The McNair Student Achievement ProgramThe University of Hawaii at Manoa

About The McNair Student Achievement Program

The McNair Student Achievement Program at UH Mānoa aims to increase numbers of groups underrepresented in doctoral programs across academic disciplines, placing particular emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program reaches out to academically worthy students who come from minority and low-income backgrounds and from families with no previous completion of college degrees. These students lag behind their non-disadvantaged peers despite similar talents and potential. Research from the Council for Education (COE) indicates that the disadvantaged face cultural and social barriers to college preparation in high school, followed by lower rates of college attendance and degree attainment and lower rates of participation in occupations that are key in a 21st century knowledge-based economy. The McNair Student Achievement Program counters the disparities and reaffirms the power of post-baccalaureate education as the underpinning of an advanced society.

Opportunity through TRiO

The McNair program belongs to TRiO, a set of federally-funded college opportunity programs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRiO originated with the acknowledgment of a need for the disadvantaged to overcome social and cultural barriers as a necessary step towards college and career success. TRiO programs recognize that a persistent gap between low and high-income college degree attainment is a detriment to our nation as a whole. In order to foster a healthy economy and boost capacity for global competition, TRiO programs assist students with college-level preparation that is necessary for entry into a world-class workforce.

Breaking down Hawai'i higher education barriers

With ties to Asia, the Pacific Basin, and North America as well as a world-class ranking as a research institution, the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa has extraordinary diversity and assets. However, not everyone is able to access the school's remarkable resources. The state ranks near the bottom in the nation for low-income and first-generation college participation and subsequent entry in graduate programs. Research also indicates Hawai'i s educationally disadvantaged comprise a relatively large portion of the overall population compared to other states; the majority of this sector is comprised of Native Hawaiians, Filipinos and Pacific Islanders. These groups are historically below the national poverty line and thus are doubly impacted by economic and educational disparity.

The McNair Student Achievement Program is countering educational disparity in Hawai'i by recruiting qualified disadvantaged students. Program components include research activities, for-credit seminars, faculty mentorship, summer internships, academic counseling and other services that encourage participants to complete their undergraduate program and progress to doctoral level studies required for entry into core scientific and technological professions that are seen as an indicator of Hawai'i's sustainability.


Ronald Ervin McNair, Ph.D. October 21, 1950-January 28, 1986

Ronald E. McNair

Program namesake: a civic-minded scholar and successful scientist

Ronald McNair was an eminent physicist and NASA astronaut. He died in the 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Two years before the tragedy, he served as a NASA crewmember aboard the Challenger mission that orbited the earth 120 times and launched a $75-million communications satellite.

McNair s remarkable life was all about exploring boundaries and exceeding them. The second African-American to fly in space, McNair was also a dedicated trailblazer in science. After graduation from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, he earned his doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became nationally known for his work in the field of laser physics. He was also an accomplished musician and a fifth-degree black belt in karate. His numerous awards include three honorary doctorate degrees and several fellowships.

A love of learning

McNair grew up in Lake City, South Carolina, amid the rural poverty and overt racial discrimination of the segregation era. He was one of three brothers raised by a schoolteacher mother and auto-mechanic father in a home that had neither running water nor electricity. The McNair boys did farm work during the summer to supplement household income. Despite any adversity, McNair developed a love of learning and an aptitude for science at an early age.

Numerous published biographies recount one particular incident epitomizing the young McNair s precociousness. At age nine, the boy walked up to the counter of the Lake City Public library with books on advanced calculus, only to be told by an elderly librarian that "coloreds could not check out books." When the librarian called the police, the boy politely refused to budge, according to McNair s brother Carl, who recently recalled the story in a National Public Radio interview. After McNair s mother Pearl arrived on the scene and promised she would pay for the books if her son did not bring them back, the librarian acquiesced. Thank-you, ma'am, Ron said in response to his mother's prompting.

Counseled young people

More than a half-century later, Lake City has returned the thank-you by re-naming the public library building the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Life History Center. The dedication of the revamped facility took place on January 28, 2011, marking the 25th commemoration of the Challenger disaster. The library joins dozens of public places and programs named in honor of McNair.

Ronald McNair touched many lives by sharing his life story with schools and organizations. He counseled young people to overcome obstacles. He cited his service as an astronaut as well as one personal experience that might have devastated a less determined person. Near the end of his doctoral program at MIT, McNair lost two year's worth of accumulated material for his thesis. Despite the setback, he produced a second set of data and finished his program on time. An Ebony Magazine tribute reports that McNair told colleagues that the second data set was better than the first. In the same article, a former classmate summed up the remarkable McNair with this memory of his positive influence: We all knew that Ron was smarter than the rest of us. We all knew that he was going to get 100 on any test. However, his determination made the rest of us eager to study hard to at least get a 99.