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Tanveer Kalo, right, and Halley Choy, left, walk with McNair advisor Aloe Sarhanis on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016 at UNM Main Campus. 

Tanveer Kalo, right, and Halley Choy, left, walk with McNair advisor Aloe Sarhanis on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016 at UNM Main Campus. 

Program seeks to give low income students a boost to graduate school success

The McNair Scholars Program is a federally-funded student’s guide to graduate school admission, which serves in helping low-income, first-generation or underrepresented college students attain doctorate degrees at 151 institutions nationwide.

An on-campus research conference was held last week in the SUB, where McNair scholars from 18 universities across the country presented their findings from a year’s worth of research.

UNM McNair Scholars Program Director Ricardo Romero said that after a long period of gathering research, the conference provided an opportunity for students’ work to be recognized publicly.

As students tend to enter the program the fall of their junior year, Romero said the conference is also important to their graduate school application.

“If they show that they have been able to present their research at an academic conference, where it’s being evaluated by faculty and other graduate students, it’s something that boosts their application to graduate school,” he said.

After attending a series of seminars over the course of the academic year, students participate in an intensive “Summer Research internship,” Romero said, where they conduct research and participate in intensive preparation for graduate school entrance exams, among other things.

“The Graduate Record Exam is a test that is required at most graduate programs,” he said. “It’s kind of like the SAT or ACT of graduate school and, typically speaking, students that come from the background that we serve don’t do as well in those standardized tests.”

Graduate level standardized testing tends to be slanted more towards higher-income students, Romero said, which makes the preparation offered by the McNair program extremely valuable.

Also, during the summer, the program offers a comprehensive class that “for all intents and purposes is like a Graduate School 101,” taught by Rhodes Scholar Manuel Montoya, Romero said.

“He teaches them, basically, the entire process of what graduate school is about,” he said. “Everything from how you get admitted, to how you earn your PhD, your dissertation, the whole deal. Basically giving them a road map for what to expect.”

Graduate school can be a confusing and tedious endeavor, especially for under-resourced students, Romero said, and resources similar to those provided by the McNair Scholars Program can be expensive.

“If one were to go out and sign up for Kaplan or something like that, it’s easy to spend $2,000 to $3,000,” a figure that roughly compares to the $2,800 stipend awarded to those who complete the Summer Research Internship, he said. “They get that for free with our program.”

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McNair scholars also benefit from increased exposure to graduate school recruiters, potentially allowing for free trips to graduate programs across the country, Romero said, in addition to waived application fees.

“If our students had to pay out of pocket for each application, they might only apply to one or two different universities,” he said. “By getting free applications, they are able to apply much more widely.”

The increased opportunity results in increased likelihood of admission and financial aid, Romero said.

“You see a variety of different research,” he said. “The thing that seems to tie them together is that our scholars tend to choose topics that are somehow going to change the world in a positive way, within their communities as well.”

Johnny Vizcaino is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or on Twitter 

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