While an undergraduate student at UNL, Morgan Conley knew that she wanted to go to graduate school, though at the time she knew very little about the graduate school selection and application process. With the help of participating in the McNair Scholars Program, Morgan achieved her goal of being admitted to a top psychology graduate program at a leading research institution.
The Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, prepares select undergraduate students for graduate study at the doctoral level. It services first generation college students as well as those who are underrepresented in their respective disciplines, giving them the tools they need to successfully enter and thrive in graduate school. The main objectives of the program are to provide research experiences for student scholars and to create an outstanding support system for the students to realize their academic goals.
As a sophomore psychology major, Morgan was encouraged by a friend to apply to the McNair Scholars Program. Morgan knew that she wanted to attend graduate school and that the McNair Scholars Program could help her with that goal, but she did not foresee the other benefits of the program. Morgan says, "The amount of guidance and support I received through the McNair Scholars Program was invaluable. I have maintained a strong network of connections to the people I met through the program, and I encourage future scholars to take advantage of all of the resources made available to them through their cohort and their mentors. The tools you receive will undoubtedly help you do well on the GRE and complete outstanding graduate school applications. Besides the McNair faculty mentors, the graduate assistants within your specific department are wonderful people to work with as well."
Mentor relationships are a critical part of the McNair Scholars Program. Students are paired with former McNair Scholar graduate student mentors and participate in summer research projects with faculty members in their discipline. Morgan's graduate student mentor, who was also a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, was a true role model for her. "She helped me conduct a research project, constantly challenged me, and encouraged me to present at a special conference in Philadelphia. She was such a crucial part of my academic experience and really showed me what it means to be a graduate student." Morgan's faculty mentor, a professor in the psychology department, was always professional and "straight-to-the-point," which impacted Morgan's academic experience and prepared her for graduate study.
Through conducting a research project with her faculty mentor, Morgan gained an understanding of how to develop a research design and analyze research findings. Morgan was then able to present her work at the national McNair Scholars Symposium, which takes places annually in California. She is forever appreciative of the knowledge her mentor impressed upon on her. "I had a very good relationship with my faculty mentor. She always pushed to be the best I could be, taught me how to write a monster of a paper and properly create a poster for presentations, and she helped me out with connections she had at schools when I was applying for graduate programs. Through her, I was able to figure out the right questions to ask myself in preparing for my future graduate career. She definitely assisted me in getting into graduate school."
The UNL McNair Scholars Program also provides its scholars with academic opportunities outside of the university's community, such as traveling to and presenting at research conferences. Morgan was sponsored by the program to attend a conference on diversity for faculty in Washington, D.C. When she was accepted into graduate school at UNL, she was granted an assistantship in the psychology department. She credits these opportunities to the McNair Scholars Program and believes she may have not had the chance to attend a conference or receive an assistantship without the program.
Morgan decided to continue her graduate study at UNL because she felt the program was the right fit for her. "I knew the counseling psychology program here is one of the best. The graduate program also has a strong multicultural aspect to it, which is very warm and welcoming for me since it is something I have always been interested in. It is a great program. From it, my eyes have been opened to a lot." Morgan's professional goal is to either become a faculty member at a research university or go into private practice. Community aspects in psychology are her primary interest, and in whichever path she chooses, she knows she will continue to incorporate community and diversity aspects into her career.
Morgan has a lot of gratitude for the McNair Scholars Program, and she encourages others considering graduate school to consider the program since it helped her determine and secure her future. "The McNair Scholars program boosted my confidence and prepared me for graduate school. The program is rigorous, hard, and complex, but it teaches you to be a good person, how to take care of yourself while being academically challenged, and to cultivate your personal educational interests."