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McNair Scholars prepare for summer research symposium and reflect on program


BLACKSBURG, Va., July 30, 2012 – Instead of soaking up the sun, students participating in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program spent their summer doing research and attending seminars and workshops to prepare for graduate school. The trade-off, however, was well worth it. Now, 16 participating students will present the results of their summer research projects at the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program and McNair Research Symposium.

The McNair Scholars Program is designed to encourage and prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies, who are either first-generation college students with financial need or students from groups currently underrepresented in higher education. The program gives selected students an environment of support to gain the necessary skills to move onto graduate school, through the use of workshops, faculty mentorship, academic and career support, and a summer research experience, among other benefits.

Mark Managuio’s experience

Mark Managuio of Norfolk, Va., a senior majoring in political science and sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, heard about the program from a friend. “I was a bit naïve about the grad school process. This program has been a real eye opener – things I need to start working on are more apparent in my mind.”

The mission of the program, in particular, resonated with Managuio. “My own beliefs about higher education go along with the mission of McNair – preparing minority and underrepresented groups for graduate school. It’s something I push for on campus.”

With his passion for diversity issues on campus, Managuio found a project where he could explore the topic in depth. For the past 10 weeks, he has crunched the numbers from a recent campus climate survey, analyzing questions specifically related to diversity.

While his evaluation is not complete yet, he is finding that students’ race and gender plays a role in whether or not a student will take advantage of diversity-related opportunities on campus. Managuio hopes to use the results to promote change on campus. “I hope to work with Multicultural Programs and Services to implement new programs or initiatives to address deficiencies on campus. While Virginia Tech has a good focus on diversity and learning from people of different backgrounds, there may not be enough still.”

Managuio says he hopes to go onto graduate school in higher education administration – a decision prompted in part by his own indecision in college. He changed majors a few times and struggled with his ultimate education and career goals. Managuio now sees advising as an option. “I like seeing other people succeed and helping them get there,” said Managuio. “If I could make a difference in helping someone else graduate on time, have a career goal, and know what they need to do in college to achieve that without wasting time and money, it would be worth it.”

Shayla McElroy’s experience

Shayla McElroy of Detroit, a senior majoring in psychology, is one of five McNair Scholars from Hampton University who are spending their summer in Blacksburg.

For McElroy, the program has given her an opportunity to dive into research opportunities she may not have at her home school. “Being here is the first time I’ve been able to conduct my own research, go through the IRB process, do surveys, and things like that. It has been fun and definitely a learning experience.”

Her future goal is to pursue graduate studies in marriage and family counseling. Complimenting that, she decided to research how religion impacts marriage in the African American community.

Even without much prior research experience, McElroy – with the help of a faculty mentor – developed a survey, sent hundreds of emails to schools and churches to distribute the survey, and collected the data. Now she is analyzing the results and has been surprised by what she has found. “It was almost disappointing – there doesn’t appear to be much difference between marriages based in religion and those that are not. Now I have to go back to the drawing board to find another element that could be impacting marriages in the community.”

Ultimately, McElroy says she would like to apply her interest in counseling to her other passion – serving as a mentor and role model for girls who grow up in troubled homes. She is actively involved in a group called Sister to Sister at Hampton University. The group encourages girls from tough backgrounds to participate in community service. “We may go around the community and pick up trash or go to the nursing home and hang out. It is kind of like a big sister, little sister program. We teach them good etiquette, help them with college applications, and tutor them. We really just spend time with them – be someone they can come and talk to when they need it. “

Her dream would be to own a counseling center for young girls from troubled homes. “It would be a way to continue something like Sister to Sister for the rest of my life, because it really makes me happy.”

Research symposium details

Managuio, McElroy, and 14 other McNair Scholars, in addition to 28 summer research interns through the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program, will present the results of their summer research on Friday, August 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown. Students from both programs will make oral and poster presentations. The symposium is open to the public.

The Division of Undergraduate Education provides academic support, programs, and courses that touch on every aspect of the undergraduate experience, from recruitment to graduation and beyond. Its offices, units, and centers advocate for ways to create and nurture a vibrant and diverse community of engaged learners, while supporting the development of innovative and dynamic faculty. The division is committed to excellence in student access, retention, and success for the university’s 24,000 undergraduate students.