MEM Junior Prepares for Grad School as a McNair Scholar

Each year, highly motivated UConn undergraduate students can participate in two opportunities within a special program, called The McNair Scholars Program. This program prepares students for graduate studies in science, technology, engineering and math. One program is a fall semester research apprenticeship for students to apply for during their 1st or 2nd year and participate the following fall, and the other is a lengthier program for 2nd and 3rd year students to apply for to evolve into independent researchers and be immersed, year-round, in graduate school preparation including a 2 month fully-funded summer component.

As part of UConn’s TRIO programs, both McNair opportunities are open to low-income, first-generation college students or those from populations underrepresented in STEM graduate fields who are seeking to pursue a graduate degree, such as M.S. or Ph.D.

Interested students apply to the program at two different parts of the year; for 1st and 2nd year students interested in the apprenticeship, applications are due each February, and for 2nd and 3rd year students interested in the robust, full McNair Scholar experience, applications are due each October.  When they are accepted, the McNair Scholars are paired with faculty mentors for academic enrichment, research, and internships.

Joshua Hoang, UConn MEM Class of 2023 was accepted as a McNair Fellow apprentice for this fall and is currently working on a research project with Dr. Calvert in the School of Business.

“I heard about it through an email and wanted some kind of experience [to start on] that summer,” Hoang said. “I hadn’t gotten an internship and had heard getting research experience could be good as well.” While at first Hoang was just trying to strengthen his resume, he found he really learned a lot, gained some important research experience and is now considering graduate school.

“This program is really geared to prepare students for graduate school, or to help students decide if grad school might be a fit for them,” he said. “I hadn’t really considered grad school before, but I definitely am considering it now.”

Hoang is working with Dr. Craig Calvert on a project to model the supply chain of cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Cobalt from there is used in cell phones and electric cars, so if we didn’t have cobalt there would be a lot of things we would not have that we use every day,” Hoang explained.

He went on to explain that he has been learning a little Monte Carlo simulation, as well as some Python on the side, due to the coding elements and the nature of the research. He also said he had the chance to do a little bit of analytics and apply some of what he has learned in classes.

McNair Scholars and Fellows also participate in workshops and seminars led by Program Coordinator, Dr. Renee Gilberti, McNair alumni, and graduate students to also have as additional mentors, and conferences designed to help them secure admission to doctoral programs and obtain financial resources for graduate study.

“The biggest takeaway for me, was having the chance to learn how to write a scientific paper, like a research paper, how to format it… I had no experience at all going into this, and it was overwhelming at first, but [Dr. Calvert] walked me through it,” Hoang said. During the course the McNair Fellow apprentices take together for the fall semester, the students also learn step-by-step how to build a research paper, become critical thinkers, seek summer internships, and about applying to be McNair Scholars.

Hoang recommends this program to anyone considering grad school even a little bit. While it is an unpaid, one-semester commitment as an apprentice, students have the option to reapply for a longer duration as a Scholar and gain even more experience and training to be a competitive grad school applicant.

“Beyond the research, it was great to also just be able to ask Dr. Calvert questions about my career and education. He really goes out of his way to be helpful, and I am sure all the mentors are that way.”

Should You Apply?

If you are among the first generation in your family to attend a 4-year college AND meet the low-income guidelines on the application chart based on your family size (regardless of your racial or ethnic identity), and/or self-identify as an underrepresented racial or ethnic group as listed on the application, you are eligible for McNair opportunities.

This fall 2021 semester, the McNair program is recruiting 2nd and 3rd year students wanting to pursue undergraduate research in a STEM discipline who are curious to learn more about graduate school preparation and career options to be a McNair Scholars.

Benefits of the program include conducting research during the academic semesters with an optional, fully-funded summer program under the guidance of a faculty mentor; opportunities to present and publish; assistance with the graduate school application process; professional conferences; workshops and courses to prepare students for graduate study, and a close mentoring experience with the McNair Scholars Program Coordinator and a faculty advisor.

Applications must be submitted by Thursday, October 14 before 12 noon, and two recommendations are due by October 21.

To apply, applicants should click on the SCHOLAR button on the linked application, and then also promptly email Dr. Renee at to state your intention to apply and coordinate a virtual interview session. Note, if you are a 1st or 2nd year student, applications for the fall 2022 semester STEM McNair apprenticeship will open in January 2022. For more information, contact Dr. Renee Gilberti.