The success of CWU’s McNair Scholars program over the past 30 years is difficult to quantify.
But, based on the reviews from current and former participants, their experiences have been life-altering.
Since 1992, a dedicated team of CWU staff and faculty has been recruiting students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue future opportunities in academia. To be accepted into the program, students must be first-gen and come from either low-income background or be underrepresented in graduate education. Some scholars are all three.
Through the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO program, juniors and seniors who are accepted receive paid research training, networking opportunities, institutional support, and academic and professional development skills as they prepare to advance beyond their undergraduate studies. Central’s McNair chapter was among the first in Washington to provide students from underserved backgrounds with opportunities for academic growth and development beyond their undergraduate education.
Program director Pamela Nevar and her staff offer assistance and support to 27 students per academic year. Upon being selected, the scholars connect with on-campus faculty mentors in their major and work with them to advance their proposed research projects. The summer after their junior year, the scholars earn a stipend—which may include room and board for students who live on campus during the summer—to pursue their original research under faculty mentorship.
“We serve as a support system and give these students guidance that they may not otherwise receive,” said Nevar, who took over as program director in 2018. “As first-generation college students, they don’t have access to that kind of guidance from their own families, so we try to provide a kind of home away from home so they can continue to grow, both personally and academically.”
Participants attend a weekly McNair class, where they learn about the graduate school application process, refine their research methods, and develop relationships with campus experts and others in their field. They’re also afforded plenty of one-on-one time with their mentors, advisors, and the McNair staff.
Guiding students through the grad school application process and supporting their research objectives are the long-standing priorities for the program staff. But just as important is helping the scholars develop confidence in themselves.
“Many of these young people feel like they don’t belong in graduate school, so we try to show them that, ‘Yes, you do belong. You’ve earned this,’” Nevar said.
“We want to do everything we can to prepare them for success in graduate school and beyond,” she added. “We also help build them up so they can serve as role models for their friends and family members back home. We are continually amazed at everything they’ve accomplished.”