McNair Journey

Note: the following post comes from our lovely program assistant – Kim Whitney! Since we have been blogging this summer, I asked Kim to write something about her experiences so far.


–surrounded by some AWESOME McNair scholars–
–at this year’s Color Run!–

I am not one that cares to write.  Read, yes!  Write, not a chance!  But when your boss gives you an assignment with a deadline, you do it.  :)  So here I go…

McNair has been a journey for me.  I’m talking about the journey to explore living outside of my norm and my comfort level.  I have done things with McNair that I never considered doing.  I have explored yoga, meditation, better eating, high ropes course adventures, zip lining, horseback riding, running, exercising, long haul bike riding and I’m sure some other things that I can’t think of at this moment.

When I interviewed for the position, Lynn asked me if I did yoga.  I thought she was a little bit “off her rocker” with that question.  What kind of question is that at a job interview?  :)  I told her I hadn’t, but I wasn’t opposed to trying.  After my first practice, my arms were Jello, I was sweating and I did not think it was fun or relaxing in any way shape or form.  Did I want to go back again?  No, not really.  Did I?  Yes, because I didn’t want to judge the book by the cover.  I give a book 90 pages before I give up on it.  Yes, I had given yoga 90 minutes, but I had to try again.  Here we are almost a year later and I enjoy it.  It’s not something I’m going to pursue trying to master and I’m happy with just enjoying level one.  I enjoy it as a way to give back to myself.

Yoga was the door for exploring the other activities I would have never felt comfortable doing.  I enjoy closing my eyes and meditating when I start feeling stressed, even if it is just for a minute to concentrate on my breathing so I can bring back into focus what is important at that moment.  The ability to focus on my breathing has allowed me to adventure out onto the high ropes course and finish off on the zip line.  But it wasn’t just breathing that gave me the courage to face my fears.  It was McNair that gave me the courage.  It was the people who make up McNair that gave me the courage.  Even though I was afraid, I was not being judged.  I was being encouraged and cheered on, just as I encouraged and cheered on others who had to face their own fears.

McNair is not only about academics, research or obtaining your Ph.D.  That’s what the Department of Education may think, but they aren’t entirely accurate.  It is about you…the whole you.  It is about teamwork.  It is about acceptance and being part of a family.  I know it may sound hokey (is that even a word?), but it is true.  Before McNair, I would get up, go to work, go home and plop my butt on the couch day in and day out.  Yes, I had a husband and kids and a household to run, but I never did anything to push myself.  I was far from adventurous.  I didn’t eat well and I sure as heck didn’t exercise.

The first hardcore workout we did as group was humiliating.  I felt old and totally out of shape.  But my struggle was encouragement for someone else to push through…so I continued.  We encouraged and cheered each other on as we fought through the workouts.  When I sat on horseback crying because I was petrified, remembering being bucked onto a barbed wire fence as a kid, I heard words of encouragement.  Not words meant to dismiss my fears, but to help me overcome them.

It is like that in every aspect of McNair…for both staff and scholars.  Whether you are wrestling with a class, a mentor, your research, your running, your diet, your fears, your personal stuff, whatever…we are a family and we support each other.  Maybe not everyone agrees with me there, but I seriously think the more you put into McNair, above and beyond the required stuff, the more you get in return.

—-Kim Whitney


Getting yourself set up for the semester. What thoughts come to mind? Figuring out your class schedule, getting your books, settling into your living situation, seeing friends who are returning to campus, transitioning from what perhaps was a more “open flow” during the summer (there always seems to be more of an “openness” to summer, doesn’t there?) into a structured routine for fall. Making some choices now and setting your intentions for the semester is a good action to take.

This is how I would start. Since classes rank high on the list of must-do’s (and it pretty much the reason you are here) – start with your class schedule (hopefully it’s a good one). From there, determine how many hours you may need/want to work for a part-time job and try to set up a schedule with your boss that you can count on from week to week. Beyond that, will you be working with your mentor on research this semester – what’s the time commitment going to be? It’s important to establish what the expectations are for both mentor and scholar so that you can develop a mutually agreeable plan of action.

Since you are McNair scholars – what’s the line-up of activities for the fall? If you are applying to grad school, what’s your plan for completing your applications and visiting your top-choice schools? Student organizations, volunteer activities and any other extra-curricular’s should fall in next. What is a reasonable amount of time to spend on these things? Friends, significant-other-types and family – what feels good to you here? How often do you like to go home or go out with your friends on a weekly basis? Finally, think about “me time” – how much do you need, how best can you make this a priority? As an introvert myself, I like to prioritize “me” time farther up on the list.

