For 30 years, UWM’s Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program has been encouraging first-generation students to start doing research, complete their degrees and continue their education to the graduate level leading to the doctorate.
This year, one of their own came back as the keynote speaker at the annual awards ceremony and dinner in August. Jeanette Kowalik, City of Milwaukee health commissioner, is a UWM McNair alum. After completing the UWM McNair Scholars Program, she went on to earn her master’s degree in public health at Northern Illinois University and her doctorate in health sciences from UWM. Her 1999 research project through McNair was on infant mortality, which 20 years later is an issue her health department is still concerned about.
The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement program is a federal TRIO programnamed for the pioneering African American astronaut. He earned his doctorate in laser physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was the second African American to fly in space. He lost his life when the space shuttle Challenger exploded during takeoff in 1986.
Congress established the program in his honor in 1991 to support low-income/first-generation college students from historically underrepresented groups in pursuing a research-based doctoral degree.
“We were one of the first programs funded by the Department of Education,” said Ramona Tenorio, director of the UWM McNair Scholars Program. While the program serves undergraduate juniors and seniors at UWM, it is part of the Graduate School.
At the August reception, 14 McNair Scholars presented their research on topics ranging from women’s experience with chronic homelessness to tracking of mobile robots. The scholars work year-round with their UWM faculty mentors conducting research and developing presentations for the McNair National Conference, which will be at Baylor University in Austin, Texas, this year.
During the academic term, scholars attend colloquia, prepare applications for graduate school and fellowships, and take the McNair Research Methods course in spring. As part of their preparation, “we travel to graduate schools for visits,” said Tenorio, including visits to the University of Minnesota, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
Each year the program supports 30 McNair Scholars. Currently, 13 of them are graduating seniors, according to Kao Yang, McNair advisor. While the focus is on supporting and encouraging scholars to go on to graduate school, research is also a key part of the preparation, Tenorio said. As a result, the UWM McNair Scholars Program works in close collaboration with the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Support for Undergraduate Research Fellows program to encourage and support students.
The McNair Scholars who presented at this year’s awards ceremony and their mentors were:
Rin Nguyen/Nadya Fouad, educational psychology and Romila Singh, organizations and strategic management;
Ruben Prado/Nadya Fouad, educational psychology;
Katalina Cha/Hobart Davies, psychology;
Janet Lagunez-Garcia/Christine Larson, psychology
Patricia Mendoza/Christine Larson, psychology
Isaac Ngui/Mohammad R. Rahman, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering
Paul Espinoza-Kissell/Karyn Frick, psychology
Taylor Beecher/Shawn Cahill, psychology
Margarita Garcia-Rojas/Aims McGuiness, history
Maixee Yang/Shama Mirzra, chemistry and biochemistry
Emily Crain-Castle/Paru Shah, political science
Ciera Oglesby/James Moyer, psychology
Madeline Allen/Gwat-Yong Lie, social work
Amber Joshway/Paru Shah, political science
Applications for admission to the program open in Fall 2019. More information can be found at the program’s webpage.