Carl McNair founded the McNair Scholars Program in honor of his brother, Ronald, the second Black astronaut in U.S. history and one of several crew members killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986.

“I remember when he called to tell me he wanted to be an astronaut,” Carl McNair said on Oct. 18 during a lecture to undergraduate researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington. Recalling his brother’s long odds, Carl McNair said, “He was just one of about 11,000 people to apply for the position.”

“The lesson is don’t self-select out of an opportunity,” he continued. “It may be uncomfortable sometimes, but seize the opportunity. You definitely won’t win the opportunity if you don’t apply.”

The McNair Scholars Program is a federal program with the goal of preparing undergraduate students for doctoral research through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. It is part of the federal TRIO program funded by the U.S. Department of Education with the aim of increasing graduate degree awards among students from underrepresented segments of society.

After Ron’s tragic death, the McNair family worked to create a scholarship to honor his legacy. The result was the McNair Scholars Program, which is now active at more than 200 universities across the United States and Puerto Rico, including UTA. Each year, participating universities select about 25 scholars to become McNair scholars.

At UTA, recipients must have a GPA of 3.0, be a citizen or permanent resident, be a first-generation college student, come from a low-income household and/or be a member of a historically underrepresented group. Once selected, students will participate in a summer research internship and receive a stipend of $4,000.

“The McNair Scholars Program is an outstanding way for undergraduate students to get a real taste of academic research,” said Kayunta Johnson-Winters, interim dean of undergraduate research at UTA and an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “We are currently accepting applications for the program, and I encourage UTA students interested in pursuing a career in research to apply. The McNair Scholars Program is a fantastic way for students to cut their teeth in research while building the type of support network that Carl McNair says students must build for themselves to thrive in academia.”

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