A brief recap – goes like this:

1. Classes

2. Job (if applicable)

3. Research

4. McNair/Grad school apps

5. Extra-curricular

6. Friends + family

7. ME time

Pretty full up at this point, huh? And we haven’t factored in STUDY time or as the title of this post suggests (and you know it as my mantra) – eating and sleeping and moving your body. Yikers.

Okay. So, let’s go back to your top-seven list above. Ideally, you are mapping or plotting this out on a blank sheet of paper (or several) so that some brainstorming can occur. This takes some creative maneuvering, for sure.

An underlying theme here is BEING REAL. You know how you tend to work, how you tend to deal with pressure, how you tend to treat your body (and mind and soul?) as the semester progresses. Consider the level of intensity of your classes this semester. Maybe you have some “wiggle” room in that some of your credits are actually research hours. Maybe it isn’t necessary to work so much (fat chance, right?). Even though you love volunteering, maybe you need to scale back just a bit?

The point is – as you are situating your “bubbles” (each bubble = one item on your schedule) – try to keep them tight. Be generous and stingy, at the same time. Be generous with blocks of time for STUDY, be generous with blocks of time to see friends (perhaps every Thursday night?). Be stingy with time sucks that you don’t really love and “can afford” to cinch up – activities that you’ve outgrown, here’s where I would insert “work” again – can you afford to work a little less to become a little more sane? Might be a good trade-off.

Here’s where you’re going to really take a look at the EAT – SLEEP – MOVE categories as well. Think about Kati’s ideas on food (especially starting with a good breakfast). Think back to our sleep seminar with Dr. Johnson and some of his tips (just how much sleep do you need per night? when are you most productive – early morning or are you a “busting it out” kind of night owl?). Think about how good you felt (afterward!) when you worked out at the gym, hit up some yoga or went for a run this summer. Word on the street is that exercise makes you feel good. And it reduces stress, helps you focus and be more productive in all of the other areas of your life. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

If you have a long day of class, will you pack a lunch and some healthy snacks? When are you going to eat? When does dinner fit in? Insert the time you *ideally* want to go to sleep and wake up each day. Now, consider your exercise regime. If you don’t have one, now is time to get one. What feels good to you in this area? What’s the recommended amount these days? According the Centers For Disease Control, adults require 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, along with 2 or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups. Base minimum – there you go.

For me, yoga is a non-negotiable, as I like to call it (what are YOUR non-negotiable’s?). Besides the physical practice (I LOVE feeling lean and strong), it keeps my mind at ease. I always feel “wrung out” after yoga. It’s like resetting myself so that I am a better self. I know I need more cardio too (to help offset the double-stuff Oreos?). I always feel great after a run. So, I shoot to do yoga 2x/week, a gym workout 2x/week and then do at least one run (usually three miles) on the weekend – so I’m doing “something” for at least five days per week in total.

What’s it going to be for you? What makes your body (and mind) feel good? Since spreading the gift of yoga is my personal passion, I absolutely LOVE hearing scholars talk about how they are enjoying their practice, how days they do yoga are just better days in general and how it dissolves stress. I am super impressed by my scholar “workout partners” this summer. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED that experience, hands down. You inspired me to push myself and I’m humbled by the love and support that we all showed toward each other – what a special experience to share. Thank you.

Back to our bubbles. Where can you shift, tighten, expand? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the bubbles or somewhat relieved now that you’ve mapped them out? Hopefully, the latter! I’m going to be offering SCHEDULE MAKEOVER MAGIC sessions for those interested. Let’s sit down, take a look at what you’ve got, how you plan to situate it (read: your LIFE) and then let’s play. Let’s plot things out. We’ll play around with different scenarios and “what-if’s.” Let’s see about creating more space to breath, more “wiggle room” for those unexpected assignments that come up, how about consistent “down time” to keep yourself feeling refreshed and excited about all of the good things happening this fall?

Having a conversation about how you intend to set yourself up within your schedule can be invaluable. You are being proactive. Making choices to “be real” with your top priorities (or even figuring out what those priorities really are) can make a huge difference for your peace of mind. Being clear on your intentions for the semester – I recommend coming up with three – can really set an awesome tone for things to unfold in happy, easy going and perhaps even surprisingly good ways.

Try it for yourself and see how it goes!

 CLICK HERE to initiate a Schedule Makeover Magic session w/Lynn.