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McNair Scholars graduates exceeding expectations

UNG junior Michelle Alvarado Gonzalez is a first-generation student who is pursuing a degree in English with teacher certification. She joined the McNair Scholars Program in fall 2020. The federally funded program is designed to identify and prepare students for post-graduate studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

Since the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program launched in 2017, nearly 73% of participants from the University of North Georgia (UNG) are in graduate schools. Some are at top research schools in the country.

Brisaac Johnson, '20, entered a doctoral program in fall 2020. Amanda Ayers, '19, is in her second year of a master's program and Roger Long, '18, is in his third year of a combined master's and doctoral program.

This trio of UNG alumni all dreamed of graduate school. Thanks to UNG and the McNair Scholars Program, their dreams are a reality.

Ronia Nevels, a senior pursuing a degree in human services delivery and administration, plans to do the same. The 25-year-old from Buford, Georgia, is set to graduate in December and is applying to graduate schools.

"The McNair Scholars Program was helpful in giving me the blueprint to make graduate school attainable," Nevels said.

Amber Beauchamp became the first McNair Scholar to graduate with an advanced degree when she earned a Master of Arts in Teaching for language arts from UNG in May 2020. The mother of six children also earned a Bachelor of Arts in English degree with a literature concentration in 2018.

The federally funded McNair Scholars Program is designed to identify and prepare students for post-graduate studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Participants are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a group traditionally underrepresented in graduate education, such as Blacks, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Pacific Islander, who have shown strong academic potential.

UNG serves 25 undergraduate students on a rotating basis. Once they graduate from UNG, a new round of students may apply for the cohort-style program.

This fall, six undergraduate students were accepted and matched with faculty mentors to conduct scholarly research. Faculty members help the students build their skills to enroll in graduate school with confidence, said Iris Royal, program director of the McNair Scholars Program at UNG.

"The McNair Program has continued to help me develop skills through their seminars, such as budgeting for graduate school," said Michelle Alvarado Gonzalez, a junior pursuing a degree in English with teacher certification who joined the program in fall 2020.

Julianne Reynolds, academic coordinator for the McNair Scholars Program, said research is the linchpin of the program.

"It's how our students engage with their discipline and how they build rapport with their mentors," she said. "It also is the work they will do in graduate school. We expose them to it so they will be ahead of the curve when they get to graduate school."

Thomas Hayes, a senior pursuing a degree in information systems, credits the McNair Scholars Program with revealing different opportunities to pay for an advanced degree.

"Prior to joining the program, I didn't know how to pay for graduate school," he said. "Undergraduate school was already expensive, but the McNair Program helped me realize there are ways to reduce or completely eliminate the cost of going to graduate school."

Hayes, who will graduate in December, is already tallying the price. The 29-year-old from Suwanee, Georgia, has received two letters of acceptance with a third one potentially on its way to study for a Master of Science degree in cybersecurity. One acceptance letter came with an offer for a full-ride fellowship, and he is confident the third potential graduate school will offer the same.

"When I started at UNG, attending graduate school was the furthest thing from my mind," Hayes said. "But the McNair program completely changed the trajectory of my post-undergraduate experience."

Students interested in the McNair Scholars Program may apply through InfoReady by Nov. 9. For more information, visit the McNair Scholars Program website.

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