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McNair Scholars Program

2023–24 Applications

The McNair Scholars Program application is open now through March 31, 2024. Spaces are available for students to join for the Fall, Spring, and Summer cohorts. Learn if you qualify as a low-income student and apply for the program.

About the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program

Preparing academically talented undergraduates today, to change the face of higher education tomorrow.

The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded effort to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who go on to graduate study. The program is named after Ronald E. McNair, a physicist and NASA astronaut who was the second African-American to fly in space. He died in the Challenger explosion in 1986.

The Westminster University McNair Scholars Program draws students from 3 campuses: Westminster University, Salt Lake Community College, and College of Southern Idaho. By encouraging and supporting qualified students through undergraduate school and the transition to graduate school, the ultimate goal is to increase faculty diversity in colleges and universities.

"Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them. You're eagles! Stretch your wings and fly to the sky!"
Ronald E. McNair

Ronald E. McNair was born on October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. He achieved early success as both a student and an athlete in the segregated public schools he attended. Valedictorian of his high school class, he attended North Carolina A & T State University where in 1971 he received a B.S. degree in physics, magna cum laude. He went on to study physics at MIT, specializing in quantum electronics and laser technology, and completed his PhD in 1977 at the age of 26.

Dr. McNair became a recognized expert in laser physics, and worked for the Hughes Research Laboratories in California. Here, he conducted research on electro-optic laser modulation for satellite-to-satellite space communications. This research led McNair into close contact with the space program; when the opportunity presented itself he applied for astronaut training and was selected in 1978. He was one of the first three African Americans chosen by NASA. As a mission specialist aboard the February 1984 flight of the shuttle Challenger, he became the second African-American in space.

Ronald McNair received many fellowships and commendations; among his achievements were three honorary doctoral degrees. In addition to his stellar academic success, he was a well-rounded person. A leader in track and football in high school, he also became a black belt in Karate, and while in graduate school he offered Karate classes at St. Paul's AME Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an accomplished jazz saxophonist, and a devoted husband and father to Cheryl and their two children.

After his death in the Challenger explosion in January 1986, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. Dr. McNair set high standards for himself, and dared to make his dreams come true. The program that bears his name is dedicated to the success of low-income/ first-generation college students and students from underrepresented groups who aspire to graduate studies.

"Before you can make a dream come true, you must first have one."
In fiscal year 2022–23, the Westminster University McNair Scholars Program is funded at approximately $375,684. Of this amount, $274,983 (71%) is an annual grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Westminster University provides the remaining 29% by contributing over $110,000 of support each year.
  • Be eligible to receive a $2,800 stipend for the summer research project.
  • Establish a relationship with a faculty mentor for ongoing academic advising and assistance developing an academic plan.
  • Establish a relationship with a research mentor for guidance through the research project and an introduction to your academic discipline.
  • Receive support services including academic seminars, individual surveys and assessments, tutoring services as needed, GRE preparation.
  • Opportunities to visit graduate school programs.**
  • Opportunities to attend local, regional, and national conferences to present research.**
  • Receive financial education and counseling including individual financial counseling services, a money management seminar, and a seminar on graduate and doctoral program funding alternatives.
  • Receive personal support services including individualized technology/computer/library assistance, career counseling, academic career planning, and a peer support system.
  • Receive assistance applying to graduate schools.
  • Receive assistance applying for financial aid.
  • Application fee waivers from participating graduate schools.
  • Be eligible for GRE test fee waivers.
  • Free summer tuition at Westminster University.
  • Eligible Westminster McNair Scholars may also receive financial aid packages totaling 100% of tuition.***

** Travel funds are contingent upon program participation and are granted at the discretion of the director.
*** Funds are distributed at the discretion of the Financial Aid office. The McNair Program has no control of these funds.

