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USM’s McNair Scholars Program Refunded for Five Years

Thu, 08/11/2022 - 10:47am | By: Van Arnold

The distinguished McNair Scholars Program at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has received renewed funding for the next five years, ensuring that underserved students will be prepared to pursue doctoral degrees. The federal grant’s funding is $1.31 million.

Dr. Karen Coats, Dean of USM’s Graduate School, notes that the McNair Scholars Program funding comes from an extremely rigorous grant competition, one in which the University has repeatedly excelled.

“The program is coveted by universities across the country, and only those grant applications receiving near-perfect scores are selected for funding,” said Coats. “USM has maintained funding for the McNair Program for over two decades – a testament to the quality of our program and its leadership over the years.”

The McNair Scholars Program is a federal TRIO program funded across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education. Through a grant competition, grant funds are awarded to institutions of higher education to prepare eligible participants for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

Participants are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have demonstrated strong academic potential. Institutions work closely with participants as they complete their undergraduate requirements. Institutions encourage participants to enroll in graduate programs and then track their progress through to the successful completion of advanced degrees with an overall goal to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by students from underrepresented segments of society.

USM has assisted more than 200 scholars since the program’s inception in 1999. McNair Program Director Daleana Phillips and Program Coordinator Dr. Jessica Love composed the most recent grant application with assistance from other campus entities.

“We are extremely excited for the McNair Scholars Program to be refunded for another five years,” said Phillips. “We put a lot of effort into writing for this grant competition. The Graduate School, Office of Institutional Research, Financial Aid, and other departments at USM were instrumental in assisting us with the necessary data to compose this grant.”

The McNair Scholars Program at USM strives to create a bridge between undergraduate and graduate education. The program supports eligible undergraduates in acquiring the knowledge, skills, and capacities necessary to successfully navigate the rigors of Ph.D. studies through immersion in research and a variety of scholarly activities. 

“We are honored to be able to provide USM McNair scholars with the guidance and support they need to achieve their dreams of conducting undergraduate research, enrolling into graduate school and completing a Ph.D.,” said Phillips. “The McNair Program is activism in the academy. We are proud and honored to continue the legacy and tradition of the McNair Scholars Program through increasing the number of PhDs held by students from underrepresented backgrounds.”

Scholars are provided opportunities to work alongside graduate faculty from various disciplines to gain first-hand knowledge of the various types of research being conducted at USM. In addition, scholars participate in several PIP (Professionals in Preparation - a professional development program designed for graduate students) activities where they learn “transferable skills” that will set them apart from others in the increasingly competitive job market. 

Students who qualify are required to be enrolled in an undergraduate degree-granting program. At least two-thirds of the participants must be low-income, potential first-generation college students. The remaining participants may be from groups that are underrepresented in graduate education. The McNair Scholars Program is research-focused and therefore not intended for students who wish to pursue professional degrees like medicine, law, or business management.

Coats points out that programs such as McNair are extremely valuable in helping prepare students for graduate school, ensuring the students have a mentored research experience, which is critical for those who plan to pursue a PhD. They also gain exposure to graduate schools across the state and region and learn how to prepare successful graduate applications.

“Perhaps most importantly, the McNair Program ‘demystifies’ graduate school by exposing scholars to the expectations of graduate school,” said Coats. “All these experiences show students they are capable of success, increase their self-confidence, and encourage them to take the next step toward a bright future.”

The McNair Scholars Program is named for Dr. Ronald E. McNair, a former NASA astronaut who earned his PhD. in laser physics. In 1984, McNair became the second African American to fly in space. Two years later he was selected to serve as mission specialist aboard the ill-fated U.S. Challenger space shuttle. He was killed when the Challenger exploded one minute, thirteen seconds after it was launched.

For more information about the McNair Scholars Program at USM, visit