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What is the McNair Scholars Program?

The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program was begun in 1989 to offer support services to high-achieving students on their quest to attain the doctoral degree. Eastern Michigan University is one in a highly elite group of institutions, selected by the Department of Education, to host a McNair Program. As such, EMU McNair Scholars figure among the students in our nation with the greatest potential to become leaders in their academic disciplines. It is a great honor to become a McNair Scholar.

Each year, the EMU McNair Program strives to meet the following objectives:

  • Research or Scholarly Activities: 95% of McNair Program participants served during the project year will have completed appropriate research or scholarly activities during the McNair Program academic year.
  • Enrollment in a Graduate Program: 70% of McNair Program bachelor’s degree recipients (or equivalent) will be accepted and enrolled in a postbaccalaureate program of study by the fall term of the academic year immediately following the completion of the bachelor’s degree (or equivalent).
  • Continued Enrollment in Graduate Study: 75% of first year graduate students will continue to be enrolled in graduate school at the beginning of the fall term of the next academic year.
  • Doctoral Degree Attainment: 10% of McNair program participants served will attain a doctoral degree within 10 years of the attainment of the bachelor’s degree.

The Path to the Ph.D.

Most undergraduates have questions about what a doctoral actually is ⎯ and how to earn one. The diagram below shows the progression from a Bachelor's Degree, to the Master's Degree, and then on to the top of the pyramid, the Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.).

  • Earning a bachelor's degree (B.A. or B.S.) usually takes between 4-6 years. Students typically take General Education courses on a wide range of subjects during the first and second years, followed by a number of courses specifically designed to give them advanced knowledge in a Major and Minor subject.
  • The master's degree (M.A. or M.S.) is awarded after taking 10 to 14 additional classes in a single subject. Master's degrees are typically earned in 1 to 2 years of study. Many students seek graduate assistantships, in which they work at the university and receive free tuition and a stipend payment in return. Classes are smaller, more reading and research are required, and students work closely with their professors.
  • The doctoral degree (Ph.D.) is awarded after a student becomes an expert in a field of study. The Ph.D. may require up to 15 courses, after which the student conducts and writes an original research project, called a "dissertation." Upon successful completion of the dissertation, the student is awarded the "Doctorate of Philosophy," or "Ph.D." Doctoral studies typically take 4-6 years, and most students work as university instructors or researchers, and receive free tuition and a salary.

About Dr. Ronald E. McNair

Dr. Ronald E. McNair, an African-American engineer, scientist and Challenger Astronaut, was born on October 12, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. McNair was the son of an auto mechanic. His perseverance in the face of poverty and prejudice led him to successful completion of his bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, in Physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971. Five years later, at age 26, he earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. McNair became a nationally recognized expert in laser physics while on the staff of Hughes Research Laboratory and received many honorary degrees, fellowships and commendations. His achievements were not limited to academia. He was a fifth-degree black belt in karate and was an accomplished saxophonist.

In 1978, Dr. McNair was selected for participation in NASA’s space shuttle program and became the second African American astronaut in U.S. history. He served as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Challenger and died along with the rest of its crew when the space shuttle exploded nine miles above the Atlantic on January 28, 1986.

The McNair Scholars program is dedicated to preserving Dr. McNair's legacy of scholarship and accomplishments. The UC Santa Barbara McNair Scholars Program is fully supported by the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and the deans of the College of Letters and Sciences and the College of Engineering.