  • Attend workshops throughout the academic year (usually on Friday afternoons)
  • Register for WRIT-301: Writing for Professional Research (2 credits) in the spring
  • Hold junior status (at least 60 credit hours) before starting independent summer research project in June
  • Participate in the 8-week Summer Research Intensive for 30–40 hours a week in June and July (includes GRE classes, workshops, courses, and independent research)
  • Meet all submission deadlines for required documents (e.g. weekly research timesheets, research proposals, final reports, regular evaluations, etc.)
  • Attend McNair meetings
  • Meet with McNair staff at least once monthly


mcnair graduates sitting on stairs


Apply for the McNair Scholars Program

All scholars must:

  • Be a sophomore, junior, or senior who will graduate in December 2024 or later
  • Have a minimum 3.0 GPA OR significant academic progress in the last 30 credit hours or in your major
  • Be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • Have a sincere desire to pursue graduate education

You must also qualify as:

  • A low-income, first-generation college student (neither parent has a bachelor's degree) OR a member of a group that is underrepresented in graduate education (Native American, Hispanic/Latinx, African American or Pacific Islander)

Your family's federal tax information will be used to determine low-income status. Dependent students should submit their parent's/s' tax information; independent students should submit their own. Determine whether you are considered a dependent or an independent student according to FAFSA.

Preference is given to students who attend Westminster University, the College of Southern Idaho, and Salt Lake Community College.


The priority deadline for the 2023–24 applications is March 31, 2024.The application will be open until April 29, 2024. Email if you have any questions or concerns.


If you meet eligibility requirements and wish to apply, download the McNair Scholar application checklist before filling out your online application.

  1. Applicant Information
  2. Academic Information
  3. Family Information: Include a copy of the first 2 pages of your 2023 Federal Tax Return, or whichever portion includes the number of people in the household and the "taxable income." Please black out Social Security Numbers. Contact us if you need help to understand your dependency status.
  4. Self-Portrait Essay: Please address the following items as frankly as you can. Limit your essay to a maximum of 3 typed, double-spaced pages with 1-inch margins and 12-point font.
    • How has your status as a low-income, first-generation, and/or underrepresented student affected your educational experiences and trajectory?
    • Graduate school is a major commitment as well as an exciting opportunity. Why are you interested in graduate school, and why would you consider a doctoral program?
    • What are your long-range career goals?
    • One objective of the McNair program is to increase PhD attainment among its target populations. Although a PhD credential can be used for a range of careers, we would like to know if you would consider becoming a professor, and if so, why?
    • The McNair Scholars Program is a diverse group. Please describe your participation in and understanding of culturally diverse situations or groups.
  5. Writing Sample: Attach a writing sample of at least 3 pages that was completed in the last year. Please choose an academic sample, if possible, from a course in your major. This can include essays, lab reports, literature reviews, etc.
  6. Documentation of Extracurricular Activities - Simple resume
  7. Two Academic Letters of Recommendation with Cover Forms from the McNair website
  8. One Activities Letter of Recommendation with Cover Form (you may provide 3 academic letters if you prefer)
  9. Official transcripts from all colleges attended

Having the mentorship and research experience the program provided highlighted academic and career goal interests for me that have still never faded over a decade later."

Yvonne Francis

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Yvonne Francis


I would not be a Ph.D. Candidate if not for the McNair Scholars Program at Westminster. This program provided me with the knowledge, tools, and moral support to navigate the challenging environment that is graduate school."

Jessica Taghvaiee

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Jessica Taghvaiee


The McNair Scholars program gave me the opportunity to become the first member of my family to earn a Master's degree and to research issues that I am most passionate about."

Kevin Martinez

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Kevin Martinez


We shared wisdom, shared confidence, provided space to each other to make mistakes and improve. I'm very thankful to have been in a program that actually took care of me."

Nelson Valencia-Garcia

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Nelson Valencia-Garcia


I am an associate psychology at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. Every semester I make a difference in the lives of students who come from backgrounds just like mine."

Raquel Lopez

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Raquel Lopez


The McNair program not only empowered me to pursue my aspirations but also instilled in me a desire to give back by eventually teaching and mentoring students like myself."

Teresa Duarte

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Teresa Duarte


Westminster’s McNair program is fueled by some of the most amazing people in academia. Every single day of my life I feel McNair’s impact."

Sara Gonzalez

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Sara Gonzalez


I loved the community that I had in McNair because it was one of few places where there were other students who had a similar background to mine in higher education."

Viridiana Martinez

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Viridiana Martinez