By Arturo Aguirre, May 4, 2021
The student cohort of the McNair Scholars Program presented their research topics at the Annual McNair Scholars showcase on April 29. Due to the consequences of the pandemic, this marks the second year the event was hosted virtually through zoom.
The showcase featured 27 scholars who spent a year researching topics within their major, alongside the help from a faculty mentor. The student presentations were held in five separate breakout rooms, and each student was given 12 minutes to present their findings to peers, mentors and faculty members in attendance.
Geovani Munoz, a fourth-year psychology student, and a McNair Scholar, presented his research topic on “Predicting Latinx College Student Civic Engagement.” He targeted the issue that Latinx college students rank the lowest in civic engagement. Munoz theorized that Latinx college students with high family cohesion and cultural pride will display higher levels of civic engagement.
Munoz credited his mentor, Dr. Alejandro Morales, assistant professor in the Psychology and Sociology Department, for assisting him throughout his time in the program.
“Aside from just the project itself, he’s written out the letters of recommendation for me, read over my personal statements, provided feedback and is somebody who has been there for me,” said Munoz. “I think that he’s been a vital part of me getting to a doctoral program.”
Munoz will graduate this spring and continue his research at Virginia Commonwealth University while pursuing a doctorate in counseling psychology.
The McNair program’s main goals are designed to increase the number of low-income, first generation students, or underrepresented students in both future graduate school enrollment and doctoral degree programs. The program targets students who are committed to conducting research, but have the aspirations of becoming a professor and diversifying percentage of ethnic individuals earning a doctoral degree.
Morales, in his fourth year as a McNair mentor, expressed his gratitude to scholars who are advancing their studies in doctoral programs.
“Being a doctor is quite meaningful, you can change people’s lives in many ways especially if you’re a professor,” said Morales.
Morales added that he spends time talking to his mentees letting them know that they are in a position to become successful, and nothing should stand in their way in earning their doctoral degree.
Another notable presentation at the showcase included Charles Bickham, a fifth-year computer science
student and McNair Scholar, who presented his research topic, “Reducing Authorial
Burden for Story Sifting: Creating a Kismet to Felt Compiler.” His research focuses on creating a Kismet where a simplified method of coding can do the same as current coding method and help those who want to create their own game.
Bickham expressed that this topic is for anyone who is interested in coding, and he aimed to make it accessible for people to learn coding at their own pace.
“Kismet is very intuitive, it’s kind of like this like natural language syntax easier for someone to pick up without having any knowledge of coding,” said Bickham.
Bickham will also be graduating this spring and will attend University of Southern California for a doctorate in computer science.
At the conclusion of the showcase, Winny Dong, director of the McNair Scholars Program, made the unexpected announcement that she will be stepping down as director of the program. Alejandro Morales will become the new director of the program.
Valerie Tapia, a fifth-year psychology student, a McNair Scholar, expressed her emotion concerning Dong’s departure and reflected on her impact.
“I was really devastated; I’ve known nothing else but Dr. Dong doing great things for the program. She’s super organized, she’s super knowledgeable, she is proactive, and I think it’s really close to her heart to make everybody successful,” said Tapia. “I felt like she always cared about me as an individual in being successful and was always in my corner.”
Dong has served as director of the program since 2010.
Despite the showcase marking the end to scholar’s time at the program, Morales believes as much as it pains for him to see scholars leave, he is hopeful to what the students will achieve in the future.
“I hope that they’re going to be great graduate students, become great academics and they want to make the right contributions,” said Morales. “It’s like the sense of hope that I have in each one of them that you know that they’re going to make a difference.”
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