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UW Profiles

McNair Scholars Program


The McNair Scholars Program at the University of Wyoming does so much more than provide services, support and research opportunities for students from groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education.

The program, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, helps turn dreams into reality.

"Before I came here, I was teaching junior high students and I loved that job. I really loved that job," says Zackie Salmon, director of the UW program since 2000. "I thought there would never be a more rewarding job.

"But when I got involved with the McNair Scholars Program, I liked it more than teaching," she says. "It is just so fulfilling to play a role in helping students who think they can't realize that they absolutely can."

The UW McNair Scholars Program -- under the guidance of Salmon and Susan Stoddard, the assistant director who has worked with nearly all of the 359 students who have climbed three flights of stairs in Knight Hall to seek help since the program's inception -- is part of a nationwide system that provides graduate school preparation to limited-income and minority students who are the first generation in their families to complete a bachelor's degree.

Established in 1986 and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program has grown to include 201 universities across the country. The program's services include, among other things, GRE preparation, academic support and tutoring, financial aid advice, funded research opportunities and graduate school application assistance.

The results at UW have been remarkable. The program boasts 23 former students who have successfully earned a Ph.D., one of the highest totals of any McNair program in the U.S., as well as a 90-percent completion rate among students who have entered a Ph.D. program and an 85-percent acceptance rate among students who have applied to graduate school.

Also, 96 percent of UW McNair scholars have earned a bachelor's degree.

"I don't think all McNair programs are like ours. In fact, I think most of them are nothing like ours," says Salmon. "We take a very holistic approach and I think that's why we're one of the top programs in the country. It's more than just academics. If we just focused on the academics of each student, I believe our success rate would only be about half as high.

"We work with a lot of students who have not led easy lives. They have been in hard situations for a lot of their lives. They have survived poverty. They have survived prejudice," she says. "We may not know that at first, but we create an environment where students can let it out and get the support and encouragement they need to pursue their dreams."

The McNair program, which also contributes to UW's mission of exposing students to the frontiers of scholarship and increasing interactions among students, faculty and staff, works annually with 32 students.

The application deadline for the 2011-12 academic year is March 30.

"This program not only changes the life of the student but changes the lives of future generations," says Stoddard, whose first assignment upon her hiring in April 1993 was to contact every UW faculty member, inform them about the creation of the program and ask for help in filling the initial student cohort. "It truly changes families."

For more information or to apply, call Stoddard at (307) 766-6525 or email

Homepage photo: Caskey Russell, professor in English and American Indian Studies, works with McNair Scholar student Melvin Arthur

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Melvin Arthur

McNair Scholar Melvin Arthur is majoring in Social Work and American Indian Studies.
McNair Scholar Melvin Arthur is majoring in Social Work and American Indian Studies. "I researched the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone Tribes located in Wyoming. The study focused on tribal relations and land boundaries.”

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