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McNair Scholars continue to make their scholarly mark

Brisaac Johnson, right, explains his research during the spring 2019 Annual Research Conference on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. The senior from Snellville, Georgia, who is pursuing a degree in computer science, is a scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program.

Brisaac Johnson conducted research on mammography machines. Ximena Luna, Naomy Huaman, Haley Shea Barfield and John Blessing won prestigious national scholarships. Brooke Tate conducted chemistry research at the University of Connecticut, Jerry Magana completed math research at Arizona State University and Cory Duckworth conducted research on honeybees at Stanford University.

While the academic pursuits of these students at the University of North Georgia (UNG) differ, their impressive resumes share one thing in common other than their school ⁠— they are scholars in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. Now in its third year, the program is designed to identify and prepare sophomores, juniors and seniors from all UNG campuses for post-graduate studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

The current 18 McNair Scholars are succeeding. Since the program launched at UNG in fall 2017, several McNair Scholars have participated in undergraduate research projects and presented at conferences. In spring 2019, two McNair Scholars won national scholarships, including UNG's first Truman and Goldwater Scholars.

"This is an exciting time, as the director, to watch each student blossom into their potential and I truly believe each scholar is a superstar!" said Iris Royal, program director of the McNair Scholars at UNG. "I expect to see more scholars encouraged to apply and awarded these prestigious scholarships, as well as participate in REUs and travel abroad."

Consider the long and impressive list of accomplishments by the current scholars:

  • Johnson, a senior from Snellville, Georgia, pursuing a degree in computer science, won a travel award to attend the 2019 McNair Research Conference in September. He shared his research to create an algorithm for mammography machines to help improve detection of breast cancer.
  • Luna, a junior from Flowery Branch, Georgia, pursuing a degree in Spanish, earned a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad in Spain in summer 2019. Part of the trip included walking 12 miles a day for a week along the Camino de Santiago, a network of pilgrimage routes.
  • Huaman, a junior from Athens, Georgia, pursuing a degree in international affairs, earned a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad in Japan in summer 2019.
  • Tate, from Cumming, Georgia, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates award. The sophomore pursuing a chemistry degree worked at the University of Connecticut in summer 2019.
  • Duckworth from Hiawassee, Georgia, was accepted as a fellow in the Stanford Summer Research Program in summer 2019 in California. The UNG senior pursuing a degree in biology presented his research about the impacts of urbanization on honey bee gut microbiomes at the Stanford Summer Research Programs annual symposium.
  • Magana, a senior from Cumming, Georgia, pursuing a degree in mathematics, conducted math research at Arizona State University through a NSF REU. He is working in getting his research published.
  • Blessing, a senior from Gainesville, Georgia, pursuing degrees in political science and history, was selected as a Harry S. Truman Foundation Scholar in April 2019. He is set to graduate in May 2020. The nationally competitive award provides up to $30,000 for undergraduate students to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government or public service.
  • Barfield, a senior pursuing degrees in English and interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in math/technology, social science and humanities, received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. It recognizes the United States' most promising young scientists and future researchers.
  • Thomas Hayes, a senior from Suwanee, Georgia, pursuing an information systems degree, received the Ty Cobb Scholarship in summer 2019. The Ty Cobb Foundation scholarships help capable and deserving residents of Georgia who need financial assistance attend an accredited college or university full time.

As McNair Scholars, students are matched with faculty members to conduct scholarly research and establish a formalized mentoring program, said Royal, a McNair Scholars alumna. Faculty members mentor students in their research and help them build their skills to enroll in graduate school with confidence, she said.

"The success of UNG McNair Scholars is a direct result of the UNG faculty mentors who are dedicated to the success of their mentee," she said. "And the entire McNair staff is dedicated to provide an environment for our scholars to excel beyond their own expectations."

McNair Scholars also receive GRE preparation, application fee waivers and a stipend of up to $2,500.

Most participants are either first-generation college students or members of a group traditionally underrepresented in graduate education, such as African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Pacific Islander, who have shown strong academic potential.

Current McNair Scholars include: Barfield, Blessing, Chasen Rivard Campbell, Malik Crandon, Duckworth, Hayes, Naomy Huaman, Johnson, Destiny Kelly, Luna, Jerry Magana, Jacob Cruz Malimban, Jessica Nix, Antonia Ramirez, Tate, Brittany Thomas, Jeffrey Yaun, and Grant Zacher.

Applications to become a McNair Scholars are due Monday, Oct. 21. Applicants must have 60 hours or more of course credit and plan to earn a doctoral degree. For more information, email

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