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Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program

Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program

The Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program is a federal TRIO program funded at 187 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education. It is designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential. The goal of the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.

The TRIO Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at NC State serves 25 undergraduate students annually.

About Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D.


Ronald Erwin McNair was born October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina to Carl and Pearl McNair. From a young age, he displayed a remarkable curiosity and passion for learning. Ronald’s educational journey began in the segregated South, where he faced numerous challenges due to racial inequality. Despite these obstacles, he excelled academically and graduated as valedictorian from Carver High School in 1967. His exceptional talent and thirst for knowledge earned him a scholarship to attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) in Greensboro, North Carolina.

At NC A&T, Ronald McNair continued to thrive academically, majoring in physics and graduating magna cum laude in 1971.He then pursued his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in physics from the prestigious institution in 1976, at the age of 26. McNair’s groundbreaking doctoral thesis was titled  “Energy Absorption and Vibrational Heating in Molecules Following Intense Laser Excitation.” In addition, throughout his life Dr. Ronald E. McNair would be presented an honorary doctorate of Laws from North Carolina A&T State University in 1978, an honorary doctorate of Science from Morris College in 1980, and an honorary doctorate of science from the University of South Carolina in 1984.

Throughout his career, McNair excelled as a staff physicist at Hughes Research Laboratory, specializing in laser physics. His expertise and achievements led to various prestigious distinctions, including being named a Presidential Scholar (1971-74), a Ford Foundation Fellow (1971-74), a National Fellowship Fund Fellow (1974-75), and a NATO Fellow (1975). In addition to his scientific pursuits, McNair was a sixth-degree black belt in karate and a talented saxophonist.

In 1978, McNair was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program, embarking on a new chapter in his life. On February 3, 1984, he made history as the second African American to travel to space during a successful mission launched from Kennedy Space Center. Two years later, tragedy struck when McNair was chosen to serve as a mission specialist aboard the U.S. Challenger space shuttle. On January 28, 1986, the Challenger exploded just one minute and thirteen seconds after liftoff, resulting in the loss of all crew members, including McNair. Posthumously, he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for his exceptional contributions and dedication to space exploration.

In the wake of McNair’s untimely passing, members of Congress established the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This initiative, aimed at encouraging students from low-income backgrounds, first-generation college students, and historically underrepresented ethnic groups, seeks to expand their educational opportunities and support their pursuit of Ph.D. programs and academic careers. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO initiative, is currently implemented at 207 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico.

The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program stands as a testament to Dr. McNair’s extraordinary achievements and his commitment to academic excellence. It honors his legacy by providing opportunities for aspiring scholars to follow in his footsteps, pursue advanced degrees, and make their own contributions to society. The program embodies the vision and high standards set by Dr. McNair throughout his life, inspiring generations to reach for the stars and create a more inclusive and diverse academic landscape.