A Message from the Excel! Research Scholars Program Director

Cynthia J. Fraction

When I first learned that the University of St. Thomas McNair Scholars Program had not been refunded for a second grant cycle, I was deeply saddened.  Our loss was not owing to a poorly written grant, because we had the best grant writer on it.  Our loss was due to .32 of a point out of the 112 points needed for funding; a fraction of point (no pun intended).  The federal government had made significant changes to the overall TRiO organization, heavily impacting “young” McNair Scholars programs and leaving 40% or more colleges and universities around the country without their grants. Many programs that were doing exceptionally great things lost their funding by a fraction of a point largely owing to a flawed grant evaluation system in the federal grant competition.  

Why was the McNair Scholars Program important to me?  When I was in college as an undergraduate student, the McNair Scholars Program was just being introduced nationally.  Needless to say, I knew nothing about it, and the thought of earning an advanced degree was foreign to me.  I was told to complete a baccalaureate degree and get a job.   At that time, a bachelor degree was enough to get my foot in the door and allow one to maneuver around just enough to be comfortable.   “Minority” and “affirmative action” were the buzz words then.   Businesses were required to diversify with more racial minorities and to ensure that they did affirmative action to police their commitments, actions and quotas.   Many people were employed, and we were grateful to have jobs, but many of us didn’t have careers.   What we had were bachelor’s degrees that got our feet in the door.   And while that was okay then, for many today it’s not enough to get invited to the door let alone to be invited to walk through it.

To lose the McNair Scholars Program, to me, meant losing the opportunity for so many deserving young people to pursue a career rather than a job.   I am often perplexed at how many students still believe that after completing a baccalaureate degree they are going immediately to find a career job. In this economy, we are glad to have one or the other but arguably career and job are two very different things.

President Obama once stated, "In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity--it is a prerequisite!”   Buzz words and descriptors are no longer opening doors, for when a door opens if you don’t have the knowledge to interpret how to use your skill in moving forward, your education or preparation might be flawed or deficient.   The country has endless numbers of students who are first-generation college students representing all walks of life who have not been exposed to the knowledge their counter parts have about manuevering the pathway of opportunity that leads to success.   Some students are still banking on the buzz words only to find out that all that buzz is what you know and the skills that you have to put knowledge into action.   It is no longer about what you can talk about, but what you produce in the end.   

The Excel! Research Scholars Program is a new door opened to students who are first-generation college students based on the hard work, success, and pathways created by many successful McNair Scholars, outstanding committed and dedicated program staff, and committed educators here at UST.   Students demonstrated success from their hard work and determination.   We are blessed to have this opportunity, for many McNair Programs at other schools had to close their doors and turn off their lights.

As we turn the page, let us remember those who made Excel! possible, those who lost the McNair race and no longer have such a program, and the work that we must do to keep this pathway to opportunity going. “Results, no excuses!”

Ms. Cynthia Fraction, Director of the Excel! Scholars Program