Many seniors feel the pressure of the unknown that inevitably comes as they anticipate life after college. For elementary education senior Olivia Moses, however, this pressure began to subside due to her involvement with the Baylor McNair Scholars Program.
Last fall, Moses was among Baylor’s first group of McNair Scholars, chosen after the program launched at Baylor. Over 150 other universities have the program, giving McNair students a broad network of resources and support.
The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded program that helps low-income and first-generation undergraduates — as well as students who come from groups underrepresented in graduate education — prepare for the path to doctoral degree programs through a variety of scholarly activities, including immersion in research with a mentor. The program also provides financial planning for graduate school success, summer research internships with stipends, and the opportunity to attend academic conferences.
Moses found her place in the McNair program as an elementary education major conducting research on media literacy. For her research project, Moses analyzed the animated movie Megamind with a group of students that were participants in Baylor School of Education’s Freedom School program last summer. “The basic question is, ‘What experience do 10-11-year-olds have with analyzing and pulling out themes, and making media messages?’” Moses said. Megamind proved to be an interesting movie to work with, because the main character is a villain, rather than a hero. “There are a lot of topsy-turvy moments between good and evil, so I really wanted them to tackle that.”
One major benefit of the McNair program is that each student is paired with a faculty mentor. For Moses, Dr. Lakia Scott doubles as her mentor and thesis advisor. “Your mentor acts as an advisor for the project that you do over the summer and also gives you feedback on graduate school, because most of them are Ph.D. professors,” Moses said. “If you don’t already know someone, they will pair you with a mentor who helps oversee the project and makes sure you’re writing your paper correctly and accurately.”
In addition to providing a faculty mentor, McNair offers several other benefits. Students receive discounts on the GRE, as well as free, intensive GRE prep. There are also various conference opportunities for McNair students that aim to get students acclimated to a graduate school environment. “I traveled a lot,” Moses said. “I went to Maryland to present my research at the McNair conference. There are a lot of opportunities to get helpful experiences like that.”
Moses encourages students to apply for the program – even if they are still undecided about graduate school. “You can be unsure about grad school or you can be absolutely sure,” Moses said. In just six months, she went from weighing the benefits of grad school in general, to applying to 10 different schools. “This program is really good for people who are unfamiliar with what graduate study could look like,” Moses said. “They spent a lot of time making sure we really understood what we’d be getting ourselves into.”
Steven Fernandez, director of the McNair Scholars Program at Baylor, is continually impressed by the groundbreaking research students are able to conduct at the end of the program.
“With programs like this, students are able to create a level playing field for them to succeed,” Fernandez said. “These are students who are extremely smart and have the potential. They just lack the resources and networks to be able to connect with a lot of these opportunities.”
The program finds its roots in 1959 South Carolina when racial divides attempted to keep nine-year old Ronald E. McNair from checking out books at a local library. Years later, Ronald McNair founded this Scholars Program to ensure that every student is able to attain their desired level of education, no matter who they are or where they came from.
While the McNair program requires a lot of time and energy, Moses is thankful for the experiences, knowledge, and connections she has gained. Feeling more prepared for the future, Moses is able to reflect more on her time with the program and the people who aided her along the way.
“It’s a really unique experience because everyone is coming from very different backgrounds. You get to meet people in different fields and different stages of life,” Moses said. The McNair program continues to be a valuable tool for students, like Moses, all over the country. With McNair, graduate school is just one step away.
— By Andi Risk
ABOUT BAYLOR SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
Founded in 1919, Baylor School of Education ranks among the nation’s top 20 education schools located at private universities. The School’s research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.