JANUARY 23, 2023 — UTSA has been selected to receive renewed funding from the U.S. Department of Education to continue the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, known as the McNair Scholars Program, marking 25 years since the program’s start at the institution.
The McNair Scholars Program is a nationally recognized program for undergraduate students that offers pathways to doctoral education through tailored advising, graduate school application assistance, organized graduate school visits, travel to professional conferences, a paid summer research internship and other experiences.
The competitive program admits students who have earned at least 60 credit hours (equivalent to junior standing), have a GPA of 2.9 and are either first-generation college students or Pell grant-eligible and have a desire to conduct research and an interest in pursuing a Ph.D.
The program started at UTSA in 1997 and serves a cohort of up to 25 students each year—the maximum number allowed annually.
“The McNair Scholars Program is truly unique in its role preparing historically underrepresented students for graduate school and advanced careers where they can pursue their passions,” said Darrell Balderrama, director of the UTSA Office of Undergraduate Research and the McNair Scholars Program. “Thanks to continued federal funding, UTSA’s program has supported more than 120 scholars over the last decade, many of whom have indeed gone on to earn graduate degrees and are enjoying terrific careers in and outside of academia.”
Three-time alumna Victoria Barbosa Olivo ’14, M.S. ’16, M.A. ’19 is a perfect example of how the McNair Scholars program opens doors and expands educational opportunities.
Olivo was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program in Spring 2012 after transferring to UTSA from St. Philip’s College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
The program gave her the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research and present her findings all over the country. It also provided her with graduate school resources that she otherwise would not have had or known about, including GRE prep courses, GRE fee waivers, graduate school application waivers and information about how to apply to graduate school.
After being the first in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, Olivo went on to earn an M.S. in Psychology and then an M.A. in History from UTSA before leaving the state to pursue her doctoral degree. Last August, Olivo graduated with a Ph.D. in Education from The Ohio State University.
The McNair Scholar network at UTSA is so strong, Olivo has continued to stay involved with the program over the years, transitioning from student scholar to graduate assistant, and more recently, to staff member for the UTSA McNair Summer Research Institute, during which she teaches a 10-week course covering research design basics and provides scholars with socialization opportunities to prepare them for graduate school.
Last summer, Olivo’s time with the McNair program came full circle when she was able to take the scholars to Baylor University to present their research at the culmination of the program’s summer research institute, something she remembers clearly from when she went through the program.
“It was rewarding seeing the students work so hard for 10 weeks straight and then have the opportunity to present their research to others for the first time, which is both a nerve-wracking and empowering experience,” Olivo said. “McNair has allowed me to do so many wonderful things, but I am most grateful for the opportunity to give back to the very program that has done so much for me.”
Olivo is currently a lecturer in the UTSA Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and intends to stay within academia so she can continue to serve students from marginalized backgrounds.
“I have so many friends and academic family thanks to the UTSA McNair program who all believed in me and my goals, which is so important when you are in a hypercompetitive environment,” Olivo said. “It also helps to ground you and remember where you came from, and always pay it forward. I know that our McNair Scholars are uniquely prepared for graduate school, and I always remind them of the privilege they have because of the program and to always help their peers along the way who do not have access to the same information.”
UTSA public health senior, first-generation college student and McNair Scholar Erica McFarland has also experienced life-changing opportunities as a result the program. This past summer, McFarland conducted her McNair-supported summer research internship at UTSA under the mentorship of Erica Sosa, associate professor of public health and associate dean of research for the College for Health, Community and Policy.
McFarland pursued a systematic literature review to analyze how college students’ mental health was affected from social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, she has presented her findings at the UTSA Undergraduate Research Showcase and the Roadrunner Experience Showcase, at the McNair Research Conference at Baylor University, and at the 2022 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists held in Anaheim, Calif.
As a result of these experiences and the support she has received from the program staff, McFarland has been able to identify and work toward her unique and important mission to pursue a master’s degree and then a Ph.D. in public health. As a strong feminist and well-being advocate who has worked hard to overcome childhood trauma related to her own mother, McFarland now sees that it is her mission to become an expert in maternal and child health so she can make a positive impact on future generations of females.
“If it wasn’t for the McNair program, I would not be planning to stay in higher education after graduating with my bachelor’s degree,” McFarland said. “The program staff have been a constant source of inspiration and support. They take the time to help me explore educational and career options so I can plan out a path that is true to me and my passions. Their belief in me has made me believe in myself.”
The experience, skills and confidence gained through hands-on research, conference and exhibition presentations, and dedicated mentoring gives UTSA McNair Scholars a unique advantage in their preparedness for graduate studies and careers in or outside of academia. This focus on career-readiness is central to the university’s Classroom to Career initiative, which focuses on preparing students for their chosen careers through intentionally designed curricula and meaningful learning-by-doing experiences.
As part of the program renewal, UTSA will receive $1.3 million over the next five years to support additional scholars.
The McNair Scholars Program is a federal TRIO program funded at 151 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education. The program is designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential.
The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase the number of graduate degrees awarded to students from underrepresented segments of society. Pursing an advanced degree exponentially increases a person’s chances for improving their economic and social capital, creating a ripple effect in their families and communities. In addition, the program aims to increase representation of scholars from underrepresented minoritized groups in academia.
The McNair Scholars Program is one of four federal TRIO programs available to UTSA students and is managed by the Office of Undergraduate Research within the division of Career-Engaged Learning. Other UTSA programs include Student Support Services operated out of the division of Student Success, and the Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search programs managed by the Strategic Educational Partnerships branch of the UTSA College of Education and Human Development.
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