. It is only because of the McNair program that I can see myself become so successful.
“I know Binghamton University has many students who have so much potential and if they are brought to the McNair Program, they can honestly do great things in this country. On top of that, I felt like the McNair Program at this particular school really brought a sense of unity and family. I cared for and hoped for the best for everyone in that program, and a lot of them I consider really good friends.”
Dextre is one of five 2012 McNair students who entered a doctoral program, Kent said. And he is just one of the many students whose progress McNair must track. The program targets 10 percent of each class receiving a doctorate within seven years, Cingranelli said.
Those graduates often return to tell their stories to a new class, speaking at the annual McNair induction dinner in late February or early March, Cingranelli said.
“I find it inspirational,” he said. “The message to the students is: ‘I sat where you sat. My life was not easy, but I did it. So can you.’”
For Kent, letting the campus know about the McNair Scholars Program – and what it represents – is important.
“My goal is always to get the word out to more students and to get as many students involved in undergraduate research, even if it’s not through our program,” she said. “I would love to serve more students who don’t qualify for the program in other aspects, such as assisting them in applying to graduate programs.
“And we have great faculty support. Every year, we get a couple of faculty members who hear about us and are willing to take on new undergraduate researchers. The students have had great experiences.”