University of Wisconsin–Madison
McNair ceremony

Conduct research under the mentorship of UW–Madison faculty and researchers

McNair ceremony

Network with graduate students, post-doctoral trainees, and faculty

McNair ceremony

Gain confidence in research and working with faculty

McNair Scholars Program

The UW–Madison Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (McNair Scholars Program) creates a bridge between undergraduate and graduate education. The McNair Scholars Program supports eligible undergraduates in acquiring the knowledge, skills and capacities necessary to successfully navigate the rigors of PhD studies through immersion in research and a variety of scholarly activities. Students who join the McNair Program join a community of peers. Each year, highly qualified students are selected from a pool of eligible applicants.

The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase the attainment of PhD degrees by students from underrepresented segments of society.

This program is funded by the US Department of Education TRIO grant and accepts applications first generation college students from low-income circumstances and targeted minority applicants in STEM majors. UW–Madison is funded to serve 28 students, each year.

Contact the McNair Scholars Program at

Would you like to conduct research under the guidance of a faculty mentor and receive a research stipend? Do you want to learn more about graduate school? If you are, we strongly encourage you to apply to the McNair Program. Some of the opportunities that the McNair Program offers are:

  • Participate in a paid research project with a faculty/ mentor in your field of research ($2,800)
  • Attend professional conferences and present your research at a national conference
  • Learn about graduate opportunities and careers in your field
  • Visit graduate schools

We look forward to receiving your application.

Eligibility Guidelines

To apply submit your application via the Scholarships@UW–Madison portal.  Because there are a limited number of spots available this is a competitive process and no one is guaranteed entrance. However, we encourage all interested and eligible students to apply. Please do not pass up this incredible opportunity! The eligibility requirements are listed below:

To be eligible, a student must meet either criterion (1) OR (2). All students must meet criterion (3) (4) and (5):

  1. First-generation college student as well as low income students.
  2. African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian (according to federal guidelines, Asian Americans, including Southeast Asian Americans are eligible under criterion (1).
  3. A minimum cumulative Grade Point Average of 2.9 and completed 54 credits.
  4. US citizen or permanent resident.
  5. Able to participate in the program for a minimum of 12 full months (including a full summer) in order to meet all the mandatory aspects of the program.
  6. If you know anyone who meets these eligibility requirements and has a strong desire and aptitude for graduate school, please direct them to the online application.

Clarification: In order to be eligible, you must meet either criterion #1 OR criterion #2 (you do not need to meet both criteria to be eligible). Asian-American students are eligible if they meet criterion 1, that is, first-generation college student as well as low-income student. Please call 608-263-5517 or email if you have any questions about your eligibility.

Academic year activities prepare participants for success in undergraduate and graduate education, including completion of PhD studies. The University of Wisconsin–Madison McNair Scholars Program provides the following benefits:

  • Conduct research under the mentorship of UW–Madison faculty and researchers
  • Learn research ethics and responsible conduct of research
  • Develop and present research at local and national conferences
  • Network with graduate students, post-doctoral trainees and faculty with similar research interest
  • Learn how to prepare a competitive graduate applications
  • Receive advice on locating funding for graduate studies and financing graduate education
  • Attend professional development workshops/seminars/discussions on how to successfully navigate the rigors of graduate education
  • Participate in study groups and study jams with McNair peers
  • Visit graduate programs in the USA (up to two cities)
  • Receive up to a $2,800 research stipend
  • And much, much more…

Ronald E. McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina. Click here for a StoryCorps feature called Eyes on the Stars, narrated by Ronald McNair’s brother Carl.

After graduating Valedictorian of his high school class, McNair attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where, in 1971, he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in physics. He went on to study physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he specialized in quantum electronics and laser technology, completing his PhD in 1977.

As a student he performed some of the earliest work on chemical HF/DF and high pressure CO lasers, publishing remarkable scientific papers on the subject. After completing his PhD he began working as a physicist at the Optical Physics Department of Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California, and conducted research on electro-optic laser modulation for satellite-to-satellite space communications. McNair’s research brought him into close contact with the space program for the first time and when the opportunity presented itself, he applied for astronaut training.

In January 1978 NASA selected him to enter the astronaut cadre as one of the first three African Americans selected. McNair became the second African American in space between February 3 and 11, 1984, by flying on the Challenger shuttle mission STS-41-B. Two years later McNair and his six crew members died in an explosion aboard the space shuttle Challenger. In his memory, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program to encourage low-income, first generation college students to enroll in graduate studies. This program is dedicated to the high standard of achievement that Ronald E. McNair’s life represented.

For Faculty Mentors

McNair ceremony

The most important aspect of the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program is the Faculty Mentor/McNair Scholar relationship. Faculty Mentors provide exposure and insight essential for the McNair scholar to understand the skills needed to become successful in the academic world. Their time, energy, expertise and commitment to mentoring scholars are invaluable resources that increase the quality of the McNair experience. For the Scholar, the benefit of participating in the program depends to a large extent on the supportive relationship between the Faculty Mentor and Scholar. The relationship is designed to encourage, motivate and prepare the McNair Scholar for doctoral studies.

