January 27, 2023

Colorado State University has received funding from the US Department of Education to restart its McNair Scholars Program, which assists first-generation, low-income, racially-minority students earn a PhD.

Students have until February 17 to apply for the program, which began at CSU years ago and has a presence at approximately 150 colleges and universities across the country and offers a variety of resources for undergraduate students who qualify. These resources include a $2,800 grant to work with faculty mentors on summer research projects and to fund conference attendance and presentation of their work. Housing is also provided free of charge during the summer research projects at the CSU. The program also provides students with funds to attend colleges and universities they are considering for graduate school.

Arturo Jimenez and Diana Delacruz Aparicio
From left are Fall 2022 CSU graduate Arturo Jimenez and Diana Delacruz-Aparicio, Retention Specialist at the Academic Advancement Center, at the Engineering Days.

25 students, 10 years

The program supports a cohort of 25 students for up to 10 years during their PhD. The program aims to increase diversity in the ranks of those entering graduate school and earning their Ph.D. To qualify, students must be either racially subordinate or be both first-generation and low-income.

In addition, the Graduate School and the Vice President’s Office for Research provide two student assistants to support the program. That collaboration and investment likely strengthened CSU’s grant application for funding, according to Mary Ann Lucero, director of the Academic Advancement Center.

“This is pretty unique for a McNair fellowship program,” Lucero said of the funding for the two graduate students. “That made our application stronger because it showed multi-departmental support for the McNair grantees.”

‘Hard work’

“It is exciting to see the McNair program back on our campus,” said Colleen Webb, Associate Dean of the Graduate School. “We appreciate the hard work that has gone into this project and look forward to supporting our next group of McNair grantees on their journey to advanced degrees.”

Lucero added, “The intention of the program is to support students in every way possible in their pursuit of a PhD, to support students in that dream and to show that it is possible for them.”

Lucero, who succeeded Fabiola Mora as AAC director last summer, and associate vice president for student success Ryan Barone credited Mora with being instrumental in driving the scholarship proposal before she left CSU last year.

Grace Ivins
Grace Ivins

New director

Grace Ivins, an instructor in the statistics department, was recently hired as program director of the McNair program and Stephanie Cuevas of the Academic Advancement Center was appointed associate director.

Ivins is familiar with the value of the program, having been a McNair Fellow herself when she was a 2015-2017 student at the University of Oklahoma.

“The only reason I was able to apply and prepare for grad school was through the McNair program,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without it. It changed the course of my life.”

“Grace represents the energy, experience and appreciation for the McNair program’s goals of making this one of CSU’s most valuable contributions to the diversity and richness of our national treasure trove of postdoctoral citizens,” said Sam Halabi, senior associate vice president for health policy and Ethics in the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Ivin’s way

Ivins was born in Odessa, Texas into a humble family. She said her father never graduated from high school and her mother hardly ever.

“I don’t even think I knew what college was until I was 18 or 19,” Ivins said. “I didn’t even know it was a thing and that it existed. I didn’t start until I was 26 as a student.”

She said the McNair program did much more than just fund travel and research projects.

“It was really about knowing that I belong somewhere at a university,” Ivins explained. “There was a place for me. The other thing it gave me was drive and a mission.

My mission has been to get into academia and reach a level high enough to bring about change for students who are underrepresented in higher education, so that they have the opportunity to pursue PhDs.”

Ronald McNair
Ronald McNair

previous experience

Even before assuming the position of Principal, Ivins was active in student success and diversity efforts. She has been involved with the Student Experience Project, served on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at the School of Science, and co-chaired the Statistics Department’s DEI Committee.

“We are not islands; We need the support of our community to achieve our goals,” Ivins said of McNair’s support system. “From start to finish, we guide them through every step of their PhD portfolio. It really is a fantastic experience. We connect them with faculty mentors. Throughout the year, we also offer them all the opportunities that we have here at the CSU for research and scholarships in undergraduate studies.”

The McNair Fellowship program is named for Ronald McNair, who became the second African-American astronaut to ever fly on a NASA mission and was killed in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.

For more information or to begin the application process, visit aac.colostate.edu/mcnair.

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