By Sepp Jannotta MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Montana State University has received $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education to provide another five years of funding for its McNair Scholars Program.

The grant for the program formally known as Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Programs will further MSU’s efforts to support undergraduates who are minorities or first-generation/lower-income college students in their preparation for going on to graduate school with the ultimate goal of attaining their doctorates and becoming professors.

Shelly Hogan, director of the McNair Scholars Program, and David Singel, MSU’s associate provost, serve as the grant’s co-principal investigators. The goal of the program is to increase the number of MSU students from groups underrepresented in graduate schools, Hogan said.

Hogan said continued support for the program at MSU shows how well McNair has fit into the university’s mission and its commitment to broaden the accessibility of higher education while providing opportunities for students to conduct meaningful and productive undergraduate research alongside faculty mentors. Due to $10 million in funding cuts nationwide for McNair programs, the Department of Education has defunded a third of the TRiO McNair Programs.

Not only was MSU’s program funded again, but the award exceeded the $880,000, four-year grant that launched the program at MSU in 2009.

So far, the McNair Scholars Program at MSU has enrolled 55 students, most of whom are from Montana. The average grade-point average among the McNair students is 3.42. Of those admitted to the program, 80 percent are the first in their families to pursue post-secondary education and come from low-income backgrounds.

More than half are now attending graduate school. One of the McNair scholars has been admitted to a graduate program at Harvard University, while another is pursuing a Fulbright scholarship teaching English in Vietnam.

Hogan said the program is currently reviewing applications for the upcoming cohort of McNair students. Successful applicants demonstrate an interest in research and a desire to earn a doctorate. In return, the students receive financial and academic support and mentoring.

McNair students are eligible for aid, including a tuition waiver for summer research, an allowance and money for research supplies. Sophomores and juniors from any discipline can participate, as long as they are committed to incorporate research and scholarship into their undergraduate program.

The program is named for Ronald E. McNair, who grew up in poverty and segregation to become a nationally recognized physicist and a NASA mission specialist astronaut. McNair died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986. Congress established the McNair Program in his honor.

On Dec. 4, MSU will host its McNair Scholars Research Symposium. The event is open to the public and will run from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Strand Union Building, Ballroom D.