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TRIO McNair Scholars Program selects diverse group of undergraduates for 2017 research cohort

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

LAWRENCE — Selected from a large pool of applicants, the TRIO McNair Scholars Program’s 2017 research cohort assembles 18 high-achieving University of Kansas undergraduate students who aspire to join America’s next generation of university professors, researchers and professionals.

The McNair Scholars Program, established at KU in 1992, is part of the Achievement & Assessment Institute’s (AAI) Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP) and provides low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority students with the necessary skills, resources and support to prepare and earn placement in graduate programs to pursue doctoral degrees. Fields of study represented in the new group include education, biology, neuroscience, political science, psychology, community health, medical chemistry, accessibility, African African-American studies, women’s/gender/sexuality studies, environmental science and theatre. Six of the 18 scholars have previously been active in another KU TRIO program, TRIO Supportive Educational Services.

“KU students who qualify for the TRIO McNair Scholars Program have strong research potential. Their academic and research interests are greatly influenced by their personal narrative, and a commitment to create new legacies for their communities,” said Program Director Mulu Negash.

McNair Scholars receive paid research opportunities, faculty mentors, a GRE preparation course, tutoring, and assistance with graduate school applications. Scholars begin their work by taking an interdisciplinary-research-method course facilitated by Achievement & Assessment Institute Director Neal Kingston and his colleagues. During the course, students design independent-research proposals that they begin work on during the summer.

During their research, McNair Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to:

  • Identify and read literature in their research areas,
  • Refine research methods and academic writing skills,
  • Learn about the nature and rigors of research along with the multiple professional pathways for doctoral holders, and
  • Build professional networks with scholars in their fields.

“We are happy to welcome our newest cohort of scholars into the program,” said Academic Services Coordinator Jameelah Jones. “As higher education becomes more aware of the need for inclusive campuses, our scholars are conducting research at a time when it is most important to share a diverse range of perspectives on scholarly topics.”

The 2017 McNair Scholars:

  • Jacob Arvidson, West Palm Beach, Florida, senior. Arvidson is majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. His research interests include medical chemistry and development of new medications.
  • Rachel Atakpa, Wichita sophomore. Atakpa is an English major, minoring in Spanish. She is interested in researching body politics, space and accessibility.
  • Christian Boudreaux, Rose Hill junior. Boudreaux is majoring in theatre performance and creative writing. His research interests include social change through contemporary playwriting.
  • Benjamin Lee Brown, Overland Park sophomore. Brown is majoring in secondary English education and is interested in researching diversity in education and approaches in style and method for both teaching and learning.
  • Constanza Castro Zuñiga, Santiago, Chile, sophomore. Castro Zuñiga is a political science major. Her research interests include looking at the influence and efficacy of constituents on legislative agendas.
  • Veronica Heredia, Galveston, Texas, junior. Heredia is a psychology major with several research interests including multiculturalism, LBGTQIA+ communities and the sentiments towards their relationships, as well as examining families and their access to education.
  • Rose-Bertine Mercier, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, senior. Mercier is majoring in community health and interested in increasing accessibility of mental health services for underrepresented groups through improving policy and programming.
  • Katherin Morales, Flagstaff, Arizona, senior. Morales is majoring in behavioral neuroscience and psychology. She is interested in continuing ongoing research in T. Chris Gamblin’s lab at KU.
  • Emma Murrugarra, Fort Riley senior . Murrugarra is majoring in biology with a minor in psychology. She is interested in further research on the topics of empathic experiences through novels and menstrual dysregulation.
  • Natacha Namphengsone, Winfield sophomore. Namphengsone is a sophomore majoring in biology interested in studying photoreceptors.
  • Emily Reno, Lawrence junior. Reno is majoring in environmental studies and Spanish. She is particularly interested in studying sustainability.
  • Quaram Robinson, Albuquerque, New Mexico, junior. Robinson is majoring in African African-American studies. She is interested in research topics which include environmental racism, sustainable practices and Somalian piracy.
  • Melissa Saldaña-Fuentes, Garden City junior. Saldaña-Fuentes is a psychology, women & gender studies double major. She is interested in studying human trafficking or machismo and the Latino trajectory in academia.
  • Niki Salehian, Santa Monica, California, senior. Salehian is majoring in psychology. Salehian is interested in researching post traumatic stress disorder, learned helplessness and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Consuelo Sobalvarro, Garden City sophomore. Sobalvarro is a math major. She is interested in exploring the intersections of math and psychology.
  • Aubrie Stricker, Overland Park sophomore . Striker is majoring in biology and minoring in psychology. She is interested in health and biomedical research, including neurology and the development of the nervous system. 
  • Alyssa Vasquez, Odessa, Texas, junior. Vasquez is a history major interested in researching William F. Buckley Jr. and military history.
  • Kareem Wall, North Charleston, South Carolina, junior. Wall is majoring in secondary English education. He is interested in researching education curriculum construction through a literary lens.

The 2017 Rising Scholars: The Rising Scholars initiative prepares promising students for summer research internships the next academic year. Students in the rising scholars will receive coaching to engage with research in their departments and prepare for undergraduate research experiences at the university.

  • Savannah Adams, Topeka sophomore, microbiology
  • Tabitha Moore, Leavenworth junior, psychology
  • Giovana Silva, Lenexa junior, psychology


More on the program

The McNair Scholars Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the TRIO programs and was established at the University of Kansas in October 1992. It is one of 151 Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Programs nationwide. By preparing students for doctoral study from groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education, the program is designed to help ensure that the next generation of American faculty members represents the diversity of our society at large.