By Lynn Curry, CMU McNair Director
I just returned to the frozen tundra (aka Michigan) from the sunny campus of the University of Central Florida after attending a wonderful gathering of fellow McNair Directors from around the country. I’m all jived up on the energy from this meeting and I’m determined to keep that feeling front + center in my mind’s eye to carry me through the year. You see, I’ve been a part of this McNair community for nearly 15 years now and it never ceases to amaze me how wonderful + supportive folks are as we work toward our shared McNair Mission. This mission entails empowering students coming from some pretty challenging backgrounds and supporting them in their journeys through higher education.
This takes shape in a multitude of different ways, but the common denominator is really two things: the sheer determination + ability of our students to thrive and our loving encouragement + deep belief that they can absolutely achieve great heights.
Just this morning I was texting back and forth with our program assistant about two of our scholars, one still in process at CMU and another in the first-year of her Ph.D. program. Both of these young women are making strides in pursuing their passion despite facing some pretty substantial challenges on the home front. Not only do our students manage to bust a move with their academics, but they do so while juggling research, the intense pressure to hold down part-time (often bordering on full-time) jobs just to get through, and dealing with friends and family who sometimes have trouble understanding their drive and determination toward their education.
Both of these women are feeling called toward the path of research, this they cannot deny. Simultaneously, they are stripping away barriers, often super personal + painful in nature, in order to keep moving forward in their studies. I can *feel* their excitement when they speak about their work and this tells me that they are on the right path. McNair is helping students make that transition into higher education, but it takes a lot more than just that to actually obtain that education and create meaningful work from it. I’m hopeful the foundation we help establish while we have our scholars in undergrad will continue to expand, support + sustain.
Sitting among fellow McNair directors and hearing them share about their own experiences working with McNair scholars makes me believe that this work is having a significant impact with our students. It also underscores my appreciation for this community of people intent on empowering our students and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. This work goes beyond helping scholars craft personal statements and studying for the GRE. It requires empathy, openness toward personal growth and a deep belief in the resiliency of our students.
Hearing my McNair colleagues want to better themselves (and their programs) so that they can better their students makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. One of my core desired feelings in life is connection. Feeling connected to the McNair community as well as the growing community of McNair scholars endeavoring toward their Ph.D., and those who have already attained their doctorate and are now doing the work, makes this “job” deeply satisfying + meaningful on so many levels.
I want to personally thank Michael Aldarondo-Jeffries, Director of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Central Florida and “mover and shaker” when it comes to all things McNair, for hosting an ultra-productive + engaging second annual Promising Practices Institute for our McNair community. Creating such an event is A LOT OF WORK and I know we all deeply appreciate it.
The truth is, we have a shared appreciation and language when it comes to the work we do with our students. Having an opportunity to engage with one another, brainstorm solutions on some of the challenges we face and dialogue about what’s working is priceless and so needed. I can’t believe almost fifteen years have passed since I began this McNair journey. I can believe, however, that I’m looking forward to as many more years as possible with this special group of people.
Here’s to continuing this important work in the next grant cycle + beyond.