Dec 11, 2012
Utah's only McNair Scholars Program will continue to serve students for at least another 5 years
SALT LAKE CITY
- College students from underrepresented groups in Utah will be allowed to continue to participate in the prestigious Westminster McNair Scholars Program through a recent federal grant renewal.
Westminster's program, which serves students at Westminster, the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), is a federally funded effort to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who go on to graduate study. The ultimate goal of the McNair program is to increase faculty diversity in colleges and universities across the country.
According to Mary Jo Hinsdale, director of Westminster's McNair Scholars Program, the college's grant proposal was recently accepted and renewed by the Department of Education. Nationwide, however, the McNair Scholars Program was cut $10 million by the federal government to help fund Upward Bound Math/Science programs.
"Thankfully our program was refunded, but nationally the loss is devastating," added Hinsdale. "If funding is not restored, the nation stands to lose the vital talents of hundreds of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students who would become our next generation of researchers and professors."
Westminster's McNair Scholars Program is the only one in the state of Utah, and began serving its first cohort of students in January of 2004. Previously there were 200 McNair programs nationwide, but, as a result of the recent cuts, there are now only 158.
Westminster's previous grant was set to end in September 2012. The new grant will renew the program for five additional years and will provide the college with approximately $1.15 million in funding until 2017.
"The grant renewal process was very long and detailed," said Hinsdale. "It involved year-long discussions with people from other Westminster departments, as well as collaboration with our community partners. We strategized about how to make improvements to ensure the McNair staff serves our students to the best of our abilities. All of the preparation made it possible to write a successful proposal in May."
Hinsdale explained that the grant proposal was evaluated on a number of criteria, including need for the program, objectives, a detailed plan of operations, quality of key personnel, resources/budget, and the college's evaluation plan.
"We scored very well across the board on our proposal, and our team is extremely pleased to continue this important work," said Hindsdale. "We have already had students from the program attain PhDs and become tenure-track faculty. McNair works!"
During the grant renewal process, several Utah lawmakers stepped up to show support for the program.
"Over the past nine years, Westminster's McNair Scholars Program has served 105 students resulting in 79 bachelor's degrees earned, with close to 74 percent entering graduate programs," U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch stated in a letter to Arne Duncan, the U.S. Department of Education Secretary. "These results reflect the important investment in preparing our students for degree attainment and for careers vital to our national economy."
First-generation college student Dexter Thomas had only negative college experiences prior to joining the McNair program at Westminster. The road was bumpy and he feared a lack of financial support would be the end of his educational dreams.
"Thanks to McNair and the tremendous support and resources my college story has completely changed," said Thomas. "Now, not only will I for sure be the first in my family to graduate from college, but I am well-equipped to be a competitive, knowledgeable scholar. It doesn't matter that I'm from low-income circumstances and first generation. I can and will succeed."
Thomas now sees a PhD in his future. He was recently one of 11 students in the United States selected for a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). McNair scholar Yvonne Clark also credits the program for her success as a psychology major.
"McNair provides resources to individuals that have no other way to access them. The program reaches out to inform students," said Clark, who is also a member of Westminster's Honors Program. "Without my research experience and mentoring that I received through McNair I wouldn't have thought graduate school was in my future."
This fall, the Westminster McNair Scholars Program welcomed six new students, and the program will institute a special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) component that will serve a cohort of students from the SLCC School of Science, Mathematics, and Engineering.