Tribune, The (UT)
Date: November 12,
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
"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
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
"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