About the McNair Scholars Program

Ronald E. McNair, an African-American engineer, scientist and challenger astronaut, was born on October 12, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. McNair was the son of an auto mechanic. His perseverance in the face of poverty and prejudice led him to successful completion of his bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, in Physics from North Carolina A & T State University in 1971. Five years later he earned a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. McNair was nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics and received many honorary degrees, fellowships and commendations. His achievements were not limited to academia. He was a sixth degree black belt in karate and was an accomplished saxophonist. Dr. McNair and his wife, Cheryl Moore, had two children, Reginald and Joy.

In 1978, Dr. McNair was selected for the NASA space program and was the second African American to fly in space. His life ended tragically on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger space shuttle exploded and crashed into the ocean, taking the lives of six other astronauts. The National McNair Programs are built on the assumption that exceptional individuals from low-income backgrounds who would make excellent university professors may not be easily identified. In some cases, inadequate academic preparation in secondary school or a rough transition to college work may result in these students giving up on sciences or having their potential unrecognized. The UST McNair Scholars Program was funded from 2008-2012 and was dedicated to preserving his legacy of scholarship and accomplishments. The Excel! Research Scholars Program continues to support existing McNair Scholars as they seek admission to graduate programs.