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Bloomfield College opens path for graduate work

Among the 3000-plus colleges and universities nationwide, 158 are funded for the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program funded through the federal TRIO program. The McNair program exists to support students beyond their baccalaureate to achieve a doctoral degree. The emphasis is placed on first generation and underrepresented students who might not have the opportunity to go beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Bloomfield College just received its second round of five-year funding for its McNair Scholars program. Since its original funding in 2009, 42 students have enrolled in the program with 26 graduating and moving into graduate degree programs. The funding is for a total of 25 students per year and students enroll in the program at the junior level.

The students who are aspiring to higher degrees spend time in the program prepping for graduate admission exams, visiting colleges and universities and participating in research opportunities at graduate levels across the nation. The fields of interest cross all areas of academics from humanities, STEM subjects, behavioral sciences, and education. Students are also expected to present their research at McNair conferences both locally and nationwide.

This very intense program provides a degree of intimacy between students and their mentors through working on research projects together, attending the various conferences, and meeting on a regular basis. The conferences, which are sometimes focused on a specific demographic and/or academic field, give students the chance to explore benefits beyond what is written in the program. Learning about networking, the research of their counterparts in other schools, being inspired by the life lessons of those who have completed their doctorates, and celebrating scholarship are some of the benefits mentioned by Bloomfield College/McNair scholars upon their return.

Bloomfield College serves a large population of first-generation, minority, and underrepresented students. While these students have the motivation to attend and complete college, they may lack the resources and support found in other demographics. The McNair program offers the necessary supports for the students to explore, apply to, and attend graduate programs. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects are being explored in greater numbers by this demographic due to the nationwide shortage of qualified and well-educated professionals in these fields. While the McNair scholars are pursuing careers in all areas, the college is looking to students who have an interest in these fields and offering specialized programs such as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and the Roche Emerging Scholars program (RES) which also gives students research opportunities and can be a feeder for the McNair Scholars program. LSAMP is a New Jersey state funded program, while RES was made possible by a grant from the Roche Foundation.

A new component of the McNair program is the Sophomore Fellows (SF) component. This group of students (primarily STEM majors) attend McNair seminars and meet with staff throughout their sophomore year. The goal is to engage prospective scholars prior to their junior year. Each SF possesses a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher, submits an application, including an essay; faculty references, and participates in an interview. At the completion of their sophomore year, students may be formally admitted into the McNair program provided they were actively involved in the project.

The application and reapplication process requires an in depth plan of operations as well as longitudinal data from the previous years. A new component of the application this year is the Competitive Preference Priorities (CPP), which requires reporting on promoting STEM subjects and opportunities, improving productivity, and documenting evidence of effectiveness.

At Bloomfield College, the program has been highly successful. Not only are the McNair scholars involved at a higher level of graduate school exploration, they are recognized for their efforts through honors societies, scholarships, national and local awards. They are able to access internships to add real skills to their resumes and network with professionals outside of the Bloomfield College campus.

It can be summed up in the words of one young alumna who is currently pursuing her master’s degree. “Nobody ever told me I was smart until I came to Bloomfield College. Being part of programs like McNair gave me the confidence to go beyond my original dreams. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a waitress. When I got into college, I wanted to work in the field of sociology. Through McNair, I now know that I want my PHD and to teach in a university.”