For most first-generation students, the idea of pursuing an advanced degree seems a daunting task. Beyond the financial challenges, these students also face many social impediments.
Thanks to efforts to increase enrollment of disadvantaged individuals in higher education, more students are realizing their full academic potential. As President King Alexander stated in the spring/summer 2006 issue of “In Touch with Student Services,” “Helping students develop confidence in themselves personally, academically and professionally is our greatest challenge and our greatest reward.” The McNair Scholars Program is one such program dedicated to this rewarding mission.
"My life goal is to make a major contribution to academic society. I aspire to inspire others with the same passion I have for communication studies.”
- Jake Liang
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the McNair Scholars Program was established in honor of the late Dr. Ronald E. McNair, an African-American physicist and crewmember of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle. Currently, there are 190 Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Programs across the country. By providing preparation classes for the Graduate Record Exam; seminars in writing, advanced research and presentation skills; and faculty mentoring to low-income, first-generation students and individuals from groups that are underrepresented in graduate education, the McNair Scholars Program prepares students for doctoral study and, ultimately, to become college professors or professional researchers.
“The McNair Scholar’s Program helped me in three ways,” Yuhua “Jake” Liang reveals. “First, I learned how to conduct research. Second, I came to understand how the graduate school application process works. Third, through the mentorship of Communication Studies Professor Mary McPherson, I was able to fully comprehend the role of a researcher. Since the purpose of doctoral programs is to provide research training, I found working on a project and publishing a paper in the McNair Scholars Journal prepared me for graduate study.” Liang completed a master’s of arts in communication studies in May and is busy applying for fall 2009 admission to a doctoral program. “Only after earning a Ph.D. in communication studies will I be able to conduct research and teach. My life goal is to make a major contribution to academic society. I aspire to inspire others with the same passion I have for communication studies.”
For Liang, the road to finding his passion was full of twists and turns. He entered college as computer engineering major. As it turned out, the science and engineering courses did not inspire him and his grades suffered. When he finally discovered communication studies, his academic performance soared. Yet typical of so many students, Liang did not have the luxury of devoting himself full-time to his education. In addition to his studies, he had to juggle part-time work to stay afloat. And last year, Liang and his wife welcomed their first child. “For me, the main personal challenge was to perform well as a student in the midst of other roles. Everyone is trying to do well in graduate school. The challenge is to excel among an elite group of students,” Liang says.
The success rate of McNair scholars is notable nationwide. A number of CSULB professors share the distinction of being former McNair scholars, including Hannah-Hanh Nguyen and Christopher Warren, Psychology; Kagba Suaray, Mathematics and Statistics; and Ebony Utney, Communication Studies. No doubt Liang will soon be adding his name to this distinguished list of McNair success stories.
For more information about the McNair Scholars, visit www.csulb.edu/mcnair or call (562) 985-7659.