Some of us remember the day: We sat transfixed as we watched a just-launched space shuttle burst into a cloud of smoke and debris. A mission of hope and optimism turned into a stunning scene of shock and horror. Thirty years ago, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. In honor of the astronauts who lost their lives, the West Virginia University McNair Scholars Program is hosting a day of remembrance on Thursday, Jan. 28.

The day features a full roster of events. To begin the day, a ceremony will be held in the Vandalia Lounge in the Mountainlair at 9:30 a.m. Throughout the day, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., McNair Scholars and NASA will have tables available in the Mountainlair with information about the McNair Scholars Program, TRiO-sponsored summer internship programs and materials commemorating the astronauts. At 1 p.m. in the Mountainlair, there will be a cake-cutting ceremony; everyone is welcome to have a slice.

The McNair Scholars Program was created in honor of Dr. Ronald E. McNair, an African-American astronaut who died in the Challenger accident. He was a first-generation college student who dreamed of space exploration and breaking barriers. The McNair Scholars Program aims to uphold his values by supporting first-generation and minority students in their pursuit of doctoral degrees.

“This event is incredibly meaningful for the McNair Scholars community,” says Betty Mei, McNair Scholars program director. “Dr. McNair paved the way for underrepresented students to excel in college and beyond. All of the astronauts who lost their lives believed in the value of education and in dreaming big.”

McNair Scholars also is partnering with the Office of Multicultural Programs for a viewing of the film “Dr. Ronald McNair: Legacy of Achievement” at 11:30 a.m. in the Gluck Theater. Through interviews with family, friends and educators, the film presents Dr. McNair’s past and shows how he overcame obstacles to become a distinguished physicist, astronaut and role model. After the film, Dr. Mei and Jess White, a NASA Education Specialist, will present information about their programs.

“McNair Scholars is an invaluable program for our undergraduate students who are selected to participate,” says Sue Day-Perroots, associate provost of undergraduate education. “This day of remembrance is a way for us to honor the man whose legacy lives on in our McNair Scholars and alumni.”

Dr. Day-Perroots adds that the unmatched success of WVU’s McNair Scholars Program is due to the dedication and talents of Dr. Mei, who has helmed the program since its inception in 1999.

Hanah Conlan, a current McNair Scholar majoring in psychology, has taken a leading role in organizing Thursday’s event. “I look at this event as a way to commemorate the seven astronauts who lost their lives as well as to give thanks to the individual – Dr. McNair – whose legacy has provided so many opportunities for undergraduate students today,” says Conlan.

When planning the event, Conlan had a tremendous response from current and former McNair Scholars. “We are proud to be scholars in the name of Ronald E. McNair,” says Conlan. “And we vow to challenge ourselves to greatness in his honor.”

She is hoping that the day of remembrance will provide information about the McNair Scholars Program and will educate students about all of the astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster. All the events are free and open to the entire WVU community and general public.


CONTACT: Dr. Betty Mei / McNair Scholars

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