St. John’s McNair Scholars Program Supports Underrepresented Students in Pursuit of Doctoral Degrees

Emely Sanchez, a fourth-year student at St. John's, is a McNair Scholar. The program is named for former NASA astronaut Ronald McNair, Ph.D.

Emely Sanchez, a fourth-year student at St. John's, is a McNair Scholar. The program is named for former NASA astronaut Ronald McNair, Ph.D.

September 15, 2022

For the 23rd consecutive year, a federal grant program will help current St. John’s University undergraduate students in their eventual pursuit of doctoral degrees.

The US Department of Education recently awarded the University nearly $256,000 to support the doctoral pursuits of 26 students identified as being from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in graduate school. These include first-generation graduate students, those from low-income families, and those from other disadvantaged backgrounds.

The grant is awarded to St. John’s under the federally funded Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, named for Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D., an African-American engineer, scientist, and astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. Thirteen second- and third-year undergraduate students who meet project guidelines will receive the aid. The University anticipates the grants, known informally as the McNair Scholars Program, will be renewable for a total of five years. 

The University was awarded its first McNair grant in 1999.

“This program is a perfect fit; it’s in perfect alignment with the mission of St. John’s University,” said André McKenzie, Ph.D., Vice Provost. “Equity, inclusiveness, and opportunity in education is a part of our mission.”

St. John’s is one of 14 colleges or universities in New York State with a funded McNair Scholars Program. Nationwide, 187 colleges or universities currently participate. St. John’s grant application cited the University’s commitment to inclusivity in higher education coupled with its location in one of the most diverse urban centers in the nation.

The grant money helps fund students’ initial enrollment in graduate schools, services to assist in their continued enrollment, research and scholarly activities, and other services that facilitate their earning of a doctoral degree. The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to assist in diversifying college and university faculties.

“It’s an opportunity for students who have been traditionally underrepresented to develop the confidence to say, one day I too can become a professor,” said Asnath Gedeon, Director, McNair Scholars Program.

During their second and third undergraduate years, students in the McNair Scholars Program participate in workshops to enhance their understanding of the demands of doctoral-level study. These workshops address library and information technology skills, written and oral communication, best practices in research, and computer literacy. Students also receive preparation for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) admissions test for graduate school. 

Knowing what lies ahead can demystify the doctoral-degree process, students said, and help facilitate future success.

“It’s really essential to know the things that are ahead of you,” said Emely Sanchez, 20, of Uniondale, NY, a senior at St. John’s who is in her second year in the McNair Scholars Program. “McNair can help with the application process, the GREs, and classroom research. It gives you so much guidance on what you can expect as a doctoral student.”

Emely, a Psychology major, will begin graduate studies in the Fall of 2023. She is the first in her family to attend college. Undecided on a graduate school, she hopes to practice clinical psychology and eventually join a university faculty.

“I love that the McNair program emphasizes research; that was a key selling point for me,” Emely said. “McNair can help me get into a lab setting and connect me with a faculty member who then can help me with my research.” 

McNair Scholars also participate in a summer research project between their third and fourth years at St. John’s, guided in their research by volunteer faculty members whose academic interests mirror those of the scholar. In addition to subject-matter expertise, faculty mentors introduce students to the demands of academic culture, offer motivation and encouragement, and even career guidance.

This mentorship program is at the heart of the mission of the McNair Scholars program, Dr. McKenzie said.

“The fact that we have an excellent faculty here who willingly give up their time and expertise is a big benefit to our students,” he said.