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The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded effort to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who go on to graduate study. The program is named after Ronald E. McNair, an African American physicist and NASA astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986.

The Westminster College McNair Scholars Program draws students from three campuses:Westminster College, Salt Lake Community College and theUniversity of Utah. By encouraging and supporting qualified students through undergraduate school and the transition to graduate school, the ultimate goal is to increase faculty diversity in colleges and universities.

Biography of Ronald McNair

Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them. You're eagles! Stretch your wings and fly to the sky!
Ronald E. McNair

Ronald E. McNair was born on October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. He achieved early success as both a student and an athlete in the segregated public schools he attended. Valedictorian of his high school class, he attended North Carolina A & T State University where in 1971 he received a B.S. degree in physics, magna cum laude. He went on to study physics at MIT, specializing in quantum electronics and laser technology, and completed his Ph.D. in 1977 at the age of 26.

Dr. McNair became a recognized expert in laser physics, and worked for the Hughes Research Laboratories in California. Here, he conducted research on electro-optic laser modulation for satellite-to-satellite space communications. This research led McNair into close contact with the space program; when the opportunity presented itself he applied for astronaut training and was selected in 1978. He was one of the first three African Americans chosen by NASA. As a mission specialist aboard the February 1984 flight of the shuttle Challenger, he became the second African American in space.

Ronald McNair received many fellowships and commendations; among his achievements were three honorary doctoral degrees. In addition to his stellar academic success, he was a well-rounded person. A leader in track and football in high school, he also became a black belt in Karate, and while in graduate school he offered Karate classes at St. Paul's AME Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an accomplished jazz saxophonist, and a devoted husband and father to Cheryl and their two children.

After his death in the Challenger explosion in January 1986, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. Dr. McNair set high standards for himself, and dared to make his dreams come true. The program that bears his name is dedicated to the success of low income/ first generation college students and students from underrepresented groups who aspire to graduate studies.

Before you can make a dream come true, you must first have one.

Program Benefits

  • Be eligible to receive a $2,800 stipend for the summer research project.
  • Establish a relationship with a faculty mentor for ongoing academic advising and assistance developing an academic plan.
  • Establish a relationship with a research mentor for guidance through the research project and an introduction to your academic discipline.
  • Receive support services including: academic seminars, individual surveys and assessments, tutoring services as needed, GRE preparation.
  • Opportunities to visit graduate school programs.**
  • Opportunities to attend local, regional, and national conferences to present research.**
  • Receive financial education and counseling including: individual financial counseling services, a money management seminar, and a seminar on graduate and doctoral program funding alternatives.
  • Receive personal support services including: individualized technology/computer/library assistance, career counseling, academic career planning, and a peer support system.
  • Receive assistance applying to graduate schools.
  • Receive assistance applying for financial aid.
  • Application fee waivers from participating graduate schools.
  • Be eligible for GRE test fee waivers.
  • Free summer tuition at Westminster College.
  • Eligible Westminster McNair Scholars may also receive financial aid packages totalling 100% of tuition.***

** Travel funds are contingent upon program participation and are granted at the discretion of the director.
*** Funds are distributed at the discretion of the Financial Aid office. The McNair Program has no control of these funds.

Application Information


All scholars must:

  • Be a sophomore, junior, or senior who will graduate in December 2017 or later
  • Have a minimum 3.0 GPA OR significant academic progress in the last 30 credit hours or in your major
  • Be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • Have a sincere desire to pursue graduate education

You must also qualify as:

  • A low-income, first-generation college student (neither parent has a bachelor's degree) OR a member of a group that is underrepresented in graduate education (Native American, Hispanic/Latina/o, African American or Pacific Islander)

Your family's federal tax information will be used to to determine low-income status. Dependent students should submit their parent's/s' 2015 tax information; independent students should submit their own. To determine whether you are considered a dependent or an independent student according to FAFSA, click here.

Preference is given to students who attend Westminster College, Salt Lake Community College, and the University of Utah.

How to Apply

If you fulfill these qualifications and wish to apply, download and print the McNair Scholar application packet in PDF format. *You will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to download from the website.* These are the documents you will need:

  • Application Form
  • Application Checklist
  • Cover Page for Letters of Recommendation You will need 3 of these.
Applications are due march 31. They may be dropped off at the McNair Office or mailed. If mailed, they should be postmarked by March 31, 2017.

Mailing Address:
Westminster College
McNair Scholars Program
1840 South 1300 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84105

Application (pdf)
(235 KB)


Westminster College
McNair Scholars Program
1840 South 1300 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84105

Phone: (801) 832-3250

*In FY 2016-17, the Westminster College McNair Scholars Program is funded at approximately $347,930. Of this amount, $237,930 (68%) is an annual grant from the U. S. Department of Education. Westminster College provides the remaining 32% by contributing over $110,000 of support each year, with assistance from the Henry W. and Leslie M. Eskuche Foundation.