Life is Like a Zip Line

Staff post: By Kim Whitney, Program Assistant

Working with McNair, I have a wide variety of conversations with our scholars.  Anything and everything is fair game with me.  Recently Donovan (a 2014 scholar) and I were discussing Summer Research Opportunities (SROPs) and grad school.  What if he doesn’t get accepted to any programs?  What if he does?

It is human nature to think (and worry) about what the future holds and the changes it will bring.  You never know…not until you are living in that moment.  It can be exciting and scary both at the same time.  At first I wasn’t sure what to say to Donovan to help him put things in perspective without diminishing his fears, but then it hit me…”Life is like a zip line.”

Let me back up and give you a little history behind Donovan and zip lines.  At the beginning of the McNair journey we have a retreat at Cran-Hill Ranch.  The scholars are given the opportunity to maneuver through an outdoor high ropes course that ends in a zip line.  Donovan isn’t fond of heights, so climbing up a steep ladder and manipulating through the course took tremendous bravery.  He stood on the final platform (high up in the trees mind you) preparing himself for that plunge onto the zip line.  It took him awhile, as he let others pass him by, but he found the courage to take that step off the ledge.


Donovan “jumping into the unknown!”

Isn’t that really the same as life?  As scary as some of life’s choices may be, you can either jump off the ledge and enjoy the thrill of the ride, or you can stand there and let life pass you by.

After Donovan was done we asked him how he felt.  He felt proud and exhilarated having faced his fears.  You will never know what life will offer you unless you keep on moving forward.  So be brave, take the plunge and enjoy life.

–Kim :)

Meaningful work = McNair

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.

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McNair community coming together for the success of our students.

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.

lmc xo