Archive for the ‘UNL McNair Alumni’ category

Alumni Spotlight: Adrienne Ricker

February 21, 2018
Adrienne Ricker (McNair Scholars 2013-2016) earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and biological sciences in May 2016. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Earth & Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was awarded the prestigious Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship. Adrienne describes how the McNair Scholars Program helped her develop a positive working relationship with her research mentor and provided her with the support and tools necessary to navigate the graduate application process.

The McNair Scholars Program presented the opportunity to engage in research at an early point in my undergraduate career. Through McNair, I developed a one-on-one relationship with a faculty advisor in order to design and complete a research project. He provided mentoring and instruction on how to develop a research project and communicate with others effectively. That experience helped greatly in my first year as a graduate student, where active engagement in research is expected of students in my program.

As a low-income first-generation student, McNair helped me navigate the graduate application process–something I would have been lost in otherwise. I am now in the second year of my PhD and more certain than ever that the McNair program prepared me for this experience! Additionally, my McNair faculty mentor was imperative in my graduate school search and application process. He helped me navigate the application process and prepared me for the demands of life as a graduate student.

My background experiences and participation in the McNair Scholars Program helped me receive the prestigious Eugene Cota-Robels Fellowship, which has given me the freedom to develop a thesis project I am truly passionate about. Otherwise, I would have probably taken on a project previously funded by my advisor’s existing grants. This freedom has been rewarding and a great opportunity to learn the full process of a developing a research project through to the end product.

Being involved in exciting research is one of the best parts of graduate school, but you shouldn’t let your research consume you. My advice to McNair Scholars would be to look for something outside of your research to be involved in—whether that is a campus organization or a volunteer experience—find something you enjoy that is relevant to your goals and gives you a break from the rigors of graduate school. Moreover, I’d also recommend you establish expectations for work/life balance with your advisor early on. If expectations are clear right away at the beginning, then it will help relieve concerns about whether you are filling those expectations or not!





McNair Alumni Spotlight: Jason Thomas

February 20, 2018

From the Nebraska Plains to French Fields: Jason Thomas’ Doctoral Journey

Jason Thomas (McNair Scholar 2012–2014) has followed his passion for botany all the way from the UNL McNair Scholars classroom to the Plant Reproduction and Development Laboratory at the Ècole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France. This path is leading Jason to his ultimate goal, earning a Ph.D. in Plant Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Below, Jason describes how the McNair Scholars Program prepared him to pursue graduate study and apply for a competitive Fulbright Fellowship.

First of all, I’d like to say that I might not have been able to experience graduate school, let alone everything with it (the US Fulbright Program in France, publishing papers, meaningful research projects) without the UNL McNair Scholars Program. What I’ve learned from the McNair Scholars Program was useful well after I entered my graduate program. It was a key resource in getting me here to France. Applying for a Fulbright fellowship is much like applying to graduate programs or any fellowships that McNair Scholars are prepared for. But thankfully, there is no GRE.

In my PhD, I study field pennycress, a biofuel crop that produces oilseeds much like canola that can soon be used in everything from cooking oil to jet fuel. Specifically, I’m trying to make its flowers produce more nectar to feed pollinators such as honey bees, which should also increase pennycress seed yield. I chose to bring this research to France because working with their top plant scientists would be a valuable international experience that I can use throughout my career. Furthermore, environmental problems like climate change and biodiversity loss are often global and can in part be combated with plant science.

While here I am finding out the joy of collaborations, especially the feeling of knowing that I’ve linked two groups together to discover something new that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. As a Fulbright Scholar I am supposed to exchange knowledge from my home graduate program to my host institution. I’ve learned of new ideas and ways of doing science that I’d like to bring back to my lab in Minnesota. Hopefully, I will bring back scientific results that are worth publishing. And of course, I’ll also bring back the memories of immersing myself in a new culture and learning their customs, trying French cuisine, and learning a new language.

I have two main pieces of advice for current and future McNair Scholars. Firstly, work hard and intelligently. One of the things I remember being told in one of our first McNair meetings is that you get back whatever you put into the McNair Scholars Program. The same goes for graduate school and all of life really. Secondly, do things that you didn’t think were possible and abandon your comfort zone. Take those risks such as applying for competitive fellowships or leaving the country. By doing so, McNair Scholars can enhance their professional development above and beyond what they imagined.

*I acknowledge that the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.


McNair Gave Haikalis the Confidence and Skills to Thrive

June 28, 2017

Michelle Haikalis (McNair Scholar 2009-2012) earned her master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2014 and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at UNL in the same field. Below, Michelle describes how the McNair Scholars Program provided her with the confidence to pursue graduate-level study and the skills to thrive in her research and coursework.

The Ronald E. McNair Program was absolutely vital to my success in pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Although my mother was unable to finish her undergraduate degree, she taught me about the importance of education in order to develop critical thinking skills and open up doors for career possibilities. Thanks to her, I greatly valued education upon entering college, but knew little about post-undergraduate education or how to prepare for it. I would have been lost navigating the process of pursuing a graduate degree alone. Further, because I did not have models in my personal life of people who had attained Ph.D.’s, it was hard for me to know if I had what it took, or could develop the skills needed, to excel at the doctoral level.

The McNair Scholars Program identified my uncultivated potential and filled in the gaps from my background. Specifically, McNair provided me with opportunities to build critical skills necessary for success at the doctoral level and bolstered my confidence so that I would pursue the challenge of graduate school. The intensive research experiences central to the McNair Program helped me to build important research skills and knowledge that have served as an essential foundation—a foundation that I will continue to build upon throughout my career as a clinical scientist.



