If you are an undergrad and think you’re interested in research and earning a master’s degree and Ph.D., 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,” Romero noted, 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 2023, and graduate fall 2024 or later. Applicants can be undocumented. The priority deadline is Monday, April 10, 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.

“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.

Abrianna Morales joined the McNair program as an underrepresented student with an interest in pursuing graduate education and exploring her passion for research, which focuses on sexual violence prevention and victim experiences of justice within the criminal legal system.

“Being a McNair Scholar has been quite a gift. Thanks to the McNair program, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct independent research with a faculty mentor, travel and present my research at numerous conferences, receive financial support of a stipend for my research work, and receive specialized academic advising and graduate school preparation,” Morales said. “I am confident that being a McNair Scholar has enabled me to be a successful UNM student and candidate for graduate schools. Moreover, the relationships that I’ve built during my time in the program mean so much to me; being a part of the McNair community is one of the highest honors I’ve received… Navigating academia, especially as a Hispanic woman, can be quite difficult. The McNair program has not only enabled me to get hands-on experience with research but has given me the knowledge and confidence necessary to successfully pursue graduate education.”

“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.

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