SIU McNair scholars dedicate their summer to research

Most college students use their summer break to kick back and relax, but there are 14 students at SIU who have used their break quite differently.

The students are a part of the McNair Scholars Program and have devoted nearly 320 hours of their summer to research.

Karen Renzaglia, director of the McNair Scholars Program and a professor in plant biology, said the mission of the program is to give students the chance to explore research that normally would not have the opportunity.

“The program targets underrepresented minorities in graduate school and low-income, first-generation students,” Renzaglia said. “It trains them to understand what it is like to get a more advanced degree.”

To qualify to be a McNair scholar, a student has to be a junior or senior in college. As long as the student has earned at least 56 credit hours, there is no age restriction. A selection committee chooses the scholars based on their application, grade point average, educational goals and interview.

Rhetta Seymour, associate director of SIU McNair Scholars Program, said the students begin the program by identifying a faculty member who is conducting research in an area the student finds interesting.

“That faculty member will become their mentor and they will work together to finalize a project that is doable,” Seymour said. “The mentor will supervise, suggest valuable reading and guide the student throughout the research process.”

SIU became a part of the McNair program in 2003. The U.S. Department of Education funds the program at more than 150 institutions throughout the nation. The university recruits in fall and spring and is required to have 28 students in the program.

“Every five years you have to apply again and they give you the money if they like what you have said and done,” Renzaglia said. “So we are well established in McNair.”

Asia Lee, a senior studying marketing from Chicago, was encouraged to apply for the program by an alumni McNair scholar. She heeded the advice and is now a 2014 McNair scholar with a 3.74 grade point average.

“He told me a lot about it and I took it from there,” Lee said. “The program is time-consuming, but has been extremely helpful and completely life-changing.”

Lee focused her research on the ways gender identity influences the world of advertising.

“I wanted to see how and why gender identity and biological sex effects our attitudes towards advertisements,” Lee said. “To discover in what ways we can break down some of the gender roles and stereotypes in marketing and advertising today.”

Lee said her experience with McNair has placed her in a position where she is above her classmates. She now takes her academic career seriously and has developed many beneficial characteristics.

“It helped across the board,” Lee said. “I have built self-esteem, self-discipline, and communication skills that I didn’t have 8 weeks ago.”

The program does not pay tuition costs, but does provide stipends and supply allowances during the research process.

“They don’t particularly fund your academics,” Lee said. “But they implicitly help you get those resources to make you a prime candidate for scholarships.”

The students’ research will be on display at the 11th annual McNair Summer Research Symposium. The symposium from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, July 25 in Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium. The scholars will reflect over what they have learned through the 8 weeks and present their research. They will be available for questions pertaining to their research topic after the presentation.

Five judges will evaluate each presentation. First through fourth place will win cash prizes.

“It is an amazing program and I am just so proud of it,” Renzaglia said. “It is designed around what the scholars’ interests are and the research is all theirs — completely original.”

Storey Mayer can be reached at

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