“Virtual, but Valuable”
28th Annual McNair Scholars Research Conference
Grad School Fair
On the morning of Friday, September 18, 2020, the 28th Annual McNair Scholars Research Conference started off with a Graduate School Fair, where the scholars were able to virtually visit the 48 graduate schools to learn more about their different programs. This really served as a helpful way for the scholars to continue on their graduate school journey, and to find schools that would cater to their career interests. One scholar stated that “the grad school fair helped [them] connect with a handful of colleges that [they are] now applying to.” Another scholar said that they “loved the graduate school information sessions as it allowed [them] to get a better understanding of how to apply for Ph.D. programs and speaking one on one with program coordinators of the graduate school.”
On Friday evening, the Conference Ambassadors hosted different networking rooms for the scholars to attend and get well acquainted with each other. The rooms included icebreakers, trivia, and jackbox games, where the scholars were able to relax and have fun while getting to know the other scholars in the process. One room in particular, the icebreaker room which consisted of about 15 – 20 scholars, was a great place for the scholars to introduce themselves and have conversations about how COVID-19 and issues of racial injustice has impacted them academically, professionally, emotionally, and mentally. These networking rooms were amazing and helped the scholars to enjoy themselves and spend time with their peers before presenting their research on Saturday afternoon. One scholar stated that they “appreciated feeling engaged in the discussions as a group and the emphasis put on belonging as McNair Scholars being family.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Michael Hunt introduced Dr. Jasmine Lee as the keynote speaker. In her keynote, she walked the audience through her college and life journey to where she is now. During her keynote speech, the scholars learned about the importance of showing up for oneself, talking to oneself in a loving way, and knowing one’s “why?”. Dr. Lee discussed the challenges with how she saw herself as a young student, especially in math. She also talked about how her career interests had changed from being a teacher to pursuing a career in social work, which she stated, was perfect for her. During her transition, she shared how she struggled with being away from her first support group: family. However, Dr. Lee also talked about how she adjusted and overcame that challenge with the help of supportive faculty, friends, and others who continually showed up for her as a college student. Dr. Lee’s keynote served as a way to encourage the McNair scholars as they continue on with their graduate school and research journey, and to remind them the importance of having people around them who will support them and continue to push them to achieve their career and personal goals.
After the keynote, McNair scholars had the opportunity to share their research through oral and poster presentations. There were 90 oral presentations, and 30 poster presentations. There were many different research topics that were presented and it helped to give the attendees a picture of what research is like. It also was valuable in helping other McNair scholars picturing themselves presenting their research in the future.
Conference as a Whole
To conclude, the overall experience of the McNair Scholars Research Conference was exceptional, and the conference did a wonderful job of making the scholars feel like they belonged. A survey was done to gather information from the attendees about their virtual conference experience. According to the survey, many of the respondents reflected that the keynote presentation, networking opportunities, graduate school fair, and the ability to connect with others in the conference was most valuable to them. It seems that the encouragement factor was most valuable for attendees. Furthermore, when asked what their favorite part of the conference was, about 27% of the respondents chose the keynote presentation and the scholars’ presentations as their favorite. Followed by about 25% for the networking opportunities, and 16% for the graduate school fair. At the end of the conference, the scholars were given an opportunity to share key takeaways from the virtual conference experience. Overall, the scholars felt that the conference did a great job placing emphasis on community. Although this year’s conference experience could only be taken in with a computer screen, the love and community support surpassed the virtual realm, and could be felt by everyone who had attended. From the keynote speaker to the research presentations, the 28th Annual McNair Scholars Research conference may have been virtual, but it was certainly valuable to all of the scholars.
To take part in this virtual experience, click on the link below.