McNair Scholars

The McNair Scholars Program: Conduct research under the mentorship of UW–Madison faculty and researchers.

McNair Scholars Program

The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program (McNair Scholars Program) creates a bridge to graduate education for undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The McNair Scholars Program supports eligible undergraduates in acquiring the knowledge, skills and capacities necessary to successfully navigate the rigors of Ph.D. studies through immersion in research and a variety of scholarly activities. Students who join the McNair Program join a community of peers. Each year, highly qualified students are selected from a pool of eligible applicants.

The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by students from underrepresented segments of society.

This program is funded by the US Department of Education TRIO grant and accepts applications first generation college students from low-income circumstances and targeted minority applicants in STEM majors. UW–Madison is funded to serve 28 students, each year.

Contact the McNair Scholars Program at or visit us at 408 Bascom Hall (map).

For Faculty Mentors


The most important aspect of the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program is the Faculty Mentor/McNair Scholar relationship. Faculty Mentors provide exposure and insight essential for the McNair scholar to understand the skills needed to become successful in the academic world. Their time, energy, expertise and commitment to mentoring scholars are invaluable resources that increase the quality of the McNair experience. For the Scholar, the benefit of participating in the program depends to a large extent on the supportive relationship between the Faculty Mentor and Scholar. The relationship is designed to encourage, motivate and prepare the McNair Scholar for doctoral studies.

As a faculty mentor, you may think mainly of the benefits to the student of an undergraduate research or creative project. You may even worry about the work involved in mentoring a student, or the disappointment if the student fails to live up to expectations. But many benefits accrue to the faculty mentor, as many faculty members have attested. Here are just a few:

  • Pleasure of passing on your knowledge and skill
  • Reward of seeing a student’s growth under your guidance
  • Opportunities for increasing number of grants that require use of undergraduates
  • Excitement from learning from students and making joint discoveries (this does happen!)

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How to Become a McNair Scholar Faculty Mentor

It’s easy! McNair scholars with an interest in your area in general, or your work in particular will contact you or you can contact us to express your interest in mentoring and we will make every attempt to introduce you to a good match. You will, of course have the opportunity to discuss expectations to make a final decision about working together. We only ask that you take an interest in your undergraduate student as an individual. Respond positively when students come to you with ideas or requests for guidance. At the same time, calculate how much time and energy you can realistically apply to working with such students. Be realistic about your priorities, including those emphasized by the reward system. Then just do it!

Expectations of Faculty Mentors

Mentoring students underdeveloped in their research and creative projects entails responsibilities. You will need to:

  • Set high standards for performance for both the student and yourself
  • Give positive support, not just negative criticism
  • Stay in frequent communication with your student, and respond promptly to questions and drafts
  • Assess your student’s ability realistically; offer special opportunities such as conference presentation or co-publishing as appropriate, but don’t hold out false hopes
  • Enjoy the process of working with your student

The mentor/scholar relationship fosters:

  • Raised self-esteem
  • Affirmation of potential
  • Orientation to department
  • Access to information
  • Connection to resources
  • Empowerment
  • Confidence
  • Networking in the field
  • Better comprehension of the profession

Roles of the Faculty Mentor

  • advisors, people with career experience willing to share their knowledge;
  • supporters, people who give emotional and moral encouragement;
  • tutors, people who give specific feedback on one’s performance;
  • masters, in the sense of employers to whom one is apprenticed;
  • sponsors, sources of information about and aid in obtaining opportunities;
  • models, of the kind of person one should be to be an academic setting

Responsibilities of the Faculty Mentor

  • Work closely with the scholar, meeting two to three times per month
  • Complete the student progress report.
  • Provide 10-15 hours per week of research activities for the scholar
  • Serve as the instructor, guiding the identification, design, and the completion of appropriate research work. For example: Abstract; introduction; literature review; methodology; results; conclusions and references.
  • Give constructive and critical review of all of the components of the scholar’s research project
  • Assist the scholar in preparing and being selected for appropriate presentation of the research project
  • Provide feedback to the McNair Program regarding both the student and the program in general
  • Attend a culminating day that features student research presentation and an evening awards dinner
  • Attend the Faculty Mentor Orientation: (DATE) if you are a new mentor
  • Identify the research project by: (DATE).
  • Review and sign the components of the student’s research paper to meet the due dates:
    • (DATE) Research Project Identified/Research Action Plan
    • (DATE) Introduction of Research Paper
    • (DATE) Literature Review
    • (DATE) Annotated Bibliography
    • (DATE) Methodology
    • (DATE) Results/Conclusions
    • First Draft of final Paper
    • Second Draft of final Paper
    • Third Draft of final Paper
    • (DATE) Final Research Paper
    • Three (3) abstracts for publication unless restricted

Benefits of Being a Faculty Mentor

Most importantly, it is hoped that the greatest benefit is a deep sense of satisfaction from the relationship. Other benefits include:

  • Access to McNair students, providing potential graduate pool.
  • Service to The University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Impact the future course of academia by increasing the number of first-generation, low-income, and/or underrepresented students who complete post baccalaureate degrees

Qualifications for Becoming a Faculty Mentor

McNair faculty mentors are tenure-track faculty who:

  • possess a terminal degree in the appropriate discipline
  • have ongoing research or demonstrated research capability of high academic quality
  • are recommended by the academic department chair or dean
  • demonstrate interest in working with low-income, first-generation college students, particularly Native American, Hispanic, or African American

The Ideal Faculty Mentor:

  • Is supportive of the student’s pursuit of graduate/professional education.
  • Inspires the student researcher to reach new academic heights and goals.
  • Provides opportunities for the student researcher to develop valuable research skills.
  • Treats the student as a full-time member of a research team, if he/she has one, complete with responsibilities and privileges.
  • Keeps the student “on track.” The student is responsible for committing up to 15 hours per week on the research project. The student should be held accountable for his/her time and quality of effort.
  • Reports any needs or concerns regarding either the student or the research process to the program director.
  • Makes arrangements to have a responsible colleague act as a proxy mentor to the student researcher if he or she is unavailable for more than one week.
  • Provides an open learning environment in which the student feels comfortable in approaching and asking the mentor questions.
  • Has a healthy belief in the intents of the McNair undergraduate research opportunity program.
  • Shares information about graduate programs in the research field and encourages the student to pursue graduate studies.