St. Mary’s University has been awarded a four-year, $879,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will be used to expand a comprehensive program designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who earn doctoral degrees.

The grant will establish an expanded McNair Scholars Program at St. Mary’s that will prepare students for success in graduate school. The ultimate goal of the program is that participants will achieve a doctoral degree within 10 years of graduating from St. Mary’s.

“St. Mary’s University strives to provide an educational environment that allows all students the opportunity to succeed in their academic and professional goals. By broadening the scope of the McNair Scholars Program, we will also broaden the opportunities for our students who have the potential to succeed in graduate school but may need additional assistance and mentoring to do so,” said Jennifer Zwahr-Castro, Ph.D., director of the St. Mary’s McNair Program.

The program will serve 25 undergraduate students a year who show the aptitude to succeed in graduate school but have factors considered to put them at risk for not entering or completing graduate school, such as low-income or first-generation college students or students from an ethnic minority group.

“Most graduate admission programs assume that successful applicants will have research experience and the full range of necessary skills to be successful. However, members of underrepresented groups are less likely to have acquired those needed skills or experiences, even if they have all the needed potential,” said Zwahr-Castro.

Students will apply for the program in their sophomore years and must have 60 hours completed to participate. Students will perform undergraduate research during their junior and senior summers in exchange for a stipend. In addition, they will receive mentoring, academic advising, academic preparation and social support.

This is not St. Mary’s University’s first experience with the McNair Scholars Program. For the past decade, St. Mary’s has participated through a consortium headed by the University of Notre Dame. However, this grant marks the first time St. Mary’s has been a full participant in the program, and it means a greater number of St. Mary’s students will be able to participate each in year in a more intensive program.

The McNair Scholars program is named for physicist and astronaut Ron McNair, who was killed in the 1986 Challenger shuttle explosion.

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