By David Simpson

Old Dominion University has been awarded more than $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by students from underrepresented segments of society.

The grant to fund a Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at ODU is a first for the University, said Brian Payne, vice provost for academic affairs.

"The impact of this award on Old Dominion University is tremendous," Payne said. "The McNair program elevates our ability to prepare our undergraduate students for graduate education, and this grant will change the lives of those students selected as McNair Scholars."

For each of the next five years, $261,888 will go toward readying 25 academically talented low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority students to succeed in a graduate program and, ideally, attain a doctoral degree within 10 years, according to the proposal abstract. Funding for ODU's project began Oct. 1 and continues through September 2027.

The McNair program is designed to teach these students how to gain admission to graduate school, conduct and discuss research, and understand academia. Participants will work with a faculty mentor who will help them get ready for doctoral study. Other benefits include opportunities for research, summer internships, seminars, tutoring and academic counseling.

Old Dominion has a high percentage of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority students. In fall 2021, those groups accounted for 68% of ODU undergraduates.

"Old Dominion University is the perfect institution to host a McNair program because of its diversity initiatives and because it is an R1 research-extensive institution that serves its community through rigorous academic programs, strategic partnerships and a thriving research environment," said Passion Studivant, director of TRiO Programs. "More importantly, ODU serves a very large number of eligible students, and the eligible population is growing."

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, the McNair program is one of eight, collectively known as TRiO, that are designed to help disadvantaged students progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate degrees.

To apply, students must submit an online application and supporting documents. Candidates will then be selected for interviews, a process Studivant expects will start in November.

The program honors physicist Ronald McNair, America's second Black astronaut and one of seven crew members killed in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.

Payne praised the McNair program and ODU's effort to secure funding.

"Passion Studivant did an amazing job putting together the application," he said. "Providing specific and hands-on guidance to these students will put them on pathways that dramatically shape their lives as well as the lives of their family members."

Studivant said the program is esteemed nationally and has been discussed for years at ODU.

"It is a program that requires significant faculty buy-in and commitment from campus partners," she said. "I was able to make it happen with hard work and with the generous support from the Offices of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment, Academic Success Initiatives and Support, Academic Affairs, the Honors College, the MMARC Program, the G-Rise Program, the Graduate School, Research Development, faculty, and the Research Foundation."

For information about the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at ODU, visit TRiO Programs.

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