McNair Scholars Program wins Regents’ diversity award

    February 06, 2013

    McNair AwardSamantha Samreth, director of the McNair Scholars Program, is applauded by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in Madison on Friday, Feb. 8, after speaking and accepting a Diversity Award in the team category. Photo by Craig Schreiner.

    Latoya Allen's career aspiration is to become a university professor with a research lab, contributing new knowledge to the world and mentoring young students like herself.

    "I would use my position as a faculty member to reach out to other minority students who are interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but aren't sure what careers to pursue," Allen said.

    The senior biology major at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is on a clear path to that goal, thanks to her own initiative and an innovative program - the McNair Scholars Program - that has served as a strong foundation for her success.

    On Friday, Feb. 8, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will honor McNair at its Diversity Awards ceremony in Madison.

    "The program is critical for UW-Whitewater because it has served to change perceptions of underrepresented multicultural students on our campus," said Samantha Samreth, director of the McNair Scholars Program.

    Since 1992, the McNair Scholars Program has prepared multicultural, first-generation, and low-income students for graduate study and eventual careers as faculty members.

    "It is critical for the state as a whole because McNair Scholars are more likely to enter science and technology disciplines, have careers that allow them to pay taxes at higher income levels and be qualified to serve in positions where they train the next generation of professionals," said Richard McGregory, assistant vice chancellor for multicultural affairs and student success.

    Named for the astronaut Ronald E. McNair, McNair is a federal program funded at about 200 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education. The UW-Whitewater program provides educational and professional role models for students as well as enhanced preparation in writing, critical thinking, technology, research methodology, applied research and test taking.

    A central feature of the program is the mentoring students receive from faculty members on their individual research projects, which they present at regional and national conferences.

    Allen says the McNair program provided a powerful push to start her research into evolutionary questions. A recent project, under the mentorship of Associate Professor Kris Curran, looked at circadian rhythm gene expressions in African clawed frogs. 

    "It's an important topic because when there are disruptions in the gene expressions, developmental issues can happen," she said. "We're looking at how this can relate to mammals."

    Allen, who will graduate from UW-Whitewater in May, was recently accepted to UW-Madison's biomedical sciences Ph.D. program and will start her studies this fall.

    The McNair Scholars Program has graduated 99 percent of its participants (190 of 192), and more than 80 percent go on to graduate school.

    Photo above left: Latoya Allen presents at Undergraduate Research Day at UW-Whitewater.

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