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McNair Scholars logoAn astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger disaster is inspiring college students to attend graduate school.

Cal State Monterey Bay has been awarded a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to continue the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program at the university.

The federal program began in 1989 to provide financial support and academic guidance to encourage and prepare under-represented, first-generation juniors and seniors for graduate studies leading to a doctorate.

It is named in honor of Dr. McNair, an African-American and a first-generation college student who went on to earn a doctorate in physics.

CSUMB has had a McNair Scholars Program since 2007. To date, 44 McNair Scholars have graduated from the university. Approximately 60 percent of them have gone on to pursue graduate degrees.

Each year, 25 juniors and seniors are enrolled in the program. They work with faculty mentors on research projects and summer internships, attend lectures, workshops and seminars and receive academic support services.

McNair Scholar Omar Davila Jr., a senior psychology major, spent his summer at Yale University.

"This past summer, I stood among the nation’s top scholars at Yale’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. My experience at Yale galvanized my passion to become a research professor. This experience was only possible because of the McNair Scholars program," Davila said.

Psychology major Sara Banco, who is in the midst of applying to graduate programs, shares that sentiment.

"Preparing my graduate school applications has served to remind me how much I owe this program and the people who run it. I could never do what I am doing or go where I will go without the staggering amount of support I get from them and this program.”

Said Dr. William Head, director of the program at CSUMB: "The McNair Scholars program prepares our students for leadership roles in research, academia, and society.

“Our McNair Scholars have received prestigious national fellowships and gone on to Ph.D. programs at the UC Santa Cruz; UCLA; Oregon State University; Utah State University; University of Wisconsin, Madison; and many other top-tier universities across the United States.

“I'm thrilled to continue this legacy with our new five-year grant."

Learn more about the McNair program and other opportunities for undergraduate research at CSUMB here.