McNair Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Norberg, Ph.D.

June 7, 2017

I grew up in a small, rural town in Nebraska. Few people, myself included, thought I was smart. Rather than taking physics and geometry classes during high school, I opted for remedial math, home economics, and making the high school yearbook. Through what seemed like luck, rather than intellect, I became the high school yearbook editor.

Becoming editor of the yearbook encouraged me to obtain a university degree. While at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I took a “Careers in Psychology” class that put me on the path to becoming an academic clinical psychologist. That class taught me that it would be a long and competitive path. So, I followed its advice. I maintained a high GPA,  volunteered, and obtained research experience. However, that research experience was in the field of perception, which while highly useful in teaching me about research methodology, it taught me little about conducting clinical research.

During the final year of my undergraduate degree, I was accepted into the McNair program. The McNair program linked me up with Dr. Debra Hope, an academic clinical psychologist. Under Dr. Hope’s supervision, I completed an Honors project that examined the role that clients’ expectations have on therapy outcomes. Conducting research in Dr. Hope’s lab allowed me to gain the exact type of clinical research experience I needed to be accepted into a doctoral program for clinical psychology. During graduate school, I led a team of students in developing an empirically-based instrument to measure clients’ expectations about treatment. This measure was published and has been translated into a handful of different languages by other researchers. Thus, the influence of the McNair Program and Dr. Hope did not end with my undergraduate degree.

Melissa Norberg conducting research into hoarding with Julia Irwin.Photo courtesy of Chris Stacey

I am now an Associate Professor and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University. Macquarie University’s psychology department is ranked within the top 100 psychology departments in the world and the Centre for Emotional Health is one of the premier research centers on anxiety in the world.


McNair Scholars in the News

February 29, 2012

It’s been a busy news week for McNair scholars!

Nathan Palmer, a former McNair scholar here at UNL (now he’s at Georgia Southern University), began researching images of the natural world in children’s fiction during his McNair Summer Research Experience. This week, an article that includes the research, was published in Sociological Inquiry. USA Today covered the research in a recent article, as did UNL Today.

MSRE Week 9: Preparing for Berkeley

July 26, 2011

It’s hard to believe, but MSRE 2011 is coming to an end with the UNL Research Colloquium approaching on July 28th, 2011. The Colloquium will allow the scholars to present to their mentors and other faculty and staff around campus before presenting at the 19th Annual California McNair Scholars Symposium at UC Berkeley.

To lend some advice, two former McNair scholars from the previous cohort, Jeff Lopez and Karise Carrillo, have discussed their own experiences in preparing for the conference.

Photo Courtesy of the University of California at Berkeley

UNL McNair:  What helped you the most when preparing for your individual presentation? Practicing with friends? With McNair staff? By yourself? Memorizing your presentation?

Jeff Lopez, Goldwater Scholar. Photo Courtesy of Craig Chandler of University Communications at UNL.

 Jeff: All of the above helped me to prepare, but most important for me was the real presentations that we did in front of our cohort and at the UNL Research Colloquium.  I’m kind of a “fly by the seat of my pants” guy, and so having some real presentations as practice really helped me get prepared.

Karise: I first practiced by myself to get comfortable with my material and then practiced in front of Maegan and Brian (our GAs during MSRE 2010). When I was comfortable with the two of them, I practiced with a few of my cohort. Finally, I practiced in front of the rest of the MSRE staff and my cohort, at which they provided valuable feedback. I memorized my presentation in a way, but I had practiced so much that I became familiarized enough with it to say it less rigidly. McNair staff really provided invaluable feedback that I still use when I give presentations.

UNL McNair: Did you have experience presenting your research prior to MSRE?

 Jeff: No, but there is a first time for everything!

Karise: Absolutely none at all, unless you count class presentations. Looking back on those, I wish I had this knowledge that MSRE gave me. My presentations probably violated every rule of Presentations 101!

UNL McNair: What was Berkeley like? Fun? Scary?

Jeff: Berkeley was a blast!  The town is great, and it was so much fun spending time with my cohort.  It was also really cool to see what other scholars across the country were doing.

Karise: Berkeley was a wonderful experience. I enjoyed visiting the campus and city, but I greatly enjoyed the interdisciplinary atmosphere. The presentations were great, and the professional development workshops were helpful for graduate school applications.

UNL McNair: Any advice for this year’s presenters?

Jeff: I would just say to take the presentation seriously.  I learned so much about my project when I had to put together a presentation because, in order to explain something well, you first have to truly understand it yourself.

Karise Carrillo, Presenting at the 2010 UNL Research Colloquium

Karise: Having worked with this year’s cohort, I must say you’ve all done a great job on your projects. Therefore, be confident in the fact that you’re the expert on your particular topic! After all, you’ve just spent a good amount of months working on this project. Take that into consideration when you start to get the pre-presentation jitters. You’re there to teach others on your subject, so don’t spend time worrying about what they think of you.


Thank you both for your time and encouragement. Current Scholars, good luck at Berkeley! You’ve done a fantastic job thus far, and we know you will continue to make us proud!

Nathan Palmer, Featured Blogger

October 1, 2010

Nathan Palmer, a former UNL McNair Scholar is now a featured blogger on the American Sociological Association website Teaching the Social World. Nathan is currently a faculty member at Georgia Southern University, in the department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Nathan also has his own website that features ideas and resources for educators who teach sociology. Check it out here.