Regional school collaboration awarded $1.1 million McNair grant

A new five-year grant totaling $1.1 million will continue a highly successful and unique regional collaboration model between Ripon College, Lawrence University in Appleton and St. Norbert College in De Pere. The schools’ Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program was awarded the grant by the U.S. Department of Education TRIO division.

The grant will support the McNair Achievement Program beginning in the fall of 2013 and run through the spring of 2018. Its focus is preparing first-generation, low-income and racially underrepresented students for graduate school and the attainment of doctorate degrees.

“We are at a time in our country where we need more highly educated citizens, and we feel we are doing our part through the McNair program to attain this goal,” says Dan Krhin, director of Student Support Services and McNair Scholars at Ripon. “We have one of the more unique McNair models in the United States by combining three prestigious liberal arts institutions into one focused effort. All three schools contribute funding and institutional support to supplement the federal funding.”

He says the private liberal arts schools have a mission to educate everyone, and the power of the consortium of the three schools makes it a stronger program.

Ripon also hosts a U.S. Department of Education TRIO program, Student Support Services, which functions as a direct pipeline for first-generation, low-income students to the McNair Scholars Program. The program provides students with access to research internships, graduate school visits, seminars, workshops, mentoring, teaching experiences, financial guidance, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) preparation, and presentation skills.

The McNair Achievement Program currently is supported by a TRIO grant that runs through the 2012-13 academic year. Krhin says that in the first four years of this grant cycle, 40 students have been placed in graduate schools across the county, with 18 going directly into doctorate programs. “It’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” Krhin says.

Former and current McNair Scholars agree.

“Everyone has goals. It’s the motivation and preparation behind these goals that make these goals real. McNair contributed substantially to both my motivation and preparation for going to graduate school.” — Bryant Vande Kolk from Brandon, Wis. He graduated from Ripon in 2012 and is a first-year graduate student in the Ph.D. track in physics at Notre Dame University-South Bend.

“The McNair Scholars program at Ripon College was essential in my ability to be a competitive graduate student applicant for a doctoral clinical psychology program. Through the one-on-one mentorship with a faculty member, I was able to complete a research project from start to finish and then present that research at conferences. The GRE prep courses, ability to visit multiple programs nationally, and practice interviews ensured that I was prepared. Navigating the path toward grad school is challenging and sometimes confusing, but my mentor and the McNair advisers guided me in the right directions. Without the opportunity to be a McNair Scholar, I know that the road to fulfilling my graduate school dreams would have been almost impossible.” – Sarah Ellefson from West Bend, Wis. She graduated from Ripon in 2010 and is starting her third year toward a Ph.D. at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

“McNair not only provided me with the opportunities and mentoring necessary to be a successful applicant for graduate school, but also showed me how to become a successful student and researcher in a graduate program. The skills I gained as a McNair scholar has made me a better academic professional far beyond the graduate school application process.” – Sarah Van Schyndel from Oneida, Wis. She graduated from St. Norbert in 2011 and is starting her second year in a Ph.D. program in psychology at Arizona State University.

“The McNair Scholar’s Program has provided tangible support including financial aid for standardized testing and application fees, advice on the application and interviewing processes, and preparatory guidance through my undergraduate education and research projects. Not only have I benefitted from being a part of the McNair Program as an undergraduate student, but I also have been able to provide insight and support to other McNair scholars as a graduate student. As our program continues to grow and develop, these forms of assistance to McNair scholars will continue to increase.” – Bryce Schuler of Chetek, Wis. He graduated from Lawrence in 2009 and is starting his fourth year as a combined Ph.D. and M.D. degree candidate at the Medical College and Graduate School of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

“The McNair Program allowed me to expand my horizons and find a graduate school that is a good fit for me. Because McNair allowed me to do this without being limited, I have been able to go beyond what I thought I would be doing and go places that I wouldn’t have imagined I would get to visit. I am currently in Germany as part of a research project.” – Valerie Gray of Bailey’s Harbor, Wis. She graduated from St. Norbert in 2011 and is in her second year of a Ph.D. program in physics at the College of William and Mary-Virginia.

“The program gave me so much. It is in retrospect that I am beginning to fully grasp its profound value. Beyond the many instrumental resources it provides students to prepare them for postgraduate education, the thing that has stuck with me the most is the recurring narrative that students can circumvent the limitations of their background and aspire far beyond their frame of reference. For students like me, who don’t have the precedence of doctoral education in my family, this program was a beacon of what was possible.” — Alex Ajayi from New York City. He graduated from Lawrence in 2012 and is in his first year of a Ph.D. program in counseling psychology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Kevin Quinn is the coordinator at St. Norbert College, and Nancy Wall is the McNair campus coordinator at Lawrence University.

“The McNair program helps level the playing field for students from less privileged backgrounds by providing exposure to, experience with, and support for graduate school,” Wall says. “I think this is incredibly important because these students bring important and valuable perspectives — that would not occur to students from more privileged backgrounds — to the table.”

Quinn adds: “Participation in the McNair Scholars program is a life-changing opportunity for the students in it. They are provided with great mentoring, financial support and solid guidance toward successful graduate school applications. Students entering the program not quite sure that they can measure up later find themselves opening up an acceptance letter from a grad program of their dreams. All of us involved with McNair at St Norbert are proud to be part of something that has such obvious positive outcomes for our students who might not otherwise have taken a chance on post-graduate study.”

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