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Students presented their research to a professional audience this summer at Baylor University in Texas. Photo: Ashley Ayala
Students presented their research to a professional audience this summer at Baylor University in Texas. Photo: Ashley Ayala

Cal Lutheran receives $1.3M grant

Program supports diverse students seeking doctorates

(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — August 18, 2022) The U.S. Department of Education has approved a five-year grant worth $1,309,430 for California Lutheran University to continue the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which supports students from underrepresented segments of society who want to attain doctoral degrees.

The nationwide program provides guidance and resources to high-achieving undergraduates who are low-income, first-generation college students or from groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education. Participation is highly competitive: 72% of Cal Lutheran undergraduates are eligible, but only 25 are selected each year.

Careers requiring a doctorate are significantly understaffed by people who share the same race and ethnicity of many McNair-eligible students. In 2021, only 6.7% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers that require a doctorate were filled by Hispanics, and only 6.1% were filled by Blacks, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the U.S. overall, Hispanics and Blacks make up 18.7% and 12% of the population, respectively.

“Our McNair Scholar program is a point of pride,” said Cal Lutheran President Lori E. Varlotta. “The program aligns perfectly with our identity as a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution and as a future-focused, faith-friendly university rooted in the Lutheran tradition.”

The program was created by Congress in honor of Challenger astronaut Ronald McNair, a physicist who rose from modest circumstances to earn his doctorate and become one of the first Black people in the U.S. space program.

Each year, the students selected for the program, led by Director of Student Support Services Elena Jaloma Scott, are matched with a faculty mentor. Because research experience is key to preparing for doctoral studies, McNair Scholars participate in a summer research program that includes opportunities to publish and present their work. Students also take seminars and receive guidance on research skills, GRE preparation, financial aid and applying to graduate school.

Anastasia Martinez, a McNair scholar and 2022 Cal Lutheran graduate, is attending the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York to earn a master’s in business analytics, and eventually hopes to earn a doctorate. Her research and career interests focus on Latino entrepreneurs. A first-generation college student, Martinez said she hadn’t considered graduate school before joining McNair. “It made graduate school a reality,” she said.

The members of the current cohort are Anna Balana of Hawthorne, Olivia Chee of Camarillo, Rob Frye of Pacoima, Angelina Garcia of El Cajon, Ysabella Gonzalez of Oxnard, Antonio Huerta of Oxnard, Jorge Macias of San Fernando, Hennessy Munoz of Lynwood, Chloe Rodriguez of San Diego, Melissa Romero of Panorama City, Jose Julian Sanchez of Oak View, Maximilian Segeberg of Temecula and Rakaihya Thomas of Calabasas. Twelve more students will be selected for the program in September.