McNair Scholars - One Step at a Time Toward Grad School

jasonhoki.jpgSonoma State student Stephanie Parreira has been passionate about helping the environment since high school. "This is what I want to do with my life so I came in declared as a freshman in environmental studies," she says. "I like being outdoors and it gives me an opportunity to do things that are good for the environment and do what I love."

As a fifth year student, Parreira's journey at SSU will soon be coming to a close, but her educational career is long from over. She and a number of other students have been working to perfect their graduate school applications, raise Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) scores, build relationships and conduct research through the NoGAP/McNair Scholars program.

"McNair is a federally funded TRiO program and its purpose is to help students who are underrepresented in graduate school, prepare for and get accepted into graduate programs," NoGAP Director Daniel Smith says. "The people who belong in that group are low income and first generation college students of any ethnicity. African-Americans, Latino/a, Native American or Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian."

The McNair Scholars program was recently funded for five more years for a total amount of 1.1 million dollars. "This is a pretty big deal considering that roughly 1/3 of McNair Scholars programs across the country, and as many as half of the programs in California, lost funding this year," Smith says.

McNair Scholars are provided with various services to aid them in the rigorous process of applying to graduate programs. Workshops are held for students crafting a winning statement of purpose, how to receive strong letters of recommendation, GRE preparation courses and the students receive individualized guidance.

The program accepts 27 students at a time, and each student is paired with a faculty mentor in their field. "I would say that the feeling that I've gotten from faculty has been overwhelmingly positive," Smith says. "They have actually really liked it and I think they view it probably as an opportunity for them too, to work with a student who is really motivated and really deserving of the extra support." Faculty mentors help McNair Scholars conduct undergraduate research as well.

Before transitioning to living on campus, Parreira lived at home in Petaluma and commuted to school. She wanted to keep her grades up, but sharing a single home computer with three siblings made it difficult to complete her assignments, "but when I moved to Sonoma, things got a lot easier because I could just focus on what I needed," Parreira said. The McNair program loaned her a computer so she could finish her assignments, which she said has been a great help with her education.

Currently, Parreira is applying to Ph.D. programs at UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, Oregon State, and UC Berkeley. She plans to continue doing research and eventually wants to become an environmental studies professor. She realizes that applying straight to a Ph.D. program is going to have its challenges. "I know that the workload is going to be really intense but I think that I can handle it," she says.

Senior Jason Hoki came to SSU after attending the University of British Columbia (UBC) where he studied nutrition, but found that he was apathetic about the subject and left UBC. In order to discover his true passion, he took classes at Santa Rosa Junior College where he rediscovered a love for chemistry, and made that his primary focus at when he transferred to SSU.

Also a McNair Scholar, Hoki appreciates the help that the program has given him. "This whole applying to grad school thing, its pretty much like taking another class," Hoki said. "Only the stakes are higher than just grades or whatever, if you're not motivated to do this stuff, you can get behind really quickly and then its really stressful to put all your stuff together."

Hoki remains organized and has a binder dedicated to his graduate school applications. He makes an effort to stay in the labs on campus as long and possible and does research under chemistry Professor Jon Fukuto. Hoki is applying to several schools including Johns Hopkins, Cornell, UC Davis, University of Washington and has even been exploring possibilities in Europe.

Smith believes that Hoki and Parreira are both whom the program is hoping to serve. "I feel very optimistic about what's going to be happening for them this coming spring when they start getting acceptance letters," he says. "I think they're both going to get into good schools and they're both going to go on and do good things."

To learn more about the NoGap/McNair Scholars program contact Daniel Smith at

- Sarah Dowling

Above, Jason Hoki in chemistry lab.

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