Baylor’s McNair Scholars Garner Prestigious Grad School Placements, National Recognition

The McNair Scholars Program prepares low-income, first-generation and other underrepresented students to successfully navigate the path to a Ph.D.  

May 6, 2024
2024 McNair Scholars

Baylor University's 2024 McNair Scholars celebrated their present - and future - success at a senior ceremony and the induction of new McNair Scholars. (Photo courtesy of Steven Fernandez)

Contact: Shelby Cefaratti-Bertin, Baylor University Media & Public Relations, 254-327-8012  
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WACO, Texas (May 6, 2024) – The 2024 graduating class of Baylor University's McNair Scholars Program is set to soar as students continue on to prestigious graduate programs and national and international fellowships.  

The McNair Scholars Program is inspired by its namesake, the late Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who persevered through the educational challenges of segregation to become the first in his family to attend college, graduating with his Ph.D. in laser physics and later becoming NASA astronaut. The McNair program prepares undergraduate students, specifically from low-income, first-generation and other underrepresented backgrounds, to acquire the knowledge and skills required to successfully navigate a path to a Ph.D. program. At Baylor, McNair Scholars are mentored by Baylor faculty and immersed in research and other scholarly activities.  

“It can be really challenging navigating college as the first in your family to do so and you often feel alone – like you don’t belong,” said Steven Fernandez, director of Student Opportunity and Achievement Resources (SOAR), including the McNair Scholars Program. “This program means the world to us and gives us the opportunity to empower already amazing students who might lack self-confidence or knowledge of resources to reach their full potential.” 

McNair placement and fellowships  

The McNair Scholars Program has had a year of incredible success from distinguished graduate school acceptances to several fellowships and national awards.   

This year’s graduate program acceptances for Baylor McNair Scholars include: Auburn, Baylor, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Florida State, Harvard, MD Anderson, Northwestern, Ohio State, Ohio University, Rice, Springfield University, Saint Louis University, Texas State, Texas Tech, University of Massachusetts, University of Florida, University of North Texas, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh, University of Texas, Vanderbilt, Washington State and Washington University in St. Louis.  

“The McNair Scholars program has had tremendous success over the past few years and has had students accepted into several prestigious graduate programs every year since its start in 2017,” Fernandez said. “We are excited to continue to provide students with the resources and support to empower them to pursue their highest academic aspirations.”  

In addition to graduate program placements, Baylor McNair Scholars have been awarded prestigious awards and fellowships, including Heavenlei Thomas who received the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship, Auldynn Chambers who received the GEM Fellowship and Jennifer de la Fuente and Genesis Santos who are Fulbright Scholars.  

McNair research opportunities 

Among the many benefits of being a McNair Scholar are research and scholarly opportunities at Baylor and across the country, seminars and other educational activities for doctoral studies, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) preparation, graduate school application assistance and mentoring from faculty. Baylor’s McNair faculty mentors work with students on independent research projects and assist students in GRE preparation. 

Each year, Baylor is a host institution for McNair Scholars from across the nation, who are invited to campus to participate in the annual McNair Scholars Research Conference Aug. 1-2, 2024. The conference provides opportunities for undergraduate attendees, both McNair and non-McNair students, to present faculty-mentored research, participate in professional development and networking and engage with some of the nation’s top graduate schools.  

In 2017, Baylor received its first highly competitive grant for the McNair Scholars program, one of the federal TRIO programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The University’s five-year McNair Scholars grant was renewed in 2022. 

For more information about the Baylor McNair Scholars program and future events, visit the McNair Scholars website.  


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.  


The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is named for Dr. Ronald McNair, a laser physicist and NASA astronaut who was inspired to work hard and persevere in his studies by his family and by a teacher who recognized his scientific potential and believed in him. A graduate of North Carolina A&T State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McNair was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program in 1978. His first space shuttle mission launched successfully from Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 3, 1984, and he became the second African American to fly in space. Two years later, he was a mission specialist aboard the ill-fated U.S. Challenger space shuttle, which exploded one minute and 13 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. 

After his death, Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program to encourage low-income and first-generation college students and students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups to expand their educational opportunities by enrolling in a Ph.D. program and ultimately pursue an academic career. The program is dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by McNair’s life.