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Southern Miss McNair Scholars Program Moving to Graduate School

Wed, 04/13/2016 - 08:36am | By: Van Arnold

The highly successful McNair Scholars Program at The University of Southern Mississippi is saying farewell to a devoted advocate and hello to a new home as the program enters an exciting transitional phase.

The retirement announcement of longtime Director Dr. Susan Bourland coincides with the program's move from the University's Office of the Provost to the Graduate School. The transition becomes effective on Friday, April 15 at which time a welcome reception will be held for McNair Scholars and friends in the lobby of McCain Library. The reception, set for 3 p.m., will also include a special tribute to Bourland for her 15 years as the program's director.

“I am delighted with this move,” said Bourland, who has also served as director of the Student Support Services Program. “When I approached (Associate Provost) Dr. Amy Miller in January with my decision to retire, I offered the idea of moving the McNair Scholars Program to the Graduate School. It seemed like a natural fit. The program can support the mission of the Graduate School, and likewise the Graduate School will give the program the visibility and credibility it deserves.”

The program is named in honor of physicist and NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair, who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded shortly after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Post-secondary Education awards the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program grants to institutions of higher learning. The projects are designed to prepare participants for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

McNair participants are undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have demonstrated strong academic potential. The university works closely with these participants through their undergraduate requirements, encourages their entrance into graduate programs, and tracks their progress to successful completion of advanced degrees. All academic disciplines are eligible.

Since the program's inception in 2000, Southern Miss has seen 195 students graduate as McNair Scholars. There have been 123 masters degrees awarded, 25 Ph.D.s, 2 M.D.s, and 4 J.D.s. There are still approximately 26 scholars enrolled in graduate programs elsewhere.

Dr. Karen Coats, dean of the Southern Miss Graduate School, notes that across the United States many, if not most, McNair programs reside in graduate schools due to the importance of exposing the scholars to graduate education.

“The overarching purpose of the McNair Scholars Program is to prepare first generation/low income students and students underrepresented in graduate education for success in doctoral programs,” said Coats. “Therefore, the Graduate School is a natural home base for the McNair Program.

Coats sees mutual benefits from the transition as McNair Scholars become more closely associated with the Graduate School and its staff.

“By immersion in graduate school culture, McNair Scholars will develop confidence and experience less anxiety as the realities of graduate school become familiar to them,” she said. “The McNair Program will provide a natural pipeline of prospective graduate applicants who are prepared to move seamlessly into graduate programs. Moreover, these students will provide diversity in our programs, enhancing the graduate experience for all of our students.”

Alexis Sanders is a McNair Scholar from the 2015-16 cohort with a double major in biochemistry and biological science. A senior from Jackson, Miss., she believes the program's move to the Graduate School will be a positive change for students in future cohorts.

“It would definitely provide much-needed exposure to graduate school life and more access to the tools, advice, and services needed to achieve enrollment in the graduate school of their choice,” said Sanders.

Sanders reflects on her time in the program with fond memories, especially those made under the tutelage of Bourland.

“The only recognizable difference that the future scholars will see, or mostly feel, is the absence of our mother goose – Dr. Bourland,” said Sanders. “She was the glue that held us together, as well as to the highest standards. I am better prepared for life after graduation because of the investments and contributions of Dr. Bourland and Mrs. Kim Brown. I will leave Southern Miss better than I found it. I wish the same for the future McNair Scholars.”

Bourland expects the McNair Scholars Program's to reach even greater heights under Coats' guidance. As retirement draws closer, she reflects on her time at Southern Miss with warm memories.

“These programs gave me the opportunity to be a member of the university community and provided a wonderful life for me and my family,” she said. “While I am sad at leaving, I look forward to watching these programs flourish with new leadership.”

To learn more about the McNair Scholars Program, call 601.266.6910 or visit: