CU Boulder will continue its McNair Scholars Program for five more years after receiving a $1.34 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, according to Yvonne Skoretz, principal investigator. Skoretz has served as the program director for the last five years. Twenty-five undergraduate students are supported annually.
“The competition is held every five years, and because only about half of the proposals are funded, the stakes are high,” Skoretz said. “We were able to submit a strong application with the support of the deans of undergraduate and graduate education, Daryl Maeda and Scott Adler, co-PI.” The program is housed in the Student Academic Success Center.
The mission of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase doctoral degrees from first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minority students.
Program participants engage in research and scholarly activities to prepare for doctoral studies. The scholars receive financial support for a supervised faculty research experience and take a research design course where they learn strategies to communicate their research and to position themselves as diverse scholars in higher education. Using a cohort-model, program participants present their research at conferences, visit graduate schools, attend graduate school fairs and participate in retreats and other program activities. It is a rigorous program, and it works.
The program has experienced a lot of success. Ninety percent of the scholars enrolled in graduate programs in the fall of 2022 compared to the national average of 34%. Skoretz said, “We are so thankful to faculty who volunteer their time. Faculty are crucial to the success of the program.”
Getting involved as a faculty member
There are many ways for faculty to get involved with the program from mentoring scholars, serving on the Faculty Advisory Board, nominating students for the program, and participating in monthly workshops as guest speakers.
Faculty mentors are matched one-to-one with each scholar and meet regularly to discuss research and scholarly activities, provide encouragement for pursuing doctoral studies and help the scholar understand the rigors of graduate education. As scholars exit the program upon graduation, they reaffirm the impact their faculty mentor had on them in making the decision to enroll in graduate school.
Faculty Advisory Board members Tanya Alderete, Brian DeDecker and David Root interview and select the scholars for each cohort. Additionally, the board provides program advisement on curriculum and other issues that may impact the program.
Recruitment for the next McNair Scholar cohort begins in January 2023. Skoretz noted:
“Faculty and staff nominations are important to identify potential scholars that may go unnoticed otherwise. We have had incoming seniors without any research experience receive a faculty nomination for the program. These same students are now in funded PhD programs. Without that faculty nomination, the student may never have the opportunity to complete research as an undergraduate, and without any research experience, a competitive graduate application becomes very difficult. The faculty nomination was the first step to make that happen.”
The program also has integrated a one-to-one graduate student near-peer mentoring component and is developing a research academy in collaboration with TRIO Student Support Services to involve undergraduate students in research as early as possible.
When asked to describe in two words what is it about this program that allows scholars to be successful, Skoretz replied, “Opportunity. Support.”