As a faculty mentor, you may think mainly of the benefits to the student of an undergraduate research or creative project. You may even worry about the work involved in mentoring a student, or the disappointment if the student fails to live up to expectations. But many benefits accrue to the faculty mentor, as many faculty members have attested. Here are just a few:

  • Pleasure of passing on your knowledge and skill
  • Reward of seeing a student’s growth under your guidance
  • Opportunities for increasing number of grants that require use of undergraduates
  • Excitement from learning from students and making joint discoveries (this does happen!)
  • How to Become a McNair Scholar Faculty Mentor

    It’s easy! McNair scholars with an interest in your area in general, or your work in particular will contact you or you can contact us to express your interest in mentoring and we will make every attempt to introduce you to a good match. You will, of course have the opportunity to discuss expectations to make a final decision about working together. We only ask that you take an interest in your undergraduate student as an individual. Respond positively when students come to you with ideas or requests for guidance. At the same time, calculate how much time and energy you can realistically apply to working with such students. Be realistic about your priorities, including those emphasized by the reward system. Then just do it!

  • Expectations of Faculty Mentors

    Mentoring students underdeveloped in their research and creative projects entails responsibilities. You will need to:

    • Set high standards for performance for both the student and yourself
    • Give positive support, not just negative criticism
    • Stay in frequent communication with your student, and respond promptly to questions and drafts
    • Assess your student’s ability realistically; offer special opportunities such as conference presentation or co-publishing as appropriate, but don’t hold out false hopes
    • Enjoy the process of working with your student

    The mentor/scholar relationship fosters:

    • Raised self-esteem
    • Affirmation of potential
    • Orientation to department
    • Access to information
    • Connection to resources
    • Empowerment
    • Confidence
    • Networking in the field
    • Better comprehension of the profession
  • Roles of the Faculty Mentor
    • advisors, people with career experience willing to share their knowledge;
    • supporters, people who give emotional and moral encouragement;
    • tutors, people who give specific feedback on one’s performance;
    • masters, in the sense of employers to whom one is apprenticed;
    • sponsors, sources of information about and aid in obtaining opportunities;
    • models, of the kind of person one should be to be an academic setting
  • Responsibilities of the Faculty Mentor
    • Work closely with the scholar, meeting two to three times per month
    • Complete the student progress report.
    • Provide 10-15 hours per week of research activities for the scholar
    • Serve as the instructor, guiding the identification, design, and the completion of appropriate research work. For example: Abstract; introduction; literature review; methodology; results; conclusions and references.
    • Give constructive and critical review of all of the components of the scholar’s research project
    • Assist the scholar in preparing and being selected for appropriate presentation of the research project
    • Provide feedback to the McNair Program regarding both the student and the program in general
    • Attend a culminating day that features student research presentation and an evening awards dinner
    • Attend the Faculty Mentor Orientation: (DATE) if you are a new mentor
    • Identify the research project by: (DATE).
    • Review and sign the components of the student’s research paper to meet the due dates:
      • (DATE) Research Project Identified/Research Action Plan
      • (DATE) Introduction of Research Paper
      • (DATE) Literature Review
      • (DATE) Annotated Bibliography
      • (DATE) Methodology
      • (DATE) Results/Conclusions
      • First Draft of final Paper
      • Second Draft of final Paper
      • Third Draft of final Paper
      • (DATE) Final Research Paper
      • Three (3) abstracts for publication unless restricted
  • Benefits of being a Faculty Mentor

    Most importantly, it is hoped that the greatest benefit is a deep sense of satisfaction from the relationship. Other benefits include:

    • Access to McNair students, providing potential graduate pool.
    • Service to The University of Wisconsin–Madison
    • Impact the future course of academia by increasing the number of first-generation, low-income, and/or underrepresented students who complete post baccalaureate degrees
  • Qualifications for becoming a Faculty Mentor

    McNair faculty mentors are tenure-track faculty who:

    • possess a terminal degree in the appropriate discipline
    • have ongoing research or demonstrated research capability of high academic quality
    • are recommended by the academic department chair or dean
    • demonstrate interest in working with low-income, first-generation college students, particularly Native American, Hispanic, or African-American

    The Ideal Faculty Mentor:

    • Is supportive of the student’s pursuit of graduate/professional education.
    • Inspires the student researcher to reach new academic heights and goals.
    • Provides opportunities for the student researcher to develop valuable research skills.
    • Treats the student as a full-time member of a research team, if he/she has one, complete with responsibilities and privileges.
    • Keeps the student “on track.” The student is responsible for committing up to 15 hours per week on the research project. The student should be held accountable for his/her time and quality of effort.
    • Reports to Maya Holtzman, the Program Assistant Director, about any needs or concerns regarding either the student or the research process.
    • Makes arrangements to have a responsible colleague act as a proxy mentor to the student researcher if he or she is unavailable for more than one week.
    • Provides an open learning environment in which the student feels comfortable in approaching and asking the mentor questions.
    • Has a healthy belief in the intents of the McNair undergraduate research opportunity program.
    • Shares information about graduate programs in the research field and encourages the student to pursue graduate studies.