Baylor’s McNair Scholars Program Wraps Up Successful First Year, Will Host National Research Conference
by Brooke Hill, student newswriter, Baylor University Media & Public Relations
WACO, Texas (July 22, 2019) — Baylor University biology major 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 from Plano, Texas, is one of 25 students in Baylor’s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, known nationally as the 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 Ph.D. 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.
“There is a lovely, fierce sense of belonging and pride within the Baylor program, and this extends to the McNair programs around the nation,” Carroll said. “Every time I’ve gone to a different university and have met fellow McNair Scholars from different universities, it has always felt like greeting an old friend.”
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 seven graduating McNair Scholars at Baylor this past year, five will enter graduate programs this fall at Boston College, Mississippi State University, Syracuse University, University of Iowa and University of Missouri.
World of opportunities
“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 Ph.D. student is an amazing thing to see,” said Steven Fernandez, director of the McNair Scholars program at Baylor. “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.”
McNair Scholars are paired with faculty mentors at their respective universities, who guide them in their research. Students can be involved in the program for two to three years and can apply to be a McNair Scholar as early as their sophomore year.
“The mentors have been invaluable in the process. We work very closely with our faculty to allow a chance to interact with the students not just on the research, but how to start finding the right graduate school fit for the student. We can’t thank our faculty enough,” Fernandez said.
During the summer, the students conduct 30 hours of research each week with their mentors and also attend a professional development opportunity with the McNair program. At the end of summer, they submit a paper and a poster on their findings, which present at conferences. Carroll, who is under the faculty mentorship of Bessie Kebaara, Ph.D., associate professor of biology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, said the program has helped her grow both in the world of academia and on a personal level.
“Confidence was not a thing that came naturally to me, but being surrounded by a cohort of peers that are seeking the same common goal and going through similar trials and tribulations on our paths to graduate school has instilled confidence within me indefinitely,” Carroll said.
An exciting first for the program is the upcoming inaugural National McNair Scholars Research Conference, which will be held at Baylor Sept. 26-27. The conference is open to any Baylor student who is engaged in faculty-mentored research. In addition, the conference will feature a free Graduate School Recruitment Fair open to all Baylor students.
“I’m excited to promote the success of our scholars and showcase some of the amazing work our students are doing not just here, but across the nation,” Fernandez said.
New McNair Scholars Announced
The 2019 class of McNair Scholars:
• Jesse Martinez, senior chemistry major, conducting chemistry research at Texas A&M University
• Sarah Hale, junior psychology major, conducting psychology research at Baylor University under the mentorship of Gary Elkins, Ph.D.
• Saul Quintero, senior psychology major, conducting psychology research at Baylor University under the mentorship of Joaquin Lugo, Ph.D.
• Samantha Soto, junior neuroscience major conducting neuroscience research at Baylor University under the mentorship of Annie Ginty, Ph.D.
• Maquela Noel, junior health, kinesiology and leisure studies major, conducting health, kinesiology and leisure studies research at Baylor University under the mentorship of Trey Brown, Ph.D.
• Ashley McGill, senior aviation sciences major, conducting piloting/geology research at Baylor University under the mentorship of Joe Yelderman, Ph.D.
• Vynna Chitolie, senior environmental studies major, conducting environmental studies research at Baylor University under the mentorship of Melinda Coogan, Ph.D.
• Morgan Koziol, junior professional writing and rhetoric major, conducting professional writing research at Baylor University under the mentorship of Jessica Ford, Ph.D.
For more information on the program or to register for the conference, visit the McNair Scholar website at www.baylor.edu/mcnairscholars.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.