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LMU Celebrates First McNair Scholars Cohort

mcnairLoyola Marymount University’s commitment to advancing student success was strengthened by a $1 million grant from the McNair Scholarships Program at the U.S. Department of Education. The program, aimed primarily at science and engineering students, will help LMU put students on the academic path to graduate degrees and doctorates.

“Our faculty and staff worked hard to bring McNair to LMU,” said Abbie Robinson-Armstrong, the university’s vice president for intercultural affairs. “The grant was the highest-scoring new grant that the program received. This program has played a role in shaping thousands of researchers over the years.” The final grant-writing team was led by Curtis Bennett, associate dean of Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering and professor of mathematics.

The scholarship program is named after Ronald E. McNair, who earned his doctorate in physics at MIT and later became an astronaut. McNair was the second African-American to fly in space, aboard the Challenger in 1984. He died in the Challenger explosion in 1986. To commemorate McNair’s life and career, the Department of Education instituted the scholarship for low-income, first-generation students, and/or underrepresented students with a primary goal of preparing them for graduate-level education.

“Considering a post-baccalaureate degree was never something I or my family thought about until I was chosen to be a part of the McNair Scholars Program,” said Owen Dominguez, a junior electrical engineering major. “However, when my family and I were invited for an informational luncheon, we were very impressed with the program's goals and the supportive community from LMU.”

The McNair program at LMU will not be exclusively science and technology; students from the social sciences are also included. The 25 exceptionally accomplished students were chosen after a challenging selection process, said Ed Mosteig, associate professor of mathematics and who is the administrator the program and will provide specialized support for the students.

The heart of the program is mentorship; six highly recognized from five departments will work closely to prepare the students for the rigors of graduate work and to stay aware of opportunities as they arise.  “My McNair mentor and I are already exploring ideas to conduct research in Ethiopia after graduation,” said Mahalet Gebeyhu, a senior civil engineering major.

During a daylong celebration and orientation for McNair scholars and their families, Jeffrey Wilson, associate dean of Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts and a professor of philosophy, told of a student of his, who had been taught that “she could not reach that high” as a Ph.D. and a college teaching career. Wilson said that the McNair Scholars program reverses the effects of messages like that, and that these students could become scientists and academics, and possibly science advisers to the state of California, the U.S. government, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and the United Nations.