Since 2003, the McNair Scholars Program has helped students achieve their goals of pursuing graduate and doctoral degrees. It is a government-funded program that supports income-qualified, minority group and first generation college students.
“The aim of the program is to get these students interested in, prepared for and going to graduate school, and hopefully to getting a Ph.D.,” Linda Thompson, director of the McNair Scholars Program, said.
The McNair program offers a number of seminars and conferences to better equip and prepare its participants for graduate-level applications and studies. The McNair program helped expand senior Kevin Naceanceno’s interest in higher education when he joined the program as a sophomore.
“McNair is really good because it helps you start thinking about the next step early,” Naceanceno said. “I wanted to be a high school teacher, and that was it. I don’t have very many people in my family that have gone into the higher levels of education, so I thought a bachelor’s degree is where the road ends. McNair, however, really helps me see the possibilities that are out there.”
The program also provides students with the opportunity to participate in a paid summer research internships. McNair scholars choose a research topic and are paired with a mentor in their field of study.
Naceanceno conducted his research internship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Naceanceno was on a research team that sought to develop vaccines for neglected tropical diseases.
“When you do a research project, you work side by side with people that have the degree that you’re seeking and you have the people that are doing the type of work that you want to do,” Naceanceno said. “I think it’s an informing process. When you’re informed, you’re able to feel more confident about what you want to do because you have a clearer picture.”
Thompson said she sees a confidence that develops in the students as they learn how to research and prepare for graduate school. Tessa Zuniga, a senior psychology major, attributes her interest in research as a career to the confidence she gained through the McNair program.
“I hated research—I didn’t even want to think about research—but now I see research as an opportunity to share your passion and take that knowledge and tell others where you want to go from there,” Zuniga said.
Every year the McNair Scholars Program sponsors a minimum of 27 students. All eligible applicants are contacted by email and are encouraged to apply for the program.
“McNair has made it so much easier to apply to grad schools, and they’ve taught us how to really interact with grad school faculty, so we’ve been able to practice that throughout our time at Harding,” Zuniga said. “McNair has been a part of my Harding experience, it’s shaped where I’m going for grad school, and so I’m glad I entered it when I first came here.”