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Thursday, October 2, 2003
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New Ohio University program encourages minority, low-income students to seek graduate education

ATHENS, Ohio -- Ohio University has received a five-year, $220,000 per year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a new program that aims to encourage under-represented students to earn doctoral degrees by engaging them in research, scholarship and creative activity.

The Robert E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program seeks to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college students who obtain a graduate degree. At Ohio University, the program also will aid in the recruitment of minority and underrepresented students.

Last year, the McNair program awarded grants to 156 universities around the United States. Only five Ohio institutions ? Kent State University, Oberlin University, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Akron and Ohio University ? received this competitive funding. This year, Ohio University was among only 10 percent in the nation to receive five years of funding; most institutions receive only four years.

?This is a significant advantage, both in terms of meeting the university goals of increasing undergraduate research and enhancing the overall diversity of the campus,? said Raymie McKerrow, grant director of the McNair Program at Ohio University and professor of communication studies.

Two-thirds of the applicants must be from underrepresented populations, and all applicants must demonstrate interest in graduate education. Students must be first-generation college students in their sophomore year, maintain at least a 2.5 cumulative grade point average and meet federal low-income guidelines. Ohio University?s grant requires that a minimum of 22 students be selected for the program each year.

Although the grant?s first year of funding is guaranteed, its continuation depends on the success of the program and its ability to meet objectives, McKerrow said. The objectives include providing mentors for low-income and underrepresented students and creating a sense of unity among the chosen scholars, he said. The program also seeks to guide students through five-week summer research sessions, where they will work with faculty mentors to complete projects in all areas of study, from dance and history to sports management.

An assistant director, whose position as full-time program manager is funded by the grant, also will help students. Both internal and external applications are being accepted for the position, which will be filled by winter quarter, McKerrow said. Two graduate students, one hired through the grant and another through the Office of Graduate Studies, also will assist the program.

By the end of winter quarter, McKerrow will work with representatives from the Office of Financial Aid and the Office of Admissions to recruit sophomores who qualify for the McNair application. The selected scholars will begin their first summer research sessions in June 2004 and will complete an additional session at the end of their junior year. By the last session, students should be comfortable initiating independent research with little help from faculty members, he said.

Some faculty mentors already have expressed interest in the program, but McKerrow said the scholars will be named first. The program will select faculty members in proportion to the number of students participating from each of the university?s 10 colleges.

Although the program seeks to instill interest in graduate school and research, it does not mandate that students attend graduate school, he added.

?We will be keeping in contact with them and continuing to encourage them to pursue their doctoral degree,? McKerrow said.

The grant does not provide financial aid for the scholars? graduate education but will include built-in workshops to help students apply for financial assistance after graduation.

The program was named after Ronald E. McNair, an astronaut and physicist who joined NASA?s space shuttle program in 1978 and died in the 1986 Challenger explosion. Members of Congress set up the McNair Scholars Program in his honor to encourage students with disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue doctoral degrees.

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Contact: Raymie McKerrow, (740) 593-4843, mckerrow@ohio.edu


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