While many college students only look as far ahead as the weekend, a new grant program at Harding University is encouraging them to look 10 years into the future and envision themselves with a Ph.D.
In October, the University received word that it had been approved to offer the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, a grant program established by the U.S. Department of Education in 1989. McNair, America's second black astronaut in space, was one of seven crewmembers killed in the space shuttle Challenger explosion Jan. 28, 1986. His life is an outstanding example of academic and professional achievements, and this program is dedicated to helping the current generation of college students pursue and achieve high academic goals.
Students who have successfully completed at least one year of college and who are either low-income and first-generation college students or from minority groups are eligible. The program aims to provide academically-enriching experiences to enhance their abilities and prepare them for eventual doctoral study. Students who are selected will receive stipends to conduct research under the guidance of faculty mentors who represent the disciplines in which the students hope to pursue doctoral study.
Dr. Ed Wilson, professor of chemistry and director of the undergraduate physical science research program, who recently received a $670,000 NASA grant, will be one such mentor in the McNair program. Other faculty members who conduct research in such fields as psychology, kinesiology, biology, education and dietetics have also made commitments. Students selected within the next few months will each receive a stipend of up to $2,800 for 12 weeks of research this summer.
In addition to the research and mentorships, students will attend workshops and seminars in a wide variety of subjects, from resumé writing to formal dinner etiquette. They will also receive financial aid counseling, career counseling, personal counseling and Graduate Record Examination preparation.
"Financial aid is a big focus of the program," said Dr. Linda Thompson, who will oversee the program. Prior to accepting the position of director of the McNair program, she directed Student Support Services, a Title IV "TRIO" federally-funded program for students who are first-generation in college, who come from low-income families, or who have physical or learning disabilities. The SSS program, funded to serve 275 students each year, is one applicant pool from which the McNair program participants may be selected.
Harding has been funded at $220,000 for the first year of this four-year grant, and will serve 22 students per year. Harding is one of only three schools in the state to offer this program.
"Students frequently don't think that long range (to Ph.D.)," Thompson said. "Once you go into the work force, it's hard to go back. We will encourage them to go straight through. Our goal is to maintain contact with each student for a minimum of 10 years."
Thompson noted that the students the McNair program seeks to attract are those who would not typically apply to graduate school.
"This program will do immense things for their competency as well as their self-confidence," she said. "I love this program, and I'm excited to get it going."