St. Thomas receives grant to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue a Ph.D.

St. Thomas receives grant to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue a Ph.D.

The University of St. Thomas recently was one of six Minnesota colleges and universities awarded a U.S. Department of Education grant that is designed to help undergraduate college students from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue a Ph.D. degree.

The initial grant of $220,000 will fund 22 to 25 undergraduate participants in the new McNair Scholars Program at St. Thomas. It is anticipated that the grant will be renewed three times, for a total of $880,000, and after four years the McNair program here will serve nearly 100 students.

The federal Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Program has a national success rate of more than 80 percent, according to St. Thomas’ executive director of institutional diversity, Dr. Lawrence Potter Jr., who will direct the program here.

The purpose of the McNair program is “to award grants to institutions of higher learning for projects designed to provide disadvantaged college students with effective preparation for doctoral study,” according to the Department of Education.

Potter, who previously directed high-level research projects for McNair scholars at Western Michigan University, developed St. Thomas’ grant proposal with assistance from the university’s Faculty Grants Office. He noted that 13 students he mentored at Western Michigan University are now in Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. programs.

The St. Thomas McNair Scholars Program will begin here this summer; details on how to apply will be announced soon by the Office of Institutional Diversity, where the program will be housed. McNair scholars generally begin the program during their sophomore year.

Types of projects funded under the McNair program include “academic counseling, financial aid assistance, mentoring, research opportunities, seminars, summer internships and tutoring” as well as “guidance for students seeking admission and financial aid for graduate programs,” according to the Department of Education.

At St. Thomas, McNair scholars will participate in activities that increase their motivation and improve the knowledge and skills necessary for doctoral study. They will meet regularly with mentors, attend graduate-school fairs, visit other colleges and universities, participate in academic and personal counseling, and conduct research.

Each summer, 14 of the McNair scholars will live on the St. Thomas campus for six weeks. They will take a graduate-level writing course, prepare for graduate admission tests and work on their research projects.

“The strength of our McNair Scholars Program will be the collaborative spirit required to nurture future scholars,” Potter said. “Part of my primary concern is that we continue to expand and bring new programs to our institution that are designed to assist students who are promising and who need a variety of different kinds of assistance in order to succeed.”

The program does not require tests for admission, although participants must be an undergraduate and pursuing a bachelor’s degree. However, in keeping with the program’s mission of serving those from disadvantaged populations, students must meet some specific federal guidelines.

Participants must come from low-income, first-generation, or underrepresented target groups:

  • Low-income participants come from families that do not exceed 150 percent of the federally established poverty level. For a family of four, that would be an annual income of about $19,000.
  • First-generation participants would come from families in which both parents did not complete a bachelor’s degree.
  • Underrrepresented participants are blacks, Hispanics, American Indian or Alaskan native.

Those from the low-income and first-generation groups will make up no less than two-thirds of the participants. The remainder will come from the underrepresented group.

There is no cost to the student to participate in the program. McNair scholars receive a $2,800 stipend for successful completion of the two-year program.

Augsburg College, College of St. Scholastica, Minnesota State University-Mankato, St. Olaf College and the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis received similar McNair grants this year.

The technical-review evaluation scores for St. Thomas’ McNair grant application ranged from near perfect to perfect. Three application evaluators, who can award scores up to 100, reviewed the St. Thomas application on six criteria: need, objectives, plan of operation, quality of key personnel, resources and budget, and evaluation plan. Two evaluators gave the St. Thomas application a score of 100, and one gave it a score of 98.