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Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

McNair Scholars Program celebrates 20 years on the hilltop

Current students, alumni present research projects during homecoming weekend, reiterate programs significance
Emilio Casanova / Hilltop Views
The McNair Scholars Program celebrates 20 years on the hilltop this fall. Current students hold signs that proudly state “I am McNair.” (Emilio Casanova / Hilltop Views)

A celebratory event was held over homecoming weekend to honor the 20 years of service that the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, commonly known as the McNair Scholars Program, has done at St. Edward’s University. The program is a time-honored collegiate program across the U.S. that seeks to create research opportunities for first generation students and give them an opportunity to attend graduate school. 

Over 200 institutions house McNair scholars, all of whom do extensive research. Many of the scholars work on one project in their junior year and one in their senior. Because of this massive body of nationally affiliated research, a national McNair research journal, titled “McNair Association of Professionals,” was created to house this research on a level befitting its scope. One of St. Edward’s own, Pedro Galvan, was published in the 2023 volume for his junior year research titled “Secession in Texas: Division Amongst the People.” Galvan spoke on the impact of being published in such a prestigious journal.

“You think about it like, man, I don’t think I can do that,” Galvan said. “And for them saying, ‘Hey, we want to publish your paper’ and it’s like, wow. It hits you harder because I did one thing, I succeeded in doing a paper for an entire summer, and then having it being looked over by these high-status individuals, then they say ‘We want to publish it.’ It really changes your perspective on a lot of things.”

At Homecoming on Oct. 28, scholars like Galvan and his alumni predecessors gave talks on their research and the impact of the McNair Scholars Program to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary. 

One of these alumnae is graduate student Ana Vielma. Vielma is currently at the University of Texas at Austin where she is in her fifth year of a Ph.D. in the Department of Educational Psychology. She spent her time on the hilltop researching demographic use within social media and later on first generation students and the effects of financial stress on their academic performance. She now studies first generation students and the unique challenges they face in academia in general.

“I would not be where I am today had it not been for the McNair Scholars Program,” Vielma said. “Had it not been for my professors, my mentors taking a chance on me as a small little sophomore who had no idea what research was, I would not be in the position of privilege and power that I sit at today.”

Scholars brought into the program like Galvan and Vielma are introduced to the world of academia and research. As most, if not all, of these scholars are first generation, they may be unfamiliar with these ideas. Faculty mentors take these scholars under their wing and help introduce them to this new world. Jeanetta Williams, a psychology professor at the university since 2005 and member of the program’s advisory board, has mentored many of these scholars in the past, including Vielma. 

Molly Minus, Ph.D., has been a professor at St. Edward’s for 31 years. She has served as the director of the McNair Scholars Program since its inception in 2003. Before that, she coordinated with the University of Notre Dame to have their McNair scholars visit the Hilltop from South Bend. (Max Hoelker)

“Sometimes students think because it’s named after Ronald McNair, who was an astronaut, that it’s only going to be in the STEM fields, but we’ve had students from every school in every program,” Williams said. “And so every year is a little bit different and memorable. I’ve had my own students who have presented research. One of my favorite areas is social psychology, and so students who have opted to work with me, it’s typically on something we would study in social psychology.”

The program, named after astronaut and Ph.D. Ronald McNair, was formally introduced to St. Edward’s in 2003. Molly Minus, a long-time professor at the university and director of the scholars program at St. Edward’s, was encouraged by administrators from the University of Notre Dame, a fellow Holy Cross university, to write a grant to bring the program to the hilltop. What began as a small group of students in the SEU program has now expanded into 29 scholars, 10 of which graduated in the spring of 2023.

“The original purpose was to diversify the professoriate,” Minus said. “The goal is to prepare undergraduates who are first generation and low-income, are from underrepresented groups in grad school, to pursue a Ph.D. after they graduate.”

The McNair Scholars Program has been changing the trajectory of these first generation students’ lives at SEU for 20 years now. Graduates of the program have worked in prestigious fields like COVID-19 research and physical therapy, but they’ve done so much in between. Many of them go back to academia, becoming deans and professors. 

“The McNair Scholars Program doesn’t stop helping you grow,” Galvan said. “They continue it on for years and years to come. It’s all about knowing what you’re capable of, and the McNair Scholars Program really helps you realize things that you just never realized, like how much you can go further with, you know, your education, with your life. …(Entering the program) has been hands down, the best decision I ever made in my life.”

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About the Contributor
Max Hoelker
Max Hoelker, Copy Editor
Max is a sophomore English literature major with a minor in psychology. Although this is his first year with Hilltop Views, he is ecstatic to dive into writing, editing and all things in between. In his limited free time, Max loves to spend time with friends and read.

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