McNair Program Adapts for Successful 2020 Research Conference
Baylor University’s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, known nationally as the McNair Scholars Program, helps first-generation students and students from underrepresented populations navigate a path through their undergraduate degree with the goal of acceptance into a Ph.D. program. Launched at Baylor in the 2017-2018 academic year after receiving a grant from the Department of Education, the program has had an incredibly positive impact on the students enrolled. Despite significant headwinds, the 2020 school year has proven to be no different.
The annual Baylor McNair Research Conference draws students from more than 50 different universities nationwide and is one of the ways the program provides students with an opportunity to put their hard work on display while simultaneously gaining invaluable experience. The conference is open to all disciplines and offers a platform for students to share their research and engage in select professional development activities. Students like, senior McNair Scholars Morgan Koziol, professional writing and rhetoric major, and Danielle Sanchez, history major, were able to participate in this year’s event. The conference isn’t limited to McNair Scholars, however. Students who participate in faculty-mentored undergraduate research but are not a part of the McNair Program are equally encouraged to participate. Not all undergraduate students know how to gain access to research opportunities, and it can be challenging to find a forum to present the research they conduct.
“There is an entire national community of students breaking into higher levels of education and making their families proud, and it is special to come together and share our work. I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology, and research is crucial to this graduate degree. Conferences allow me to present my work and receive feedback so that I can improve as a scholar,” Koziol said.
The conference is designed with the McNair Scholars Program mission in mind, helping prepare students for Ph.D. work after graduation by providing them experience presenting their research in a conference environment. Students are able to give their presentations to more than 300 attendees made up of peers and faculty mentors. This accomplishes the twofold task of equipping students for a future of publicly displaying their research findings and, by giving them a place to be heard and have their hard work acknowledged, serving to extinguish the imposter syndrome that can sometimes plague burgeoning researchers.
“The Baylor McNair Undergraduate Research Conference serves as a culmination of everything that the McNair program tries to instill in us — that we matter, and what we care about and research matters. Being able to present my research in a professional setting to a large community of my peers and colleagues is an incredible experience that has helped me realize I can be successful as a researcher and truly work and live my passion for history and for research,” said Sanchez. In addition to having a forum in which to present their research, students also have access to a host of professional development opportunities including a graduate school fair and workshop, networking opportunities, a graduate student panel and a keynote address.
Steven Fernandez is the McNair Scholars Program director at Baylor and leads the team responsible for putting the conference together, which, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19-related safety regulations, was able to execute a successful online event. By taking advantage of digital platforms, the team was able to host several programs and universities from coast to coast who would traditionally not be able to attend a conference in Waco.
“One of the core aspects of the McNair Scholars Program is that it equips students with the tools they need to pursue their passions, and I think the conference does a great job of helping us do that. Our students come from diverse backgrounds but are really unified by their shared desire to pursue that graduate degree and chase their dreams. We work hard to connect students with myriad different resources, including faculty mentorship and undergraduate research, which can be pivotal for the success of our students as they advance to that next step,” Said Fernandez.
For more information about the Baylor McNair Scholars Program, visit baylor.edu/mcnairscholars.