September 20, 2017

McNair Scholars Program earns federal grant

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A program that has helped dozens of disadvantaged students earn college degrees will be around for another five years at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, thanks to federal grant that honors the memory of an astronaut. 

The university will receive five more years of funding for the Ronald McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, known on campus as the McNair Scholars Program. The program is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO outreach program, designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Established at SIU in 2003, McNair Scholars are typically first-generation college students from low-income families or groups that traditionally are underserved in higher education.  The program serves about 29 participants each year, focusing on enhancing students’ scholastic and research skills while also providing the mentoring and support that prepares them for success in graduate school. 

The program is named for the late Ronald E. McNair, a physicist and astronaut who died in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. 

Karen Renzaglia, director of the McNair Scholars Program, wrote the initial grant for the SIU effort in 2002, securing the first few rounds of four-year funding cycles. Funding cycles changed to five-year periods as of 2012, and the latest funding is for 2017-2022. 

Since the program’s start at SIU, 158 participating students have earned bachelor’s degrees, 76 earned master’s degrees and 11 earned doctoral degrees. Currently, 23 participants are enrolled in master’s programs with another 9 enrolled in doctoral programs. The program has had a total of 178 participants.   

Renzaglia said the program supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not have the cultural capital to successfully navigate higher education. 

“We provide opportunities for students to engage in professional development, especially to conduct research side by side with our faculty,” she said. “These experiences change lives, opens doors and lead to scholarly contributions and academic advancements for students who were largely neglected prior to coming to SIU.   

“The program fits beautifully with SIU's mission to increase access, to provide excellent enrichment and scholarly activities, and to serve students from diverse backgrounds,” Renzaglia said. 

The grant provides $241,556 annually for five years.