McNair Scholars Program Receives Grant to Continue Supporting Postgraduate Success – St. Olaf College


McNair Scholars Program Receives Grant to Continue Supporting Postgraduate Success

Essa Mohamed ’09

After graduating from St. Olaf College, Essa Mohamed ’09 has become a postdoctoral fellow and assistant instructor at the Mayo Clinic, conducting pioneering research on liver disease and its effects on African and Asian communities.

Sheridan Blanford’15 earned his master’s degree in intercollegiate athletic leadership at the University of Washington, where she is now associate director for diversity, equity, and inclusion — one of the only college athletics administrators in the nation to work exclusively in DEI.

Sheridan Blanford'15
Sheridan Blanford’15

Bashir Ali ’20 received a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support his doctoral work at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he conducts research on how marine organisms cope with environmental stress.

These Oles pursue a variety of passions, leveraging their talents and strengths to excel at their jobs in unique ways. But what they all have in common is that they participated in the TRIO McNair Fellowship Program, a graduate preparatory program funded by the U.S. Department of Education and sponsored by St. Olaf. This summer, the St. Olaf program received a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, providing another five years of funding to advance this work.

Bashir Ali '20
Bashir Ali ’20

The TRIO McNair Scholars Program was founded in 1989 and launched at St. Olaf in 2007 by its current Principal and Associate Principal, Janis Johnson and Melissa Melgar ’04, to serve St. Olaf students.

McNair’s goal is to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students who participate in undergraduate research, earn bachelor’s degrees, and immediately enter and complete graduate school, with special emphasis on helping students pursue a Ph.D. program identifies students with strong academic potential and provides students with the opportunity to develop the skills necessary for admission and completion of graduate studies.

The The St. Olaf McNair Scholarship Program has worked with over 186 students, 67% of whom are enrolled in or have completed graduate or professional degree programs. Almost all of them have managed to succeed in their academic and professional careers.

The program aims to prepare students by supporting internship applications, job shadowing, academic activities, and research opportunities, including quality on-campus summer research and inquiry programs.

By participating in these experiences, students develop and hone their professional skills, expand their social and professional network, and build their confidence in the skills they will bring to their careers and graduate program,” says Johnson.

Nominated in their second year, McNair Scholars spend their first year in the program learning about internships and research opportunities, participating in personal and academic counseling and workshops, and developing a “Roadmap for the doctoral school.” In their first year, fellows collaborate with a faculty mentor in a 10-week structured research internship funded by McNair.

Fellows also complete a research writing course, participate in graduate school tours, prepare for graduate school admission tests, and attend professional conferences to present their research findings. In their senior year, Scholars are mentored through application and graduate preparation.

Students are supported, mentored, and advised on how to build a professional network, build a strong resume, and research graduate programs and funding opportunities. McNair staff, McNair alumni, graduate school faculty, and program coordinators all form unique relationships with scholars and play an important role in the program.

Committed to a cohort of students from similar backgrounds in a collaborative learning environmentresearchers support and push each other toward success and to pursue their goals, Johnson says.

This summer 21 McNair Fellows participated in on- and off-campus research, internships, and shadowing experiences. Researchers who remained on campus took a research writing course taught by Associate Professor of Biology Jean Porterfield and presented their work at the Summer St. Olaf CURI Research Symposium.

Under this new grant, more than 60 faculty from 19 departments have agreed to serve as McNair Mentors, committing to implementing a holistic counseling approach to support success and empower McNair Scholars.

“One of the most powerful aspects of the St. Olaf McNair program is the supportive relationships students develop with their peers, faculty mentors, and McNair staff,” says Johnson.

The McNair Scholars program is one of five TRIO programs at St. Olaf. Other programs include Support Services for Students with Disabilities (SSSD), Student Support Services (SSS), Limit up (UB) and Educational Talent Search (EST).


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