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Posted 1:06 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, 2022

Jaden Stanelle, a psychology major and Spanish minor from Fredonia, is a student in the UWL McNair Scholars Program.

$1.5 million grant fuels the McNair Scholars Program

UW-La Crosse has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant to continue a program helping underserved and/or underrepresented students realize their potential in graduate school and beyond.

 The U.S. Department of Education grant extends funding for the university’s McNair Scholars Program that provides eligible students with academic, personal and financial support as they prepare for graduate school. UWL has offered the program — named for African American scientist Ronald McNair, killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 — since 2009. The grant will extend the program for up to 28 students annually on campus through September 2028.

Shelly Lesher, who chairs the UWL Physics Department and serves as the program director, says grant reviewers highlighted the university’s commitment to the McNair Scholars Program.      

“In the renewal, they noted the strength of UWL’s commitment to the program,” Lesher explains. “They were impressed with the high quality of faculty and staff committed to making the program a success.”

Lesher says the national grants are highly competitive. There are only 187 McNair Scholars Programs in the country.

UW-La Crosse has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant to continue the McNair Scholars Program. The program helps underserved and/or underrepresented students realize their potential in graduate school and beyond.

McNair scholars must be low-income, first-generation college students and/or members of a traditionally underrepresented group in graduate education, such as African American, Latinx, Native American or Pacific Islander. The program introduces students to research and scholarly activity, provides community and teaches them the skills to tackle graduate school.

Since launching in 2009, UWL’s McNair Program has mentored 141 scholars — 110 of whom have gone on to graduate studies. Among them, these scholars have earned 74 graduate degrees.

In addition to research and mentorship opportunities, the program offers a tight-knit community for scholars to connect and learn from one another. It is particularly impactful for first-generation students and those from diverse backgrounds, who often face challenges adjusting to college. It also helps scholars with graduate school applications, college visits, preparing and paying for the GRE, and more.

Together, these resources and opportunities are critical to helping scholars break through in fields where they’re historically underrepresented.

Lesher, who has directed the UWL program since September 2021, says it remains strong with dedicated staff and faculty. She says changes since the pandemic include more conscious efforts in incorporating the mental well-being of students.

“As we begin the new year, I look forward to catching up with our returning scholars and hearing about their summer research and searching for our next class of scholars,” she says.

The McNair Scholars Program is now in the Diversity & Inclusion Division, aligning with another TRIO program — Student Support Services. Lesher hopes the move will ease confusion that the program is only for science majors, precipitated when it was affiliated with the College of Science and Health.  

“The program is for all majors which can lead to a doctoral degree,” explains Lesher. “With the McNair Scholars Program being more centrally located I hope more members of our community will feel included.”

In addition to alignment with another TRIO program and a central location, McNair Scholars’ participants will benefit from collaboration with the many Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, events and programs that foster community among students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

“The McNair Scholars Program is extremely successful, and we are very excited to be working with Dr. Lesher and Program Coordinator Megan Gosse as part of our Diversity and Inclusion Team,” says Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Dina Zavala.

Find out more about the program at:


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