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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

Iowa State lands $1.1 million grant to support minority graduate students

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Nov 28, 2017

Iowa State University has landed $1.1 million in federal support to continue a program to help first-generation and underrepresented students earn doctorate degrees.

The ISU Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, winner of the U.S. Department of Education grant, aims to increase diversity among Ph.D. graduates by preparing qualified undergrads for graduate-level study, according to Iowa State.

The McNair program launched in 1995 upon receiving its first grant, thanks to a proposal from then-Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs George A. Jackson. Federal funding for the McNair program ended in 2012, but “an outpouring of support” from scholars, alumni and faculty prompted then-Provost and Graduate College Dean David Holger, in June 2013, to approve an internal proposal for financial support to continue the program through 2017.

The Department of Education grant announced Monday extends the program, which has served more than 400 Iowa State students since its launch 22 years ago.

Named for Ronald McNair, a Ph.D.-educated physicist and mission specialist astronaut who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, the program provides scholars training stipends; financial support to present research projects and access national conferences; and resources to prepare for the Graduate Record Examination — the GRE, required for graduate school admission.

Program participants, according to Iowa State, develop personal and professional connections with peers, faculty and graduate student mentors; gain research experience by working with faculty; and learn about graduate school culture.

In a statement, Program Director Thelma Harding said the program provides a path to graduate study for those who might not have considered it.

“It also addresses the nationwide shortage of faculty from traditionally underrepresented populations, particularly in the STEM fields, as well as a shortage of qualified leaders in the nation’s workforce,” Harding said in a statement.

Iowa State in recent years — mirroring a massive spike in its total and undergraduate enrollment — has seen growth in its graduate student body, including among its students who identify with a minority group.

Five years ago, Iowa State’s graduate enrollment sat at 4,710, with 405 minority students.

But its total graduate student enrollment slipped this fall from 5,096 to 4,991, while its minority graduate enrollment dropped slightly to 476 from 493 last fall.

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