Search Google Appliance

We Are Scholars: McNair Program helps students bridge gap to grad school

KATHERINE HUNYH (at left) may only be a junior, but she’s already taking part in cutting-edge research with enormous commercial potential. Huynh works alongside graduate and doctoral students in the lab of Prof. Robert Strongin, a biochemist and her faculty mentor. Her focus is in developing dyes to highlight amino acids, which serve as markers for Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases.

Through the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Post-Baccalaurete Program, Huynh is one of more than two dozen juniors and seniors who get one-on-one time with faculty from across campus, while building a strong support network through members of their cohort.

"I get to be part of the scientific community," says Hunyn. "We are scholars."

For her, this program is another step on a path that began by emigrating to Portland from Vietnam ten years ago, and later receiving a Gates Millennium Scholarship. After her senior year at PSU Huynh hopes to enroll at the University of Washington. In fact, UW faculty members who saw her present at a conference in Seattle, are actively recruiting her.

THE 2013 MCNAIR SCHOLARS vary in age, ethnicity, and field of study, but they share a common goal: a rigorous academic and research experience that prepares them for graduate studies.

Many are the first in their family to attend college. Studies show that this creates a lack of institutional awareness—how to successfully negotiate the education environment outside the classroom. The McNair Program helps fill in the missing rungs as students climb toward graduate school.

Students in the program take academic and skills-building seminars and workshops during the year, before undertaking a summer research project. A visit to the McNair summer research seminar in early August finds a room of students invested in one another’s successes.

MICHELLE DEPARRIE PRESENTS HER RESEARCH to the class (at left): an investigation into the effectiveness of an arts outreach program directed at low-income families.

"When I began, I didn't have a clue what I was doing," deParrie admits. But by working with mentor Jana Meingold, Child and Family Studies faculty, deParrie ends up with an effective project that reveals several shortcomings of the well-intentioned Arts for All program.

Participants receive a small stipend, which gives them a chance to focus on school rather than having to work (or, having to work as much). The summer program culminates in a daylong symposium, where students present research findings to faculty, program staff and fellow students, which may also be published in the McNair Online Journal.

The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program honors the late Ronald McNair, an exceptional physicist who was killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. The program currently operates under a five-year, $1,155,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Toeutu Faaleava, University Studies faculty, directs the program.

Now in its tenth year at Portland State University, the McNair Program has helped produce nearly 250 scholars, many of whom have continued graduate studies (McNair Honor Roll here). In 2012, Jacob Biamonte a member of the inaugural 2004 cohort and first-generation college student, earned his Ph.D. in quantum mechanics from Oxford University.

"This program gives us the legitimacy of scholarship even without having a family history of it." — Rose Krivulka

"My mentor [Prof. Elizabeth Whittington] showed me you can rebellious… be super-scholarly and still be fabulous too." — Edward Chaney

"It's hands on research…. We get paid to think, to pursue our interests, and then to present something about it." — Dane Frost

The McNair Scholars Program at Portland State University has a limited number of spaces remaining for the 2014 cohort. These are restricted to students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines.

Deadline for applications is November 11, 2013: