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Grant will support program for underrepresented Cornell undergrads seeking doctoral degrees

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Cornell $220,000 -- the first of five years of institutional support worth a potential $1.1 million -- to create a new Cornell program to advance the academic achievement of underrepresented undergraduate students, and support and encourage their pursuit of doctoral degrees.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (also known as the McNair Scholars Program) is designed to prepare undergraduates for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. The program serves first-generation college students with financial need, as well as students who have demonstrated strong academic potential and are members of groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education.

"We're looking for student applicants, and then very quickly we will be looking for faculty mentors for those 25 participants starting in spring semester 2013," said A.T. Miller, associate vice provost for academic diversity initiatives, who drafted Cornell's proposal for the grant competition. "This is an extraordinary opportunity to participate in building the pipeline to a more diverse faculty here at Cornell and across the nation."

Cornell is one of 15 institutions in 12 states to receive new McNair grants this year. Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania are the other Ivy League schools participating in the McNair Scholars Program, among nearly 200 institutions across the United States and in Puerto Rico.

Institutions work closely with participants as they complete their undergraduate requirements, providing a range of activities to enhance their training and eligibility for advanced degree programs.

Opportunities provided for McNair scholars include summer internships, seminars, tutoring and academic counseling. Other support may include mentoring, services to enhance financial and economic literacy, and exposure to academic programs and cultural events. The progress of participants who enroll in graduate programs is tracked through to the successful completion of advanced degrees.

"The McNair program supports Cornell's strategic goals and land-grant mandate for providing an inclusive environment where top students are encouraged to pursue advanced study," said Vice Provost and Graduate School Dean Barbara Knuth. "The vibrancy and excellence of our graduate fields are tied, in part, to our strong commitment to diversity and inclusion."

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Laura Brown said: "We are very pleased to have this significant new opportunity to contribute to the achievement of underrepresented students, and proud that Cornell is now a member of the network of schools that supports the outstanding national group of McNair scholars."

The McNair program is named for NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair, who died in 1986 during the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. It is one of eight Federal TRIO Programs, the Education Department's oldest college preparation and student support effort. TRIO programs have a history of providing support to low-income students and those who are the first in their family to attend college.


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Joe Schwartz