The federal TRIO program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, has awarded a $231,448 grant that will continue the West Virginia University Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program for the 2007-08 year.

The grant will fund the operational expense, academic stipends and travel costs for the students and staff affiliated with the program.

The McNair Scholars Program helps prepare first-generation college students and minorities underrepresented in graduate education for doctoral studies through independent research and other scholarly activities. Faculty mentors and support staff provide academic counseling and assistance as scholars apply to graduate programs.

Our program is very student-centered with a great focus on the needs and goals of each individual scholar,said Anita Mayer, director of the McNair Scholars Program.

In addition to providing them with faculty mentors, research opportunities and travel to visit graduate campuses, the program teams them with mentors who have participated in the program and are currently enrolled in graduate school, she said.

An increase in the amount of the grant will permit the program to expand its reach by 25 percent and support up to 25 students, added Betty Mei, assistant director of the program.

This is a life-changing program,Mei said.We are grooming these students academically and personally to succeed in their studies and professional ambitions.

So many of our students tell us that without this program, they wouldnt have considered pursuing their graduate degrees,she said.Knowing that we will be able to serve the students already in the program and also be able to increase our support to help more students achieve their education is wonderful news.

McNair Scholars say one of the best parts of the program is the personal attention and support during their undergraduate years.

The constant support, guidance and encouragement provided by the programs staff and mentors are unparalleled,said Jason Likens, a senior biology major from Terra Alta.The McNair Scholars Program truly provides a platform for motivated students to make their postbaccalaureate aspirations a reality.

For David Bello, a senior English major from Parkersburg, the program has been vital for his preparation for graduate school.

Without the help that they have given me through GRE preparation materials, the opportunity to speak with graduate students and academic department members and, of course, the research training, I would be entirely unready for the application process,he said.

Providing research opportunities is another objective of the program since many graduate programs prefer students with the experience. Scholars increase their competitive edge as they conduct and publish undergraduate research, Mei said.

Each scholar participates in a six-week, summer research experience that includes seminars, tutorials and course work that helps them develop a research proposal to be completed during the academic year. The work culminates with publication in the McNair Scholars Journal and a presentation of research results at the annual McNair Research Symposium. Some students go on to co-author research papers with faculty mentors.

Scholars are also provided an opportunity to travel to graduate programs across the nation. Through campus visits, students are able to meet with faculty and students, learn about a variety of graduate programs and network with others in their field of interest.

Since its inception at WVU in 2000, the McNair Scholars Program has graduated 75 students and succeeded at helping students enter graduate school at a rate far above the national level.

The figures I saw most recently indicated the average rate for McNair programs was about 40 percent of their participants go on to graduate school,Mei said.Our rate has been much higher, just under 70 percent, and we currently have 15 graduates working in advanced doctoral programs.

Mei said that recruiting for the next class of McNair Scholars will begin immediately now that funding is secured. She hopes to bring 17 new students into the program to join the current eight seniors. She and her staff have been speaking with campus organizations, classes and students in the residence halls to promote awareness of the program.

Applicants must be first-generation or minority college students with a demonstrated financial need. They must also have completed their sophomore year by May 2008 and have cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

I encourage any qualified student to apply to the McNair Scholars Program,Likens said.The program imparts invaluable experiences while simultaneously fostering lifelong friendships.

To learn more, visithttp://www.wvu.edu/~mcnair/index.htm.