McNair scholars to discuss BIPOC representation in scholarship in We Are One talk

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Courtesy West Texas A&M University

CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – According to West Texas A&M University, four West Texas A&M University scholars will discuss Dr. Ronald E. McNair and how his legacy impacts their lives as people of color in the latest in a spring series of diversity discussions.

McNair scholars Lyanna De Leon, Yanai Otero La Porte, Gabriel Martinez and Valeria Porras-Viezcas will speak at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Student Senate chamber in the Jack B. Kelley Student Center and on Zoom. The speech is part of WT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s We Are One Talks.

In addition to speaking on their individual research projects, the students intend to set an example as McNair Scholars, said Victoria Salas, assistant director of the McNair Scholars program.

“There are simply not enough Black, indigenous and people of color (or BIPOC) in research fields, or programs like McNair Scholars would not need to exist,” Salas said. “Students do not often see themselves reflected in STEM fields or most majors in social sciences. There are many stories of professionals of color who are speakers at a conference and are mistaken by their white counterparts as waitstaff. The stereotypes of what jobs a person of color can have need to be corrected and eliminated so that students will one day see people who look like them in the fields they wish to pursue.

“Our namesake, Dr. Ronald McNair, did not see limits on his dreams of being an astronaut,” Salas said. “Growing up during segregation, he was not deterred, and his hard work and perseverance lead him to be a successful researcher and scientist.”

The McNair Scholars is a federal TRIO program funded by the U.S. Department of Education designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential.

De Leon, a senior biology major from Amarillo, said she hopes to pave the way for others.

“Showcasing my research as a McNair scholar not only allows other women of color but also other BIPOC scientists like myself to see that we are just as capable of obtaining a scientific platform in STEM fields,” said De Leon, who is studying household and allergenic fungi in the Texas Panhandle.

Martinez, a junior history major from Hereford, will discuss Mexican migration in the 1980s. La Porte, a senior psychology major from Killeen, will speak on how COVID-19 has affected organizational support and employee morale. And Porras-Viezcas, a senior sports and exercise science major from Texhoma, Okla., will examine barriers present on college campuses for students with physical disabilities.

“The McNair scholars are a prime example of our goal to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the STEM programs,” said Angela Allen, WT’s chief officer of diversity and inclusion. “Not only do our students from diverse populations have the opportunity do research and scholarly activities, McNair introduces eligible students to opportunities to prepare for doctoral studies an area that needs more students from diverse populations.”

Upcoming We Are One events will include:

  • March 23: “Diversity in Journalism,” featuring Dr. Nancy Garcia, assistant professor of media communication and faculty advisor for The Prairie
  • April 27: “Diversity and Reducing Information Asymmetry in Academic Success,” featuring Dr. John Francois, assistant professor of economics, and the Donald W. Hodges Professor of Business

Each lecture begins at 12:30 p.m. and will include Zoom options. All are free and open to the public.

The McNair Scholars program is named for Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who was killed in the Challenger mission on Jan. 28, 1986. McNair was the second African American to fly in space. He began his career with NASA in 1978, flying his first space shuttle mission in 1984. After McNair’s death, Congress provided funding program, dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by Dr. McNair’s life.

Over the course of the program’s 21-year history at WT, the college reported that 70 percent of McNair scholars enter graduate school directly after graduation, 81 students have completed a master’s degree (41 of them at WT), and 18 scholars have completed a doctoral or professional degree.

The We Are One talks are said to be in line with the University’s mission of creating a diverse and inclusive student body, as outlined in WT’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.


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