Kent State Receives Five-Year Grant Renewal for Underrepresented Student Programs

Four Kent State University TRIO programs aimed at helping underrepresented student — the McNair Scholars Program and three Upward Bound programs — recently received federal grants that will fund them for the next five years.

The programs are hosted through Kent State, though each has different audiences and objectives.

The McNair Scholars Program, housed in University College, selects 27 students who are first-generation college students, underrepresented or who come from designated income families. In this program, students are put on track to go to graduate school and, ultimately, achieve their Ph.D.

“We serve students whose families may not be familiar with the college and graduate school process,” says N.J. Akbar, assistant dean of University College and interim project director of the McNair Scholars Program. “We are the people they can turn to when they need help with résumés, cover letters and the application process to grad school. We help our students achieve their dreams of advanced degrees.”

Mr. Akbar says that through their summer research project, they are able to help students find their passion that will translate into a graduate degree.

“We push students to explore what they are passionate about by finding their research identity,” Mr. Akbar says. “We provide them with the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty during their research, and at the end of the summer, they get to present their findings at the McNair conference.”

Different from the McNair Scholars Program, the Upward Bound programs, housed in the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, targets students who have not yet entered college but show an interest in doing so. The three Upward Bound programs — the classic academy, the health professions program and the math/science program — help high school students in target areas learn more about college and how to get there.

“Our main goal is for the first-generation or low-income students in our programs to enroll, attend and complete college,” says Thomas Jefferson, director of the Upward Bound Classic Academy at Kent State.

“We help them find the college that is the best fit for them regardless of what college it may be,” he says.

Funding for the Upward Bound programs have had a long history at Kent State, dating back to 1971.

“Since these programs have been around for so long, we have many families that rely on us, and although the grant process is tedious, it is vital,” Mr. Jefferson says.

The Upward Bound programs implement postsecondary plans for more than 200 high school students in the Northeast Ohio region. The students are served until they graduate from high school but are monitored throughout their entire college career.

“We help students find programs they would enjoy and make them aware of finite careers that many high schools don’t know about,” Mr. Jefferson says. “We also help them through application processes, whether it be for a college or FAFSA and even scholarships. While we are only funded to work with them during high school, we keep in contact with our alumni and lend a helping hand when we can.”

Mr. Akbar says that the application process for the grant is competitive and tedious. All material that is submitted with the application cannot be the same as when applicants submitted last time. Due to this, every five years, new research has to be conducted to support their needs for funding. In addition, the window for submitting applications for review is just 45 days, and the applications are typically 60 pages or more.

“This grant is very competitive because we’re up against many other colleges and institutions that all serve these first-generation students,” Mr. Akbar says.  “We have to begin thinking about the grant six months ahead of time so we provide them with convincing data that the program is needed.”

Both Mr. Akbar and Mr. Jefferson say the grant renewal is important for the success of these programs for the next five years.

“Education is the pathway to equity, and I want to make sure that we are giving our students all the opportunities and experiences before they leave,” Mr. Akbar says.

“The renewal means that we can continue to help these students write their own stories of success,” Mr. Jefferson says. “For the next five years, we get to teach these kids that they are not defined by their family’s income, city or even their own high school.”

For more information about the Upward Bound programs, visit

For more information about the McNair Scholars Program, visit

For more information about the TRIO programs, visit

POSTED: Tuesday, November 21, 2017 03:05 PM
Updated: Friday, December 1, 2017 11:09 AM
Sarah Heber