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McNair Scholars program provides access to education

Published March 18, 2014

Over the last 25 years, 287 NDSU students have taken part in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. A majority of those students have gone on to earn master’s degrees or doctorates. All were provided with the program’s greatest legacy: access to education.

The McNair Scholars program has helped thousands of first-generation, income-eligible and underrepresented students make their educational and career dreams come true. They are doctors, scientists, lawyers, professors or have other careers that require graduate education.

Deanna Schreiber-Gregory is the latest McNair Scholar to graduate from NDSU. A first-generation college student, she set her sights on graduate school while a sophomore at Williston High School. In December, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and statistics from NDSU.

“The McNair Scholars program provided me with an understanding family of like-minded students pursuing similar dreams,” Schreiber-Gregory said. “By interacting with these students, I began to realize my dreams were not so far from my reach and that I could succeed at anything I put my heart to.”

Continuing McNair’s legacy

Schreiber-Gregory continues to set ambitious goals. She plans to earn a master’s degree in biostatistics, a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and a medical degree in psychiatry with an emphasis in neuroscience.

Her ambitions aren’t unlike those of the McNair Scholars program’s namesake.

Ronald McNair overcame a segregated educational system to earn a doctorate in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a feat he predicted in high school. He became just the second African-American in space while serving as a NASA mission specialist in 1984. Two years later, McNair’s return to space ended tragically with his death aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle.

Shortly thereafter, Congress established and the U.S. Department of Education funded the McNair Scholars program, which is serving 26 NDSU students over the 2013-14 academic year.

In addition to academic advisement and financial assistance, the program allows students to establish relationships with faculty mentors and develop research skills needed for graduate-level work. Scholars often work side by side with faculty experts.

Don Miller, professor and chair of pharmacy practice, has been a faculty mentor for five years. “I think any McNair mentor tries to help students understand the research process,” he said. “The biggest challenge is to simplify the process and give them the independence they need while they develop confidence.”

The research work paid off for the first McNair Scholar from NDSU to earn a doctoral degree. Mary Wise earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences in 1992 and a PharmD in 1994—both from NDSU. Her first independent research project, including daily lab work and presenting results, came in an NDSU pharmacokinetic analysis lab.

Wise is now director of clinical pharmacology modeling and simulation at GlaxoSmithKline.

“Today, I enjoy a great career that benefits from the combination of my clinical pharmacy and research training and allows me to contribute to the development of medicines for patients with serious illnesses,” Wise said. “I am thankful to NDSU for a good education, diverse opportunities, and personal and professional support.”

Gaining valuable experience

Taking the experience from the lab to the classroom to the podium is a critical part of the McNair Scholars program. It prepares undergraduates for the rigors of presenting and defending their research in front of peers.

As an undergraduate, Schreiber-Gregory presented at numerous conferences. The largest was the SAS Global Forum ’13, where she was the youngest of 10 student ambassadors. She was the only undergraduate in a group comprised mainly of doctoral-level students.

Schreiber-Gregory said she hopes to build on that experience by becoming a primary investigator at a research institute. “If an opportunity presents itself where you can meet and work with people in your field, jump on it,” she suggests to fellow McNair scholars. “I have found time and time again that if you put yourself out there and at least try, you will get noticed.”

NDSU is one of the 14 original schools to host McNair Scholars program. Through the program at NDSU, a total of 44 students have earned a doctorate and 40 have earned a professional doctorate degree. In addition, 100 scholars have earned master’s degrees.

For more information on the McNair Scholars program at NDSU, visit


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