Program makes doctoral dreams a reality for underrepresented students
UW-L graduate Elizabeth Lee had a dream of earning her doctoral degree. But her parents came to the United States as refugees after Vietnam War with little formal schooling and she had no one to turn to for guidance.
The gap between students’ interest in graduate school and the information they need to successfully apply for it is often wide, says UW-L staff member Jessica Thill.
“If you have Ph.d. holders in your family, you can get help at home. If you have a lot of money, you can pay people to help you,” says Thill. “But if you’re swimming against the current, you need mentors and people who can dedicate time and resources toward your success. And that’s what we do.”
Thill is coordinator of The McNair Scholars Program, which prepares students for graduate school. The program aims to assist students who are low-income, first generation college students and/or members of traditionally underrepresented groups with entry.
This year, the program can boast it has successfully done that. All 11 of the UW-L May graduates who participated in the program are going on to graduate school. Thill attributes the success, in part, to strong students.
“When you put them together in a room, they motivate and push each other in a really inspiring way,” she says. “ They set new goals for themselves.”
Lee says she wouldn’t have had the knowledge or confidence to apply to graduate school without the program. Workshops showed her how to budget finances, mentors helped her prepare for the graduate school entrance exam and a faculty advisor guided her in undergraduate research. She presented that work at a national conference in Las Vegas with one other McNair scholar, UW-L May graduate Briana Tong.
“I was able to present my research alongside renown researchers and faculty from all over the world,” says Tong. “I was able to network with other researchers in my field and learn about current research going on today. This was an experience I will take with me into graduate school and my career in psychology.”
Lee and Tong also visited universities and met with professors and students in their areas of study. Before these visits, they practiced etiquette at an annual workshop banquet held on campus.
“I was thrilled I went to that dinner because it taught me the essential basics of being a professional person at the dinner table and in the social gatherings,”says Lee. “Through the journey of visiting these wonderful schools, I gained the confidence to be ready for graduate school.”
This fall Lee will study Marriage and Family Therapy at Nyack College in upstate New York. Tong will go on to University of Texas at Tyler.
“I feel confident in my abilities and what is expected of me in graduate school,” says Tong. “I had my fears and doubts about pursuing higher education, but the McNair program has been very supportive and encouraging throughout this process.”
Lee says the program helped her learn to persevere and she is stronger for it.
“I never would have had the opportunity to see what I can accomplish if I did not have the support from McNair staff,” she says. “I was excited to find out that there was a program out there to help me make one of my dreams come true.”