McNair Scholars Program Celebrates 20-Year Anniversary With Inaugural Conference

McNair Scholarship Regional ConferenceMinority, low-income and first-generation college students are often underrepresented in graduate schools. To change this and to help students realize their potential, the McNair Scholars Program at Kent State University provides assistance to underrepresented students who consider pursuing a doctoral degree.  

The McNair Scholars program is one of several federally funded TRIO Programs at Kent State with the goal of improving degree attainment for underrepresented, first-generation and low-income students.

The specific goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to assist students to potentially pursue a doctoral degree. The intent of the federally grant-funded university program is that all scholars who go through will be admitted into a graduate program with full funding by the time they graduate.

The McNair Scholars Program held its first regional conference at Kent State on July 25, 26 and 27.

“The program is great in both supporting students and opening up possibilities for undergraduate students,” said Siobhan Hicks, the McNair program coordinator and current graduate student. “Especially for those who are underrepresented, getting to an undergraduate degree is a plus, but to continue on and realize they can do more, that opens up a whole new world to students.”

The McNair Scholars Program requires students to perform research on a topic of their choice with the help of a qualified mentor. Students presented their research to faculty and students from the surrounding areas at the conference.

“What I got out of the conference was a new found confidence,” said Johna Metcalf, senior history major who presented research at the McNair Conference. “The idea of presenting your findings and what you’ve been researching is very intimidating, so being able to do that now at the undergraduate level has given me some confidence.”

The three-day conference gave students a chance to learn more about steps they can take to be successful when applying to graduate school and preparations for what graduate school can look like. Students were encouraged to attend three sessions per day.

Presenting research to faculty and peers allowed students to receive feedback on their work and recognize their potential.

“I was able to share my initial findings with scholars and get feedback from those scholars,” said Kody Elsayed, a senior public relations major in the program. “It was really awesome to present what I had been working on all summer, see my hard work come to fruition and explain what my next steps were and where I plan to take my research.”

While the conference gave students a look into graduate school, the program itself has left an impact on students who are working to pursue a doctoral degree.

“I needed the community that McNair brought me,” Elsayed said. “McNair challenged me to reflect on weaknesses and strengths and work to correct them. It brought me opportunities I would have never got on my own. It opened my whole world and mindset about graduate school.”

McNair Conferences around the nation that have been around for decades bring in around 300 to 500 participants. The conference at Kent State had about 75 participants, which included both in-state and out-of-state students. With this conference being the first at Kent State, attendees were offered a more personal experience.

Hicks said she was pleased with the number of people and with the success of the conference.

“The feedback that we received from other McNair program faculty was that they really enjoyed the conference,” Hicks said. “The faculty and some of the students really appreciated how small it was because it was very intimate, and they felt as though they could really connect with the other students there.”

Hicks appreciated the smaller size of the conference, and she emphasized how it made the students feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed. It provided more opportunities for honest feedback and one-on-one communication between faculty and students.

“A lot of the students said, in between sessions, that they appreciated how it was a positive experience,” Hicks said. “There weren’t too many people or distractions, and they received real feedback, questions and answers.”

To learn more about the McNair Scholars Program go to

To learn more about the McNair Conference, go to

POSTED: Monday, October 14, 2019 - 3:24pm
UPDATED: Monday, October 14, 2019 - 4:35pm
Leah Marxen