McNair helps undergraduates aim higher

Every student sets foot on college grounds with the aspiration of one day following their dreams. Some turn to the musical arts to entertain and experience music, while others might turn to math or sciences. Some, however, will go on to further their education and obtain a master’s or doctorate with the help of the McNair program.

Truman State University’s branch of the McNair program received its first grant from the US. Department of Education in 1992 to tear down the boundaries students face when applying to graduate school. The program assists students by waiving university application fees, having special McNair scholar awards and getting students ready through meetings with their fellow scholars and advisors. Working with first generation and underrepresented students in higher education, the McNair program strongly upholds its six core values — creativity, responsibility, accountability, integrity, growth, and advocacy — through the diligent work of the program’s students and faculty like Project Director Heather Cianciola. 

Cianciola said the program’s four objectives that every student must meet were defined by the US. Department of Education in 2017 — research and scholarly activity, a graduate program enrollment immediately following undergraduate graduation, continued enrollment in graduate studies from year one to year two and attainment of a research doctorate within 10 years of graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Students also get the chance to participate in two summer research opportunities. 

“So the mindset is that we make democracy stronger by allowing greater access and providing students who have traditionally not had the ability due to financial, socio-economic or culture to access graduate education, which is notoriously difficult to obtain,” Cianciola said. “It requires a lot of additional preparation and achievement. Undergraduate education is still something that is limited in attainment.”

With open arms, the program offers students an option to prepare early. McNair scholar Elva Moreno Del Rio said she wouldn’t have prepared so diligently if not for McNair. She said she might have only looked at three or four universities instead of the 10 she has reviewed.

Moreno Del Rio said she was officially accepted into the McNair program in January and has been supported by students and faculty the entire ride.

“I think if it wasn’t for McNair I would not have seen myself in even a Ph.D. program,” Moreno Del Rio said. “If not for my mentor and McNair just reinforcing that if I ever even have questions, I can reach out to them. That’s really cool.”

While the program gives students the chance to speak to faculty that understand their position, it also gives students the chance to meet other like-minded scholars, like Noah Anderson, who has been with McNair since last year.

Anderson said being able to speak with other students trying to better their education really helped him by boosting his confidence and giving him a sense of belonging.

“Just the opportunity to talk to people that have been through grad school, to get more personal interactions with them really helps eliminate that imposter syndrome,” Anderson said. “Having that support group of people to say, ‘Hey, it’s okay, we feel the same, everyone else feels the same way,’ and have advisors affirm how shaky they felt about graduate school made everything feel real down-to-earth.”

Even though the program is targeted toward those with an interest in pursuing higher education, Anderson said there’s a false expectation for any student that joins to be completely dedicated to grad school.

While the rewards of being a part of McNair are numerous, a large portion of Truman’s McNair success can be attributed to the dedicated faculty, like Advising Specialist Amanda Turnbull.

Turnbull studied and graduated from Truman with a bachelor’s in music while also being a part of the McNair program. She went on to apply and graduate with a Master of Music in Music Education from the University of Kansas with the experience she earned. After coming back to Truman with many lessons under her belt, Turnbull has been helping students through individual counseling, teaching a graduate school prep course and exploring the different types of graduate programs. 

“I would not have made it to graduate school if it had not been for this program,” Turnbull said. “I may not have even made it out of Truman without this program. It is really personal to me because it played such an integral role in my own achievements and perseverance and so I have a very personal stake in the success of the program.”

Turnbull continues to give her support to the McNair program and Truman through her advising work, giving back to the program that gave her the opportunities to move forward while fellow staff members continue offering new students those same opportunities. Located in the Adair House, the McNair program seeks to continue introducing new students to higher education through its strong support group and resources.

Applications for the McNair program will be open Sept.1-Oct.1