Undergrads who think they’re interested in research and earning a master’s degree and Ph.D. should apply now for the McNair Scholars Program and Research Opportunity Program, urges Ricardo Romero, director of the programs at The University of New Mexico. The McNair & ROP are now recruiting for the next cohort, which will begin in the fall.

“We are open to all fields, not just STEM, as long as the student is interested in pursuing a research-based graduate degree,” said Romero, who recently returned from the McNair Promising Practices Institute in Puerto Rico, adding, “The McNair and ROP experiences are the same, but there are slight differences in eligibility requirements, and funding. One is federally funded, and the other by the state. Otherwise, same trips, same stipend, same resources.”

The McNair & ROP programs serve students who are first generation to college, low-income, and/or members of ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate school. Members of the programs participate in numerous activities designed to prepare them for the rigors of graduate education. Scholars who complete the program have been admitted to and earned degrees from many well-respected universities throughout the world.

The programs are open to undergraduates who are interested in earning a master’s degree or Ph.D., will have 60-plus credits by fall 2024, and graduate fall 2025 or later. Applicants can be undocumented. The priority deadline is Monday, April 15, but applications will still be accepted after that.

“Current sophomores fit this timeline perfectly, but we can take students farther along if they have flexibility with their graduation timeline. The online application has all the eligibility requirements. We are happy to answer any questions about eligibility,” he said.

Romero emphasized that students who think they might be interested should fill out the easy application.

McNair Scholar KJ Walker
McNair Scholar KJ Walker

“Sometimes students don’t apply because they are afraid they will not be accepted. So that is why we have made the application as easy to complete as possible. We are required to ask certain questions, but otherwise, we have streamlined the process to make it easier to complete. You can’t join our program unless you apply, so get it done if you are interested,” he said.

The McNair & ROP are different than many research programs at UNM.

“Our objective is not to train students to a career. We prepare students for graduate student research. We’re a graduate school prep program that emphasizes undergrad research. The goal is we want students to enroll in grad school… Every activity we do is aimed at that. We’re helping craft the experiences that will look good on those applications,” Romero said, noting that being a McNair & ROP Scholar gives students an advantage when it comes time to apply for graduate school.

KJ Walker is a senior majoring in Family & Child Studies with a minor in Community Health Education. Their specific research interests are in trans well-being in the context of mental health and access to resources.

"This summer, I conducted a retrospective interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) with my mentor, Ashley Martin-Cuellar, exploring the usage of coping skills, strategies, and resources of trans adolescents. Our study involved doing surveys and interviews with five trans adults from across the United States, delving into their experience of their trans identity during adolescence. Through this, we explored both discriminatory and affirming experiences and the coping skills that were learned or used in response. Currently, my mentor and I are working on a manuscript for publication, we're so excited! In graduate school, I hope to dig a little deeper into how intimacy impacts trans well-being and resiliency," Walker said.

"The McNair program has been a huge resource in terms of guiding me to dig deeper into what it means to me to continue pursuing higher education and do research. I think the program has also done a great job of providing space to connect with other emerging researchers, especially within my cohort, where we have been able to support as well as celebrate our collective achievements and research progression," Walker said.

“KJ Walker is an astounding McNair Scholar,” according to Chelsea Morris, assistant professor in the Family and Child Studies Program. “They remain consistently involved in our program and department.”

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Walker participated last year in a project in the Public Policy and Advocacy in Family and Child Studies class taught by Morris that allowed students to choose a point of public policy they are passionate about and present their stances on the issues in public. Walker’s poster was related to a current issue of housing in Albuquerque and New Mexico, arguing that “Children & families deserve long-term housing that is safe, accessible & consistent” in a poster entitled A Policy Analysis of The Fair Housing Act & Section 8 Housing.

“McNair & ROP Scholars are incredibly successful in gaining admission to graduate schools nationwide and many are offered full tuition and fees, living stipend, health insurance, and other benefits. In fact, graduate schools nationwide directly recruit McNair Scholars because of its reputation for preparing undergraduates for the rigors of graduate school,” said Romero, who is himself a member of the very first McNair & ROP cohort of 1999-2000 and earned a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

All students complete research and scholarly activities to prepare to apply as a graduate student, Romero said, but other objectives include helping the student enroll in a grad program the fall after graduation, and to obtain a Ph.D. within 10 years — “the most challenging.” 

Romero cited one UNM McNair & ROP student who was accepted into nine different Ph.D. programs.

“Schools were fighting with each other,” he said. “Graduate schools love our students!”

Dr. Ronald E. McNair was the second Black American to fly in space. He was selected to serve as mission specialist aboard the ill-fated U.S. Challenger space shuttle and was killed instantly when the Challenger exploded soon after it was launched. McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. After his death in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident in 1986, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. Their goal was to encourage low-income and first-generation college students, and students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups to expand their educational opportunities by enrolling in a Ph.D. program and ultimately pursue an academic career. The program is dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by McNair’s life.

Image: 2023 UNM McNair Scholars Research Conference poster session

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