About Us and McNair

UALR’s McNair Scholars Program

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) was chosen in 1991 to host a Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. The program was established by the U.S. Department of Education under the Federal TRIO Programs and is federally funded. The program is named for astronaut and Challenger crew member Dr. Ronald E. McNair.

The objective of the program is to provide educational experiences that will prepare first-generation and low-income or historically underrepresented undergraduates for doctoral study. We also provide intensive support to Scholars for their application processes for external research opportunities and, more importantly, for application to graduate study in which they’ll enroll upon completion of their UALR bachelor’s degree. Scholar support includes, but is not limited to, GRE preparation and advising, tutoring, academic counseling, financial aid counseling and assistance with securing financial support for attending graduate school, advising regarding the process of admission into and successful completion of graduate school.

About Ronald E. McNair

Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986) — A Brief Biography
Edited and used with permission from University of Texas, Arlington’s McNair Scholars Program

Ronald Erwin McNair was born October 21, 1950, in the small community of Lake City, South Carolina. He was a studious child who began school at the age of four and at the age of nine successfully challenged the “whites-only” borrowing privileges at the local library. Ronald’s mother (a teacher) and father encouraged him and his brother, Carl, to set high academic standards.

McNair attended Carver High School where he played football and basketball, ran track and excelled at baseball. He also loved music and played both clarinet and saxophone. Valedictorian of his senior class, McNair applied to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where his brother was also admitted. Initially intending to major in music, McNair changed to physics after a counselor encouraged him to pursue a career in science. While a junior he was able to participate in a year-long exchange program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After graduating magna cum laude from North Carolina A & T in 1971, he began his graduate studies at MIT on a Ford Foundation Fellowship.

In 1976, McNair not only earned his Ph.D. in physics from MIT, but also married Cheryl Moore, whom he had earlier met at a church potluck supper. He then accepted a position with Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California, a site for advanced laser research. While at Hughes, McNair decided to apply to the space program after receiving a recruiting brochure from NASA. In 1978 he learned that he was one of thirty-five individuals accepted for training as a mission specialist (astronaut).

In 1984, McNair served as a crew-member aboard the space shuttle Challenger, where he was responsible for operation of the remote manipulator arm. Two years later, he was one of seven members selected for the second Challenger flight, scheduled for January 28, 1986. One goal of this mission was to release a satellite to photograph Halley’s Comet. Shortly into the flight, 73 seconds after take-off, the Challenger disappeared amid flames and dense smoke. The flight had gone terribly wrong; the shuttle plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean and of the seven crew members, there were no survivors of this tragic event in U.S. space history.

Dr. Ronald E. McNair lived a relatively brief, but active and meaningful life. He excelled as a student, a physicist, and an astronaut. He found satisfaction in his numerous interests and experienced the joys of family life with his wife and two children. Although only thirty-five at his death, he had already received considerable recognition, including various fellowships, several honorary doctorates, and numerous awards. His quest for excellence inspired the ambitious goals of the program created shortly after his death and that continues to honor his memory: the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program.