WT McNair Scholars to Showcase Research

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124, [email protected]

CANYON, Texas — Some top West Texas A&M University undergraduate students will present the results of months of intensive research in upcoming video presentations.

Eleven students in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program will be featured in five-minute video presentations linked to from the McNair Program homepagebeginning Nov. 17. Typically, students give a presentation in the lobby of Cornette Library, but the ongoing pandemic promptedWT’s McNair leaders to take a new approach this year.

“These students have worked exceptionally hard under difficult circumstances, and we hope this new method of showcasing their work brings them even more attention than usual,” said Victoria Salas, assistant director of the McNair Scholars program.

The application period is open now through March 1; applications may be filled out here. Selected students receive the guidance of a mentor overseeing the research project; seminars on graduate school admission process, research methods and financial aid; a $2,800 research stipend; a $300 research supply allowance; tutoring, academic counseling and intense GRE or GMAT preparation; admission and financial aid assistance; preparation for research conference preparations; and fee waivers for graduate applications, paid conference travel and fellowships.

The McNair Scholars is a federal TRIO program funded by the U.S. Department of Education designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential.

Student scholars are researching such topics as the impact of sleep on performance, the perception of safety for activities during the pandemic, superconductors, Texas Panhandle allergenic fungi, Mexican identity expressed through the arts, the impact of chronic stress on cardiovascular health, accessibility for the physically disabled and how COVID-19 has affected employee morale.

Gabriel Martinez, a junior history major from Hereford, found inspiration for his project — which explores how shepherding offered sanctuary for undocumented migrant workers — in his own family tree.

“My father and uncle had this experience as undocumented workers in the 1980s in Wyoming and Utah,” Martinez said. “Compared to many other employment opportunities, shepherding offered the best wages and conditions, and this story hasn’t really been told.”

The projects are undertaken over the summer, said Dr. Vanessa Fiaud, associate professor of sport and exercise sciences, who has overseen projects for much of the past decade.

“I let my students choose the area they’re interested in pursuing, and we usually have a lot of discussion about how to narrow down their topics,” Fiaud said. “Most of the time, they are very idealistic and want to solve all of the problems of the world, but you can’t realistically do that in three months.

“These projects are pretty fast-paced, but the students get a full idea of how a research project is developed, implemented and presented.”

Professors also benefit from the relationship, said Dr. Keshav Shrestha, assistant professor of physics.

Being a supervisor of two McNair scholars this year, I have also developed my mentoring skills on how to teach and train physics research to young students, honed my project handling capability, and learned how teamwork leads to success,” Shrestha said. “All these experiences would further help me to succeed in my future academic career.

WT’s 2020 class of McNair scholars includes Martinez; Mariela Castanon, a senior sports and exercise science major from Amarillo; Isaias Colunga, a senior sports and exercise science major from Silverton; Lyanna De Leon, a senior biology major from Amarillo; Sharon Quintero Diaz, a junior political science and history major from Waxahachie; Nicholas Dominguez, a junior physics major from Hereford; Eliana Flores, a senior history major from Denver City; Yanai Otero La Porte, a senior psychology major from Killeen; Adriana Martinez, a junior mechanical engineering major from Amarillo; Jennifer Martinez, a junior psychology/pre-med major from Amarillo; and Valeria Porras-Viezcas, a senior sports and exercise science major from Texhoma, Okla.

The program is named for Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who was killed in the Challenger mission on Jan. 28, 1986. McNair was the second African American to fly in space. He began his career with NASA in 1978, flying his first space shuttle mission in 1984. After McNair’s death, Congress provided funding program, dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by Dr. McNair’s life.

Over the course of the program’s 21-year history at WT, 70 percent of McNair scholars enter graduate school directly after graduation, 81 students have completed a master’s degree (41 of them at WT), and 18 scholars have completed a doctoral or professional degree.

McNair Scholars are an important component in WT’s goal of becoming a regional research university, as outlined in the University’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

About West Texas A&M University

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. With enrollment of more than 10,000, WT offers 60 undergraduate degree programs, 38 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 15 men’s and women’s athletics programs.


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