McNair Scholars on the Mark for Doctoral Programs

Left to right: Michelle Martinez, director of the McNair Scholars Program; Carmen Martinez, McNair scholar; Jonathan Grady, program coordinator; and Rigoberto Marquez, graduate student mentor.

Earning a doctoral degree is a scholarly pursuit that may seem out of reach for many; however, the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program at California State University, Dominguez Hills is helping to make the advanced degree attainable.

The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, provides financial support and academic guidance to encourage and prepare undergraduate junior and senior students for graduate studies. In August, CSU Dominguez Hills received the first installment of a five-year $1.4 million grant from the Department of Education to continue the McNair program, which has been on the campus since 2003. To date, CSU Dominguez Hills McNair Scholars have successfully achieved a 97 percent graduate school acceptance rate.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue to provide services to students who are interested in obtaining an advanced degree,” said Michelle Martinez, director of the CSU Dominguez Hills McNair Scholars Program. “During the next funding cycle we will be focusing our efforts on STEM participants.”

The two-tiered program serves 26 students each academic year.

“When students are first accepted into the program they come to us as juniors. They take a research writing and design course with us in the spring. We walk them through the technical steps of a research proposal. We do a library orientation, an annotated bibliography, literature review, and we go over various research methods,” Martinez said.

Current CSU Dominguez Hills McNair scholars receive recognition at the university’s ninth annual McNair reception.

The culminating project is a written proposal that goes through the university’s Office of Research and Funded Projects institutional review board.

“It’s an actual working proposal, not just a paper,” Martinez added. “They do their summer research project and the next year when they are seniors, they apply for graduate school.”

McNair Scholar and senior sociology major Brandon Finlay recently completed a summer research program in criminology law and society at the University of California, Irvine. This semester he will begin the process of applying to graduate programs where he can focus his research on higher education as a structure to reintegrate incarcerated individuals into society.

“I’m going to apply for about 10 Ph.D. programs and three master’s programs,” said Finlay. “I’d like to go to Harvard.”

Other current McNair Scholars who have completed research programs this past summer at the university as well as institutions across the country are Candice Cochran (CSU Dominguez Hills), Bethany Dawson (University of California, Riverside), Heidi De Leon (CSU Dominguez Hills) Tamara Esquadillo (University California, San Diego), Marko Germono (CSU Dominguez Hills), Michael Gomez (CSU Dominguez Hills), Gabriel Jones (CSU Dominguez Hills), Carmen Martinez (University of California, Riverside), Barbara Ramon (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Jacqueline Ramon (CSU Dominguez Hills), and David Turner (Vanderbilt University), Jessica Williams (Michigan State University).

Because funding can only support 26 students annually, admittance into the McNair program is selective. For the 13 spots that become available to new junior-level participants each year, Martinez said she receives about 40 applications, and students must maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

“Being a McNair Scholar comes with a certain type of responsibility to do above par work because [Ronald McNair] was an above par person,” Finlay said.

The federal McNair program began in 1989 and was named in honor of Ronald McNair, a first-generation college student who earned his Ph.D. in physics and went on to become a NASA mission specialist. He perished in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. Martinez said he exemplified the target student for the program.

CSU Dominguez Hills McNair alumni flanked by staff members at the program’s ninth annual reception.

Getting into doctoral programs is extremely competitive; Martinez said it’s not uncommon for a university to receive more than 200 applicants for a program with only two slots for new students. She added that the McNair program helps undergraduate students obtain master-level research skills, giving them an advantage when applying to graduate programs.

At CSU Dominguez Hills, McNair scholars continue to receive guidance after they complete their undergraduate degree program. Because of this, each year the number of students the McNair Program follows accumulates.

“We also help McNair alumni who are in master’s programs with their transition when they are applying to get into a Ph.D. program,” said Martinez.

As of spring 2012, 100 McNair Scholars have graduated with their bachelor’s degree, of which 84 percent have gone on to continue their education at the graduate level in the fall immediately after their graduation. Currently, 45 CSU Dominguez Hills McNair graduates are in Ph.D. programs.

Update: After posting, more complete data was provided on graduates. The program has graduated 107 scholars to-date, with 48 currently in master’s programs and 50 in Ph.D. programs.

McNair alumnus Darol Kay (Class of ’12, B.A., Africana studies) with Munashe Furusa, acting dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

Darol Kay (Class of ’12, B.A., Africana studies), who was accepted to the cinema studies Ph.D. program at the University of California, Irvine, is one such student who benefited from the program. He credited the McNair program with helping him realize his academic dreams and goals.

“The McNair Scholars Program, for me, is not really about shaping and determining what you want to do, but is actually a support system to help you get what you need to get done. I was able to go to national conferences … presenting the first research I’ve ever done,” he said. “A lot of the work that the McNair program does is it helps to demystify the graduate school process.”

Along with Kay, seven other 2011-12 McNair Scholars – who have been accepted, either fully- or partially-funded, into graduate programs throughout the nation – were honored during the ninth annual McNair reception held in the Loker Student Union in July. They are Christian Samoza (Class of ’12, B.S., psychology), Ph.D. in clinical psychology at University of Colorado, Denver; Joni Wilson (Class of ’12, B.A. interdisciplinary studies), Master of Social Welfare at University of Pennsylvania; Mia Quaintance (Class of ’12, B.S. psychology), Master of Psychology at CSU Dominguez Hills; Iliana Ycute (Class of ’12, B.S., health science), Master of Public Health at Boston University; Saira Rab (Class of ’12, B.S. psychology), Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, University of Houston; Jessica Sanchez (Class of ‘12, B.S. psychology) Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at City University of New York; and Kevin Nguyen  (Class of ‘12, B.S. biochemistry) Ph.D. in Biochemistry at South Dakota State University.

Applications for the incoming junior-level 2012-13 CSU Dominguez Hills McNair Scholars Program are being accepted through Oct. 1. Interested students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher should call (310) 243-2098.

[Note: minor editorial corrections made on January 15, 2015]

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