Roosevelt University McNair Scholars
Roosevelt University McNair Scholars at the McNair Scholar Conference in Buffalo, New York.

Roosevelt University is relentless in its pursuit of truly inclusive and diverse education, and 2018 has been a milestone year in the evolution and solidification of this goal. The Department of Education-funded McNair Scholars Program made its inaugural cohort debut at Roosevelt in January 2018. Along with other federally funded TRIO programs, the McNair Scholars Program focuses on providing students from disadvantaged backgrounds the ability to transition into further higher educational pursuits. These students include first-generation, disabled and minority individuals from diverse backgrounds, and include a variety of areas of study, from education to psychology.

Led by former director Dr. Shannon M. Williams and Juline Girts, the program coordinator, students accomplished the goals and requirements determined by the program in approximately half the time of a normal McNair Scholars track, which amounts to a full year. Requirements included producing detailed research projects and presenting them at conferences and symposiums.

“The grant requires that every student does research and present … so we wanted to make sure our students present,” Williams said. Excitingly for the students and staff, additional federal funding in the program’s inaugural year allowed for all the McNair Scholars to travel in a single group to a conference to present their research.

“We actually had a conference in mind from the onset in California,” Williams said. “They had to unfortunately close, so Mike [Maly, associate provost of research] and Juline had to really search for other conferences.” They found the 24th annual University at Buffalo Undergraduate Research Conference that fit “perfectly” with the timeline of the course and encompassed many of the initiatives they wanted to accomplish with the students during this crucial first year.

It quickly became evident that this conference would cultivate more than just skills in academia, however. With a huge opportunity to network with other scholars from around the country, the scholars from Roosevelt were able to find a marked and noticeable sense of camaraderie and confidence as they navigated their way through the conference and their presentations. During the trip, students blossomed into self-assured and confident academics, with some even flying on an airplane for the first time to attend. After they returned, staff noticed how close they remained, maintaining plans for GRE study groups, and even the occasional brunch date, through a lively group chat. Williams and Girts were especially encouraged by this, noting that they all helped each other through their sense of community to gain the confidence they needed to accomplish what they did.

Both Williams and Girts seem to also very much appreciate the feeling of community or family within these types of programs, especially on a personal level. “Juline and I are not only experienced with TRIO programs but also are graduates of them ourselves,” Williams said. “TRIO programs really stay within the family and collaboration across them is very important.”

This is a journey that’s far from over, and that’s exciting for both the scholars and the staff. With Williams embarking on the next step in her career at the University of Illinois Chicago, the team has been excited about Peggy Valdes being able to transition into the role of director. Though Williams may be physically moving to a different academic institution, it remains abundantly clear that her goal, as well at Roosevelt’s, is to work as a cohesive team with other schools that provide McNair and other TRIO programs. “It’s crunch time,” Williams said. “Now the transitional focus is GRE preparation, making sure portfolios are refined and ready to go … really, this is application season for them.” McNair requires 5–10 graduate school applications, so Valdes will have no lack of work to oversee as these students prepare for the next steps.

In terms of the decision to integrate McNair with the landscape of Roosevelt academics, Mike Maly, associate provost of research and professor of sociology, saw it to be cut and dry. “We applied for McNair because of [Provost] Lois Becker’s vision of academic affairs, which is providing students with high-impact experiences that prepare them for life after Roosevelt,” he said. “McNair fits the University’s varied efforts of preparing students for future success. When you step back, you see that this and other initiatives like Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) help retain students and get them to graduate.”

With hopes of eventually establishing an alumni group, establishing additional TRIO programs on campus, and strengthening the foundation of the current McNair Scholars program, Roosevelt is thrilled to host these bright and talented students as they begin to establish themselves in their studies and future careers.

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