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McNair Scholars Program Secures
Another Four-year Cycle of Funding

RELEASED: Nov. 5, 2007

Tom Awe
McNair Scholar and UW-Eau Claire 2003 math and physics alumnus Thomas Awe was photographed exhibiting his research at the National McNair Conference while a UW-Eau Claire student. Awe, whose UW-Eau Claire faculty mentor was Dr. Mohammed Elgindi, is now a physics graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno. (Contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — The McNair Scholars program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been granted funds for another four-year funding cycle, ensuring that more outstanding students who come from low-income families, are from the first generation in their families to attend college, or are underrepresented minorities have the opportunity to pursue higher education and graduate degrees.

The minimum value of this award from the U.S. Department of Education is approximately $930,000, according to Dr. Patricia Quinn, director of UW-Eau Claire's federally funded Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program and author of the successful grant. Quinn also said that just because UW-Eau Claire has had a McNair program for eight years, continued funding was not guaranteed.

"This is a very competitive program," said Quinn. "The goal of McNair is to produce people with doctoral degrees, and points are awarded for how successful your program is in doing that. Since our first cohort of McNair Scholars is just now getting to that level, we have not been eligible for any of those points up until now, so we basically had to have an otherwise perfect score on our grants to make the cut."

The first McNair Scholar from UW-Eau Claire to earn a doctoral degree graduated just this past spring. Jeff Miller, a graduate of Eau Claire's Memorial High School who received his bachelor's degree in music therapy and psychology in 2001, earned a doctoral degree in educational measurement from the University of Florida-Gainesville. While at UW-Eau Claire, Miller was mentored by Lee Anna Rasar, professor of music and theatre arts, and Dr. Blaine Peden, professor of psychology.

"The average length of time to earn a doctoral degree in the United States exceeds nine years," said Quinn. "We have a whole group of our earliest students now approaching that time frame, so for the next funding cycle and from then on we should be eligible for some of those important grant points."

So far Quinn has worked with 99 McNair scholars, 77 of whom have already graduated from UW-Eau Claire, with 22 still working toward their undergraduate degrees. Since a new cohort of McNair Scholars has begun each year of the grant, this year marked the ninth cohort of scholars to begin the program. Quinn describes the program as a curriculum-based learning community involving five semesters of specialized coursework and faculty-student collaborative research, including summer research institutes and individual and group coaching for the Graduate Record Examination, graduate admissions process and grant writing.

Each year, UW-Eau Claire publishes the research of McNair graduates. The recently published Astra Vol. 6 and 7 includes 16 papers describing research that delves into everything from Turkish immigration to Germany (Erin House, Fulbright Scholar, Eau Claire) to the moduli space of three-dimensional Lie Algebras (Carolyn Otto, Phillips) to a comparison of procedures for teaching acquisition skills to children with autism (Julie Ackerland, Colfax).

While this most recent publication includes complex descriptions of pure research in such subjects as mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics, it also contains a few surprises, Quinn said. McNair graduate Zachary Stensen of Augusta, conducted research that combined art and history in a project called the "Augusta Portrait Series." Following in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather, Matthew Stensen, who immigrated to the United States from Norway in the later part of the 19th century and supported his family by selling his paintings, Stenson began by doing a portrait of his grandfather, Iner Stensen, who is a farmer. He went on to do a series of portraits of other elderly people from the Augusta area, exploring the relationship between age, identity and physical environment by examining aspects of his subjects' characters he believed could be seen etched on their faces. Stenson, who is now in graduate school at the University of Iowa, was mentored by Dr. Sandra Starck, associate professor of art & design..

Quinn said she keeps close tabs on the progress of McNair Scholars after they leave UW-Eau Claire, tracking their continuing and highly varied experiences. Tom Awe, a physics and mathematics graduate from Owen, is in his fourth year of graduate school at the University of Nevada-Reno. Awe was a post-baccalaureate intern at Los Alamos National Laboratory before beginning his graduate program.

Quinn also has followed the success of Tammy Goss, an American Indian studies and linguistics graduate from Mondovi, who is in her second year of graduate school at UW-Madison. Goss's interest in linguistics has led her to participate in a variety of projects, including a study of "submarine speech" for the National Museum of Submarine History (Duke University Press) and a Wisconsin church cookbook project with Dr. Ruth Olson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Culture at UW-Madison.

Another graduate is Laura Isaacson, Mondovi, who is in her third year at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri.

"I could talk about these inspiring students all day," said Quinn. "I believe I have, as one of my colleagues pointed out, the best job at the university!"

Quinn is a historian with master's and doctoral degrees from the State University of New York-Binghamton.

UW-Eau Claire is one of 177 institutions nationwide to be awarded a Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education. The program's namesake, Ronald Erwin McNair, received a doctorate in physics from M.I.T. in 1976 and was an expert on lasers. He joined NASA in 1978 and died aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded in January 1986.



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