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Sul Ross McNair Program continues to produce high marks

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Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 9:19 am

Sul Ross State University graduates of the McNair undergraduate research program have produced high marks in persistency as graduate students.

Since 2008, when records were first kept, 87 percent of McNair Program Scholars (33 of 38) who enrolled in graduate school have either earned master’s degrees or are still enrolled. A total of 78 percent of all McNair Program graduates went on to graduate school.

“The whole point of our program is to prepare students to go on to graduate school,” said McNair Program director Mary Bennett. “We’re really pleased with those numbers.”

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is designed to encourage first generation, low-income students and minority undergraduates to consider careers in college teaching as well as prepare for doctoral study. Students who participate in the program are provided with research opportunities and faculty mentors.

Named in honor of the astronaut who died in the 1986 space-shuttle explosion, the program was established at Sul Ross in November 2007. It is funded through the Department of Education’s TRIO programs.

Sul Ross’ McNair Program annually enrolls up to 25 junior and senior students, and this summer has 17 undergraduates conducting research projects. Enrolled students are from disciplines ranging from biology to creative writing to political science to theater, Spanish to natural resource management, as well as music, communication, psychology and history.

Projects include studies of German prisoners of World War II interned in Texas; peregrine falcons in Big Bend National Park; negative press coverage of Hilary Clinton’s Presidential campaign; analyzing West Nile Virus in feral swine and javelina; and creating an archive of last year’s Rockhouse Fire near Marfa.

One student, Joey Van Noy, New Braunfels, is conducting soil nitrogen research in the Trans-Pecos as his project, while on a paid summer internship at the University of Kentucky.

Although the research projects are due by the end of the first summer session, the process begins much earlier. Students apply for admission in the fall, are paired with faculty mentors and discuss potential research projects. Deadline for submitting a written research proposal is March 1, but Bennett said most proposals are submitted much earlier.

“Students start their research during spring semester, and usually have started working with their faculty mentors at the start of the (calendar) year,” Bennett said.

In addition to actual research, McNair students meet at least twice a week with their mentors, have individual and group meetings with Bennett and work with Susan Fox-Forrester, Career Services and Testing director, in developing curriculum vitae and graduate school applications.

“What we ask them to do in a short amount of time is pretty grueling,” Bennett said, “but the intent is to prepare them for the graduate school research process.”

She praised the faculty mentors for their dedication in guiding students throughout the research process.

McNair students receive a stipend of $2,000 and three semester credit hours (during the first summer session) for completed research projects. Projects include an academic paper, PowerPoint presentation and poster. Research is presented at the on-campus McNair-Tafoya Symposium during the following Fall Semester. In addition, students are encouraged to present their findings at state and national conferences.

“Those conferences are where their research really gets attention,” Bennett said. “We want the students to get accepted into graduate programs with funding.”

Former Sul Ross McNair students are presently enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin, University of North Texas, Texas Tech University, University of Houston, University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

“A lot of students also stay here and get their master’s degrees,” Bennett said. A number have received fellowships through the Title V Post-Baccalaureate Project at Sul Ross.

Bennett called the McNair Program “integral at small schools with little emphasis on undergraduate research.

“We like to think we (McNair) have had a huge impact on the undergraduate research at Sul Ross. The students work hard and we have had good faculty support. They are doing an excellent job mentoring students.”

For more information, contact Bennett, (432) 837-8478 or mbennett@sulross.edu.

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