Alumni Achieving Graduate School Dreams: Celebrating 25 Years of the McNair Scholars Program at John Jay

Alumni Achieving Graduate School Dreams: Celebrating 25 Years of the McNair Scholars Program at John Jay

This year, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program is celebrating its 25th year at John Jay College. Allura Casanova, who graduated from John Jay in 2016 with a major in Forensic Psychology and Global History, and is now completing a joint PhD in Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, may not have ever considered pursuing her doctorate without the help of McNair.

“I’m a first generation college student,” said Casanova. “Before the McNair program, I didn’t know what graduate school could mean for me.”

Tannuja Rozario, who graduated from John Jay in 2016 with a major in Law and Society, and is currently pursuing her PhD in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, agrees that the program opened her eyes to what was possible.

“The McNair program pushed me beyond what I thought my limits were,” said Rozario.

The objective of the McNair Scholars Program is to encourage low-income and first generation students to pursue graduate study. As part of the program, students have the opportunity to work with a faculty mentor on a two year research project, receive graduate school admission guidance including GRE preparation, and attend several workshops and activities to learn the personal and professional skills needed to succeed in graduate school.

“McNair gave us tools we wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” said Casanova.

One of the most important tools that McNair equips students with is the ability to conduct research—a skill that can seem daunting to undergraduate students.

“I knew I wanted to conduct research projects when I came to John Jay, but I felt so overwhelmed at first,” said Rozario. “I applied to the McNair program, and my mentor who guided me through my research paper also guided me through my two years in the program and beyond.”

“I began working in Professor Daryl Wout’s lab, and he encouraged me to apply for McNair,” said Casanova. “Under his mentorship, I learned what my own research interests were.”

The program is also committed to eliminating financial barriers to applying for graduate school, which is important for McNair Scholars, many of whom chose John Jay specifically because of its affordability.

“John Jay is low cost, but I had to pay out of pocket for my education,” said Casanova. “The application fees and costs related to the GRE wouldn’t have been possible without McNair’s help.”

But the program offers more than academic and financial support—it also prepares students for unexpected social challenges they may face in their graduate programs, many of which require students to travel out-of-state and out of their comfort zones.

“Transitioning from New York to Massachusetts was not easy,” said Rozario. “But it is such a great experience.”

Casanova agrees. “Michigan is not as diverse as John Jay,” she said. “But the McNair program helped me adjust to a place where faculty and mentors have a different racial and socioeconomic background than mine.”

Both Rozario and Casanova feel uniquely positioned for success in graduate school because of their experience at John Jay.

“John Jay was an unforgettable experience, and I am so grateful for the opportunities that I was provided with,” Rozario said.

“At John Jay, I knew that faculty members really cared about me,” said Casanova. “Dr. Ernest Lee still reaches out to see how I’m doing.”

It is partly because of her positive experience at John Jay that Casanova is so enthusiastically pursuing her PhD.

“This may sound cheesy,” she said, “but my goal is to become a professor because I want to be the same mentor for young scholars that my mentor was for me.”