South Carolina, 1959. A nine-year old Black boy sat on a library counter refusing to leave until the librarian gave him his books. He did not care that the librarian had called the police. He was not phased that during this time in history, places of learning were staunchly segregated. He was unwavering as the police came marching in, confident that the knowledge he sought was rightfully his. And with courage and pride, Ronald E. McNair left the library unscathed with his books in hand, and his mother and brother by his side. Decades later, the Lake City Library would become the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Life History Center.
Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair was born in 1950 in a low-income community in South Carolina. In 1971, he graduated magna cum laude from North Carolina A&T State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. He then enrolled in Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At first, McNair was afraid to pursue physics at the graduate level, for fear he could not compete. However he persisted through his trepidation and in 1976, at the age of 26, he graduated with honors and earned his PhD degree in LASER Physics.
The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded program (one of the TRIO Programs funded by the Department of Education) mandated by Congress. The goal of the program is to increase the number of students in doctoral degree programs who are low-income and first-generation undergraduates, or students who come from groups underrepresented in graduate education. All McNair Scholars obtain a faculty mentor, work on an independent research projects and receive free, intensive GRE prep. Program participants must be committed to enrolling in graduate programs with an end goal of successfully completing a Ph.D.