McNair Scholars Program Wraps Up Successful First Year

Jacqueline Carroll spent her summer in the lab researching seed microbiomes, the microscopic organisms such as bacteria, fungi and archaea that live within the seed. She hopes her research will one day lead to increased crop production (minus the use of genetically modified organisms) and, ultimately, address world hunger. 

She’s ambitious. She’s excited. She’s thankful. 

Carroll, a senior biology major from Plano, Texas, is one of 25 students in Baylor’s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, known nationally as McNair Scholars Program, which aims to prepare first-generation and underrepresented students to acquire the knowledge, skills and experiences to navigate a path to a doctorate. The program launched in the 2017-18 academic year after Baylor was awarded a renewable five-year grant from the Department of Education.

This summer, 16 of Baylor’s McNair Scholars participated in undergraduate research opportunities at Baylor and nine traveled to partnering institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, University of Notre Dame, UT Southwestern and Statia Archeological. Carroll conducted her research at Michigan State University as part of the Summer Research Opportunities Program at Big Ten Academic Alliance universities.

The program’s namesake is the late Dr. Ronald E. McNair, a laser physicist and NASA astronaut who was inspired to work hard and persevere in his studies by his family and by a teacher who recognized and believed in his scientific potential. Baylor’s grant funding supports 25 students each year with substantial mentoring and community building along the way. 

Among the graduating McNair Scholars at Baylor this past year, five entered graduate programs this fall at Boston College, Mississippi State University, Syracuse University, University of Iowa and University of Missouri.

“Seeing development from a student who’s not sure whether graduate school is even an option and then going on to become a fully funded PhD student is an amazing thing to see,” Steven Fernandez, director of Baylor’s McNair Scholars program, said. “When that clicks, that makes it all worth it. The change in their confidence is the best part of it. These are brilliant students, who may just lack the knowledge of how to take the next step. The program helps demystify the thought of going to graduate school for them and opens up a world of opportunities.”

The inaugural Baylor McNair Research Conference took place Sept. 26-27. It offered a platform for undergraduate students engaged in faculty-mentored research to share their research and participate in professional development opportunities. The conference also offered a free Graduate School Recruitment Fair open to all Baylor students.