Minority students selected for prestigious award

Eleven students at UW-Eau Claire have been selected for the Ronald E. McNair program, which prepares students for a career in research.

“I’m really excited,” said Douglas Schwoch, one of the students who was nominated. “I really didn’t know much about (the program) before hand, but when I started to really look into it I realized I was extremely fortunate to have this opportunity.”

Schwoch, a non-traditional student, first learned about the program when his advisor, Dr. Kristin Schaupp, associate professor of philosophy and religious studies, asked him if she could nominate him.

“I was already thinking about grad school, so it seemed like a good fit,” said Schwoch, who is majoring in philosophy, English and American Indian studies.

Students who are nominated to the program are prepared through a two-year collaborative research with faculty on a topic chosen by the student.

But McNair fellows  or have to fall into two categories, said Patricia Quinn, the program’s director.

They must be first generation college students from low-income families or students from racial ethnic groups that are underrepresented among doctoral recipients in the U.S. and want to pursue a doctoral degree.

Quinn said the McNair Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is named after Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D., an African-American astronaut who died in the NASA’s Challenger mission in 1986.

Junior Cristina Soto, who was nominated by her psychology advisor, is going to explore the role of motivation in academic achievement among underrepresented students. She became interested in the topic because she is a minority herself.

“I have a father who immigrated from Mexico, but my mom is from the United States,” she said. “My whole life I’ve balancing between the Mexican side and the Caucasian side.”

Soto, with the help of the McNair program, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in either clinical or counseling psychology.

Dr. Mitra Sadeghpour, associate professor of music and theatre arts, nominated two of her students this year who were in the list of students who’d be eligible for the program, Jordyn Beranek and Abigail Doering. Both won the fellowship.

“They are both outstanding young women who have great potential to go on to graduate school,” Dr. Sadeghpour said. “I didn’t want them to miss
this opportunity.”

Beranek, who is majoring in vocal performance, decided to combine what she loves with her research. She will look into the representation of historical figures in two operas called “The Ballad of Baby Doe” and “La Traviata.”

“I’m an opera singer and ‘La Traviata’ is my favorite opera of all times,” she said.

Schwoch will also research a topic that is very personal to him.

“I spent six years in the Navy,” he said, “and when I was in the Navy I kind of fell in love with the ocean and the environment.”

His research will focus on how environmental ethics contribute to the decision-making processes of corporations during industrial-environmental catastrophes, which he will collaborate with Dr. Schaupp.

Quinn said the McNair program started in Eau Claire in 2000 and thus far 34 graduated fellows have achieved a doctorate degree.

“Right now, 100 percent of (McNair fellow) graduates who have gone to graduate school are being paid to do so,” she said. “That’s a record I want to keep.”


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