McNair program prepares students for graduate school

Elizabeth Jackson

Underrepresented students are given the opportunity to attend graduate school and effectively prepare for it.


Earlier last week, Iowa State’s Graduate College received a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Education. A program that will benefit from this grant is the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. In 1995, the program first began at Iowa State and there about 160 programs similar to this nationwide.


Named after the African-American NASA astronaut and physicist, this program is funded by the Department of Education and is one of seven of their TRiO programs. A common misconception is that this program is strictly for minority students, but in fact this program benefits students of many different backgrounds.


First generation, veteran and underrepresented students are all eligible to be accepted into the program. Students will be reached out to by email if their GPA and major indicates a graduate school path. Despite McNair’s background, this program isn’t just for STEM majors but for any student planning on continuing their education after receiving their undergraduate.


Thirty students are accepted into the program and take four McNair courses over a span of two years. The first year, students learn how to practice academic research and present the results of their research study. The second year, students are assisted with graduate school applications and learn transitioning skills.

I’ve had the opportunity to write an abstract and submit it to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Additionally, next semester, I will have the opportunity to present my faculty mentored research as well as my in-class group research on various platforms,” said Sha’Kurra Evans, an Iowa State student in the McNair program.


At Iowa State, four staff members assist with this program. Additionally, each student is required to have a mentor so in total over thirty faculty members are a part of this program. This research project provides additional resources and skills that will benefit each student.


The McNair program is set-up like a graduate school prep so that students are fully prepared to successfully get into and thrive in graduate school. For many students, the program is appealing because it provides stepping stones into the next of higher education.


“The program has given us a structure in the form of a timeline that we must abide by and this has consequentially prompted my time at ISU to be more productive, disciplined and organized,” said Jose Amaya-Cisneros, also a student in the McNair program.

Funding, like the grant just recently received, covers the cost of cultural activities for students, expenses for the research done and research project, staffing and any national conferences that the students will be able to attend. Unlike a scholarship, this funding helps prepare and inspire students to pursue a higher degree and change the course of their life.


“I think the McNair program is doing more than simply providing me with tools for success, it is harboring a community where I am forced to swim with other very bright students and exercise my critical thinking abilities through discussion,” said Amaya-Cisneros.  

These scholars will be assisted with taking the GRE and applying to graduate schools. The program isn’t just for students planning on attending graduate school at Iowa State and many of their students go elsewhere. Students who are prime candidates will be reached out to via email. Only thirty students are accepted into the program.

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