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Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT)

Date: November 12, 2003
Section: Utah
Edition: Final
Page: B1

Program to cultivate minority Ph.D.s
Recruits wanted: The McNair Scholars director looks to Utah's first-generation college grads to be the next generation of professors; Program's aim: Minority Ph.D.s

Shinika A. Sykes The Salt Lake Tribune  

Utah has one of the lowest percentages of minorities enrolled in graduate schools in the nation. Deborah Curry believes she can change that.

Armed with a $1.2 million, five-year grant, the new director of the state's first McNair Scholars Program says she can get first-generation college graduates and students from low-income families committed to the idea that they can be the next generation of university professors.

"This is a fabulous program and I have come all the way to Utah because I know it can make a difference," said Curry, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and a law degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey. She says the program is a first for Utah; other states have had it for some time.

Westminster College, a Salt Lake City-based private liberal arts college, has hired Curry to help launch the program -- named in honor of astronaut Ronald McNair, who died along with six other crew members in the 1986 explosion aboard the space shuttle Challenger. He was the second African-American to fly in space.

Curry plans to recruit 21 students -- seven sophomores, seven juniors and seven seniors -- from Salt Lake Community College, the University of Utah and Westminster College into the program. Each year, seven new sophomores will replace the graduating seniors.

According to Curry, a majority of the McNair scholars will be classified as low-income individuals who are first-generation college students. And at least seven of the scholars will be members of a group underrepresented in graduate education.

The McNair Scholars Program is critical to broadening the pool of potential college and university professors, says Kathy Felker, director of educational support programs at the U.

"The current higher education professors tend to be male, white, middle-aged and getting close to retirement. Unless we expand that pool by encouraging women and minorities and those who have traditionally not been in the doctoral programs to go in that direction, we will not have the staff we need in the long run," said Felker. "It also is important to bring that kind of diversity into the academic area."

In writing the proposal for the grant, Westminster College officials sought the support of Utah's ethnic minority community -- including American Indians, Latinos, Pacific Islanders and Asians, said Bonnie Dew, director of Office of Black Affairs.

"We are happy to have a person working full time in this effort. It shows Westminster is committed to this program," said Dew.

For Curry, the first step is to get students ready for graduate school. The McNair scholars program offers students a range of assistance: short- and long-term graduate preparation goals, faculty mentoring, research and report writing, academic workshops and seminars, and cultural activities.

"We are looking at monthly progress and reports from our faculty mentors that will move students toward the goal," said Curry. "We also will have yearly reviews and evaluate everything as the program moves forward."

Curry said the "McNair" name is fitting for the program because Ronald McNair grew up in poverty and faced numerous obstacles, but went on to earn a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"McNair was a whole person in addition to his academic achievements," said Curry, noting that he was an "excellent" jazz saxophonist and he had a black belt in karate.

"That is what we want to build on -- the whole person -- people who are contributors and not just recipients," said Curry. "He is a great role model for this program."

Additional information about Westminster's McNair Program is at

Caption: Deborah Curry Program director

(c) 2003 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.