A federal program that provides an academic, financial and individual support system for 28 students each year has been renewed at University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Funding for the McNair Scholars Program has been awarded by the U.S. Department of Education for another five years beginning Oct. 1, 2023, for $261,888 annually, totaling $1.31 million. One year remains on the current grant cycle.
UW-Stout’s McNair program, which began in 2009, has supported about 150 first-generation, limited income and underrepresented college students. It provides dedicated advisers and offers:
- Undergraduate research opportunities, including a $2,800 stipend
- Faculty advisement and mentoring
- Fee waivers for graduate school application fees
- Free Graduate Records Examination preparation
- Funds for conferences, graduate school visits and interviews
In the past decade, 97% of the university's McNair scholars have completed a research or scholarly activity. Also, 63% have gone on to graduate school immediately after earning their bachelor’s.
Sarah Wynn, director of UW-Stout’s program, was pleased with the renewal, the program’s sole funding source.
“We are delighted to announce that the program will be refunded for an additional five years, offering funding to the program and opportunities for current and future students,” Wynn said. “This program offers much needed opportunities to first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students to lessen the equity gap in graduate education and to provide much needed support to these smart and talented students as they pursue their future careers."
Quin Brooks, assistant chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and senior diversity officer, also is pleased to see the program continue.
“The McNair Scholars program is so crucial for the students we serve, because it is a direct catalyst for bridging the educational achievement gaps in higher education regarding graduate studies for underrepresented students,” Brooks said.
“I know how important it is because I used to be that student. As a Black, low-income and first-generation college student, there wasn’t much of a blueprint available to expose me to pathways to greater educational attainment, so I had to be tenacious in my search for those opportunities. McNair scholars are given that blueprint and all its available resources to ensure they can successfully matriculate beyond their undergraduate studies and into master’s and doctoral programs.”
Pathway to success
Mai Lia Vang is a former McNair Scholar. She graduated from UW-Stout in environmental science in fall 2018 and immediately pursued her Professional Science Master’s in conservation biology at UW-Stout, graduating in fall 2020.
She is a research analyst at the university’s Center for Limnological Research and Rehabilitation, which researches eutrophication issues in the region’s waterways and aquatic ecosystems. Vang runs the lab operations and uses the knowledge she gained in her degrees every day.
“The McNair program helped me tremendously,” Vang said. “It not only helped me navigate the process of applying to graduate school but helped financially by taking care of application and test fees.”
Vang was hesitant when she was first given the opportunity to join the program. She didn’t think she wanted to go to graduate school and wondered why she should join.
“My adviser told me – and this is the advice I give to everyone – ‘Give it a try. You can be in the program and not apply to graduate school. But if you change your mind and want to go to graduate school, then at least you’ll know how to,’” she said.
“The McNair program provided me an opportunity to obtain greater opportunities,” Vang added. “I know that I would not have pursued a graduate degree if I was not in the McNair program.”
The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program began in 1989 to bring more disadvantaged groups into higher education. It is named after Ronald McNair, a scholar and astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.
McNair Scholar Chueseng Lo graduated in the spring from UW-Stout’s human development and family studies program. He is attending graduate school this fall.
“If you want to make a better life for yourself, this is the first step to help you get there,” Lo said. “McNair sets you up for success.”