History of the McNair Scholars Program
The McNair Scholars Program is a federal TRIO program funded at 187 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education. It is designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential. The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.
Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D.:
Ronald Erwin McNair was born October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. While
in junior high school, Dr. McNair was inspired to work hard and persevere in his studies
by his family and by a teacher who recognized his scientific potential and believed
in him. Dr. McNair graduated as valedictorian from Carver High School in 1967. In
1971, he graduated magna cum laude and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics
from North Carolina A&T State University (Greensboro). Dr. McNair then enrolled in
the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1976, at the age of 26,
he earned his Ph.D. in laser physics. His dissertation was titled, "Energy Absorption
and Vibrational Heating in Molecules Following Intense Laser Excitation." Dr. McNair
was presented an honorary doctorate of Laws from North Carolina A&T State University
in 1978, an honorary doctorate of Science from Morris College in 1980, and an honorary
doctorate of science from the University of South Carolina in 1984.
While working as a staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratory, Dr. McNair soon became a recognized expert in laser physics. His many distinctions include being a Presidential Scholar (1971-74), a Ford Foundation Fellow (1971-74), a National Fellowship Fund Fellow (1974-75), and a NATO Fellow (1975). He was also a sixth degree black belt in karate and an accomplished saxophonist. Because of his many accomplishments, he was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program in 1978. His first space shuttle mission launched successfully from Kennedy Space Center on February 3, 1984. Dr. Ronald E. McNair was the second African American to fly in space. Two years later he was selected to serve as mission specialist aboard the ill-fated U.S. Challenger space shuttle. He was killed instantly when the Challenger exploded one minute, thirteen seconds after it was launched. Dr. McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. After his death in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident on January 28, 1986, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. Their goal was to encourage low-income and first-generation college students, and students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups to expand their educational opportunities by enrolling in a Ph.D. program and ultimately pursue an academic career. This program is dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by Dr. McNair's life.
Council for Opportunity in Education:
The Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) is a nonprofit organization, established in 1981, dedicated to furthering the expansion of educational opportunities throughout the United States. Through its numerous membership services, the Council works in conjunction with colleges, universities, and agencies that host TRIO Programs to specifically help TRIO eligible students enter college and graduate.
Federal TRIO Programs:
The Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO) are Federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs. TRIO also includes a training program for directors and staff of TRIO projects.