Scholarships put 22 on Ph.D. path

Author(s): Shinika A. Sykes The Salt Lake Tribune   Date: March 18, 2004


Sarah Jackson has always wanted to go to graduate school. Now the University of Utah junior communications major will get help navigating higher education's road to master's and doctoral degrees. "Getting a Ph.D. is definitely something I would like to do," Jackson said.


Jackson, 21, is one of 22 students -- sophomores, juniors and seniors from the University of Utah, Westminster College and Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) -- selected for the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program.  


The program is geared to broaden the pool of potential college and university professors, especially among low-income and first-generation students. These groups continue to be underrepresented in doctoral studies programs and, by extension, on university faculties, according to officials at the U.S. Department of Education.


Jackson, a Salt Lake City native who was raised by a single mother, considers herself lucky. She will meet and work with other McNair scholars in Utah and across the nation, enabling her to build a network of support.


Mario Castillo, a sociology and philosophy major at Westminster, says he, too, is lucky to be one of Utah's McNair Scholars. He plans to avail himself of all that McNair  has to offer.


"I don't know if I necessarily see myself being a professor, although I will certainly keep an open mind," Castillo said. What motivates him at this point is finding ways to help bring about an end to poverty.


Krystle Cook, another McNair scholar, is excited about the coming summer workshops in which students and their mentors participate in a rigorous round of graduate school preparation and research training. She is one of three Caucasian participants in the program.


"I got in because I am poor," said Cook, a junior majoring in education at Westminster College.

McNair Scholars have been around since 1988, yet this is a first for Utah. There are McNair Scholars programs at 156 public and private schools across the United States and Puerto Rico.


"[This] is critical to expanding the pool of women and minorities and those who have traditionally not been in doctoral programs," said Kathy Felker, director of Upward Bound, an educational support program at the U.  


Felker said the U. applied "two or three times" to the Department of Education to bring McNair to Utah. The U. was not successful; Westminster was.


"The [application process] is extremely competitive. There's a perception of what the state looks like -- that there are no minorities in Utah," Felker said.


Westminster, a Salt Lake City-based private liberal arts college, hired Deborah Curry, a doctoral program trainer from the University of Maryland, to launch the effort.


Curry, with assistance from U., SLCC and Westminster administrators, set a goal to recruit seven sophomores, eight juniors and seven seniors among those schools. Each year, seven new sophomores will replace the graduating seniors.


Faculty members at the three schools have signed on to act as mentors. They will assess the students' needs, prepare goals and provide monthly progress reports.


Curry also sought support from the state's Department of Community and Economic Development, as well as input from minorities and civic organizations.


"This inaugural group of scholars consists of high academic achievers who truly exemplify excellence and diversity," Curry said.

The program targets students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have strong academic potential, Curry said. The students are paired with faculty and research mentors who will work closely with the participants through their undergraduate years, their entrance into graduate programs and track their progress to successful completion of advanced degrees, she said.


"This is not a scholarship or money-giving effort; students are given the assistance they need to become the next generation of university professors," Curry said.


22 Utahns named McNair scholars


Salt Lake Community College

Kon Akoy

Solomon Awan

Hassan Hassan

Paul Muskin


University of Utah

Priscilla Cabral

Summer Christiansen

James Garang

Moana Hansen

Sara Hogan

Sarah Jackson

James Moreno

Aliesha Shaw

Stacy VanWinkle


Westminster College

Mario Castillo

Krystle Cook

Anya Gurholt

Reece Peck

Daniel Perez

Thomas Pham

Laura Richey

Carla Valencia

Tamara Villa


McNair Scholars Program


The McNair Scholars Program in Utah is funded by an initial $1.2 million grant for services that include:

* Faculty and research mentoring.

* Seminars, scholarly workshops to prepare students for doctoral training.

* Tutoring and academic counseling.

* Assistance in obtaining financial aid.

* Assistance in securing admission for enrollment in graduate programs.


The program is named in honor of astronaut Ronald McNair, who died with six other crew members in the 1986 explosion aboard the space shuttle Challenger. He was the second African American to fly in space.

Although McNair grew up in poverty and faced numerous obstacles, he went on to earn a doctorate in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.