Saturday, January 21, 2012

A McNair Scholar on The Road

Being a McNair Scholar is something that has been a huge part of my life the past couple years. describes the program as:

Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program:
The McNair Scholars Program is a federal TRIO program funded at 194 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education. It is 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. The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.

But for me, it has been so much more than that. It has been a program that has given me support to push myself academically with like-minded students and faculty who have become family. Before I came to study at TU Dortmund I completed a McNair Summer Research Internship and used my grant money to travel to Munich, Spain, and France. I also used it for grocery money and cellphone bill money until my scholarship with the Global Scholars Foundation came through in November! And so when I was asked to write an article for the TRIO newsletter on being a McNair scholar and studying in Germany, it was the least I could do for a program that has given so much to me. I encourage anyone who is an undegrraduate to look into applying (I can't promise you it will be as fun as the McNair Scholar program at the University of Montevallo though).:)

Here's a photo of me with the McNair Scholars who started the same time I did at the SAEOPP McNair  Research conference in Atlanta last summer:

And here is what I wrote on being a McNair scholar on the road:

My name is Mercedes Jones and I am a McNair Scholar and art major at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Alabama and am now studying art in Dortmund, Germany at TU Dortmund. Being accepted into the McNair program was an honor that has since affected my life both academically, professionally, and personally in more ways that I could have imagined since turning in that application and sitting down for my interview with Dr. Tracy Payne and Ms. Tonya Giddens. 
I completed my McNair Summer Research Internship art installation and research project titled “Being Multiracial in America” in the summer of 2011. This project pushed me further than I have ever pushed myself. We learned together that you get out of something what you put into it, and were putting into practice valuable lessons we had learned from seminars all year long and through practicing at conferences. I learned strength and self confidence in my capability to be a scholar and research what I love through unending support and guidance from the other McNair Scholars, McNair staff, and my faculty mentor Dr. Kelly Wacker. And when I say unending it is not a figure of speech! At one point when I was installing my project in the gallery I needed a staple gun. It was 1 am and my faculty mentor came to campus to give me a staple gun so I could keep working. And at any given point, I think every McNair scholar has showed up in the McNair office distressed or on the verge of tears and we knew that was a place we could go to calm down, get advice, regroup, and pick up a snack before we got back to work. Pushing myself to these lengths and completing a successful project gave me confidence that I have applied in so many ways since moving to Germany. 
After completing my project, I used a majority of the grant money to fund traveling to Munich, Paris, and Barcelona before I got to Dortmund to study. As an art major, seeing the contents of my art history textbook up on a wall two feet away from me was definitely a surreal experience. Having that extra funding gave me the ability to not only read about the importance of The Louvre Museum, but to walk it’s halls and experience the history myself. I marveled at the gothic architecture of the Notre Dame and was overwhelmed by how beautiful it was. I climbed the steps of many of Gaudi’s most famous architectural works in Barcelona, and walked the Japanese bridge in Monet’s gardens while watching the reflections in the water lily pond change from morning to noon. After seeing one of Monet’s water lily paintings at 5 years old I remember pointing to the book saying “Mommy, I want to go there” so being able to go was a dream come true. I could have done none of this without the funding from my McNair Research Summer Internship.
And the scope of my long lasting benefit from being a McNair scholar is by no means just monetary. When faced with difficult situations, I now more than ever have the self confidence in my intellectual ability and strength to say “Yes, I can do that.”I took that lesson as well as how to behave in a professional and academic environment to go on a job interview and get employed as an English tutor at a local college here in Germany. I also am in a constantly changing and new environment since I am living and studying in an unknown country where I do not know the language. As a McNair scholar we are constantly told to work as hard as we can, but to be ready for change and to adapt accordingly. That is probably the best advice to anyone participating in a study abroad program, or for life in general. The lesson we learn as McNair Scholars isn’t that we wouldn’t be afraid of our summer research project, or the GRE, or graduate school. And it was never promised that it wouldn’t be difficult. The lesson was that we are scholars, and capable. We are taught repeatedly in many ways as a McNair Scholar that plans may change or situations may be unfamiliar but prepare and educate yourself using all your previous experiences, resources and mentors. 
Studying abroad, being a McNair scholar is still a large part of my life. Living in Germany and traveling has given a new dimension to my on-going studio project that was the result of my McNair Summer Research Internship. This project included me internalizing and questioning the role of race and multiracial identity in myself in the context of American cultural history and my community and translating that into an audiovisual art installation. I have added a new element to this project by experiencing race relations in Germany and the other countries I visit. And an added benefit of taking this time to be an exchange student in Dortmund is that I have time to take the tools I have learned through McNair and re-examine graduate school programs in art history, museum studies and studio art and see where I will apply when I return to America. 
These experiences and travels have been vital to my academic career and personal development. Much like when I started the McNair program, I cannot imagine how many ways this year in Germany will affect the rest of life. I feel the hard earned title “McNair Scholar” is one that I am proud to have, and proud to share with so many hardworking intelligent people past and present. 

 I Love you guys!

More About the program:
The McNair Program at the University of Montevallo:

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