Skip to main content
Hero Image Loading


Office of Communications

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401



News Archive
Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Students Present and Publish Original Research through McNair Program

McNair Scholars pose outside the national conference after presenting their research.

by Tricia Duke '19

Support from the  Ronald E. McNair Achievement Fund made it possible for 10 scholars to complete independent research projects over the summer, culminating in a presentation at a national McNair conference and publication in the Knox McNair journal.

Members of the cohort agreed that they built both strong scholarly skills and an irreplaceable social network. “Everything that I've learned from working on this project will leave me much better equipped and prepared to work on more difficult projects in the future,” said Max Jones '20.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, one of the TRiO programs funded by the US Department of Education, provides scholars from underrepresented backgrounds who have displayed strong academic ability with resources to support their success in graduate education.

“As cliche as it sounds, I learned a lot about what college professors and grad schools want from me as a student,” Jones said. Jones tested the effectiveness of health supplements at improving rats’ memories under the mentorship of Assistant Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Chair Esther Penick. He said that the program also taught him the importance of collaboration with other academics, including those far outside his field, for intellectual and emotional support.

“It's been nice this summer to have people, my mentor and my peers, to turn to in the event that something goes wrong with my research,” he said.

Creative Writing major Katana Smith '20 researched the way artists from underrepresented backgrounds used magical realism to process and affect their political environments. She said that the support of the program and her peers prepared her to give a confident, knowledgeable presentation at the McNair conference in Buffalo, New York. Even the night before their presentations, Knox students crowded into one hotel room, laptops perched on dressers, to present to their peers, encourage each other, and give each other feedback on last-minute edits.

“The day of the presentations went very smoothly,” she said. “I learned a lot and got to connect with some really intelligent McNair scholars from all around the country.”

Samantha Leinbach, assistant director of the McNair Program, was a McNair scholar herself while working on her bachelor’s degree in agricultural science. Now, a year after completing her master’s degree, she said that she hopes to help the current scholars the same way she was helped by her program.  

“If I had to pick a favorite summer memory, it was watching this cohort become a support system for each other. They learned they could rely on each other, ask each other for help, and most importantly, they laughed together,” Leinbach said.

The papers written by the scholars will be published in the Knox McNair journal this fall. Having completed their sophomore seminar classes, the scholars have advanced to the weekly junior seminar, which will teach skills for taking the GRE, choosing graduate programs, writing a CV and personal statement, and applying to internships.

The program will cover the cost of the GRE, score reporting, and graduate school applications, all while Leinbach supports each student with a one-on-one weekly meeting. After 25 years of the Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program being active at Knox, more than 60% of the graduates have already earned advanced degrees.

Pictured above: Knox College students at the annual McNair conference. Pictured below: Diego Morones '20 conducts research in the chemistry lab.

McNair Scholars

  • Soko Cheng '20, mentored by Nancy Eberhart, professor of anthropology, “The Water in My Heart has Fallen: Cambodian Refugees and Mental Health
  • Yasmine Davila '20, mentored by Tianna Cervantes, lecturer in anthropology-sociology, “'Being Brown’: How Colonialism and Racism Guide Identity Formation in Spanish Caribbean”
  • Tricia Duke '19, mentored by Sara O’Brien, assistant professor of psychology, “The Moral Outrage Scale: From improper toilet paper placement to mass murder, just how wrong is 'wrong’?”
  • Judith Espinoza '20, mentored by Karen Kampwirth, Robert W. Murphy Chair in Political Science, “From Civil War to Street Gangs: El Salvador’s Immigration Crisis”
  • Sasha Gurzakovic '20, mentored by Jon Anderson, visiting instructor in modern languages, “Prosodic Aspects of the Perceptual Distinction of African American English and Anglo American English”
  • Max Jones '20, mentored by Esther Penick, associate professor of biology, “Running the Rat Race: How health supplements affect the developing memories of juvenile brown rats”
  • Sherry Mei '20, mentored by Judith Thorn, professor of biology, “Gene Expression in Drosophila melanogaster: Green Fluorescent Protein and Control Elements (enhancers) in the Development of Fruit Flies”
  • Diego Morones '20, mentored by Helen Hoyt, associate professor of chemistry, “Investigation of Copper Catalysts Supported by Diimide Ligands Using Stepwise and in situ Methods”
  • Katana Smith '20, mentored by Chad Simpson, associate professor of English, “'To Make Freedom Real’: Politics and Magic in Contemporary Literature”
  • Isabel Termosihue '20, mentored by Sara O’Brien, assistant professor of psychology, “Generalized Anxiety Disorder among Latinos: The effects of awareness, stigma, and treatment perceptions among two age groups of Latinos”
  • Dianell Viega '20, mentored by Gabe Raley, associate professor of anthropology-sociology, “Latin(o)(a)(x): A study on gender socialization and its effects on young adult identity”

Share this story

Knox College

Printed on Monday, May 20, 2024