McNair Scholars Program Applications Sought; WT Students Benefit from Program Named in Honor of Challenger Astronaut 

Chip Chandler

Lizbeth Lopez, a senior biology major from Spearman, performs research as part of her project in the McNair Scholars Program. Photo provided by WT Communication and Marketing

Contact: Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124, [email protected]  


CANYON, Texas — As the nation remembers the 36th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, West Texas A&M University students are applying to join a prestigious program named for one of the astronauts killed on the shuttle. 

Astronaut Dr. Ronald E. McNair. Photo provided by WT Communication and Marketing

Dr. Ronald McNair was one of six crewmembers who died Jan. 28, 1986, when the Challenger exploded shortly after launching at Cape Canaveral, Fla. 

After his death, Congress named a research program in his honor — the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, or the McNair Scholars Program. It is designed to prepare underrepresented, low-income, and first-generation undergraduate students for doctoral study through research and other scholarly activities.  

The goal of this program is to increase the graduate degree attainment of students from underrepresented segments of society. There are currently 187 programs across the United States and 21 in Texas. WT’s McNair Scholars Program was established in 1999. As of 2021, 251 scholars have taken part, and 144 have gone on to earn a postbaccalaureate degree. 

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 preparation; admission and financial aid assistance; preparation for research conference preparations; fee waivers for graduate applications; and paid conference travel. 

Only 14 students are chosen each year to join the program. 

“Students who take part in the McNair Scholars Program gain invaluable skills and benefit from intensive mentorship,” said Victoria Salas, director of the McNair Scholars program. “It’s highly competitive, as well it should be: Like Dr. McNair himself was, these students are some of our best and brightest.” 

McNair — who, in addition to his work as a physicist, also was a talented musician and decorated martial arts champion and instructor — was the second African American to fly in space. 

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

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched Sept. 23 — has raised more than $85 million. 


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. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 59 undergraduate degree programs, 39 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 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs.


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