DENTON (UNT), Texas — When Justin Litvin enrolled in the University of North Texas, he declared a psychology major without knowing about many of the career opportunities in the field. He thought he’d become a Christian-based marriage and family counselor.
His career goals changed when he learned about the psychology research he could conduct as a UNT McNair Scholar, Litvin, a graduate of Northwest High School in Justin, now researches the stress of HIV-positive adults, their perceptions about their health, and their social support through UNT’s Center for Psychosocial Health.
Approximately 125 McNair Scholars like Litvin will give oral presentations of their original research at the 15th Annual Texas National McNair Scholars Research Conference at UNT Feb. 15-17 (Friday-Sunday).
McNair Scholars Programs, originally called Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Programs, are funded by the U.S. Department of Education at 200 universities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. UNT’s McNair program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this academic year and has served 246 students, including 31 this academic year.
McNair programs are designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral study through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Participants are either the first in their families to attend a college or university and have financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education. All students selected for the program must have demonstrated strong academic potential.
Seventy-five percent of past UNT McNair Scholars entered graduate programs — far above the 57 percent of graduates of all McNair Scholars Programs in the U.S. In addition, 20.3 percent of UNT’s past McNair Scholars received doctoral degrees, above the national doctoral degree attainment rate of 10.1 percent for the target population of all McNair programs.
UNT’s program has the scholars working on research every semester with their faculty mentors, while many other McNair programs provide students with research opportunities only during the summer. In addition, 100 percent of UNT’s scholars do research, compared to only 63 percent at McNair programs nationwide. UNT’s program also provides significant financial assistance for scholars to take a summer course on research techniques and attend professional conferences to present their research, and pays students with research fellowships.
Diana Elrod, UNT McNair program director, said the Texas National McNair Scholars Research Conference, the only one of its kind in the Southwest, provides a welcoming atmosphere to prepare for the scholars for presenting research at professional conferences.
“It also gives them a chance to network with their peers, whom they may see in graduate school,” she said.
Dr. Sylvester J. Gates, a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will be the conference’s keynote speaker at a banquet Feb. 16 (Saturday). A Regents Professor of physics at the University of Maryland-College Park, Gates is known for his work on superstring theory — an attempt to explain all of the particles and fundamental forces of nature in one theory by modeling them as vibrations of tiny supersymmetric strings — and two closely related areas, supersymmetry and supergravity. In December, he was one of 12 U.S. researchers to receive the National Medal of Science from the White House.
The author of “Superspace or 1001 Lessons in Supermmetry,” Gates has been featured extensively on PBS’ “NOVA,” most notably the 2003 series “The Elegant Universe” and 2011’s “The Fabric of the Cosmos.”
During his keynote address, Gates will discuss his life and career and “what it took for him to be successful — things that the scholars need to hear,” Elrod said. Gates also attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the same time as Ronald E. McNair — an astronaut who died in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger —. and knew him personally and may discuss him, she said.
Note to editors: A photo of Gates is available here for downloading.