Archive for the ‘UNL McNair Alumni’ category

How to Stay Organized Throughout MSRE

May 31, 2018

By Keshia Mcclantoc, UNL McNair Graduate Assistant

As a McNair Scholar participating in MSRE, you are shouldered with many responsibilities. Not only are you performing the work of the research itself, but also the work of prepping for the GRE, looking for graduate programs, and perhaps getting a head start on graduate school applications. Summers as a McNair Scholar can be difficult and time-consuming; it is easy to feel lost in so much to do. MSRE is working to mimic the hectic conditions you will face in graduate school where you will be faced with classes of your own, working on your research, and fulfilling your assistantship duties (whether they are teaching or research-based). By using your time with the McNair Program to find organizational strategies that work, you can foster time management habits that will benefit you throughout MSRE and well into graduate school.

Organization_Word Cloud

Here are three tips that will help you think about ways to start organizing during MSRE.

Understand the value of time. As a scholar, you need to understand that everything you do takes up time that has the potential to be valuable. In some cases, this means spending hours in a lab or research. In other cases, this means taking a break to have lunch with friends. Regardless of

what it is happening,

know that the time you are using is valuable. Treating it as such and dedicating your time to those things which will most benefit you is an important part of keeping a balanced schedule and life. Managing your time means asking yourself each day what your time gives you the opportunity to do. Try to see time as something full of opportunities as opposed to something you can waste. Always remember that your time is important and ripe with opportunities to push yourself as both a scholar and person. Don’t just use your time wisely but use it effectively.

Effective Scheduling. The first step toward good organizational habits is making a schedule that works for you. Some people like to make daily to-do tasks, others like to make weekly schedules, and some will do monthly overviews. Find the type of schedule that feels right to you; this is one that is easy to maintain, best addresses what work you need to do, and makes you excited about what is on your plate. Once you figure out what type of schedule you need, there are different ways to keep it on hand. You can write it down in a classic planner, design your own schedule, use a digital tool or an app, or even use pre-made printable that you fill out. The tool you use for maintaining your schedule varies according the type of schedule you have and the tasks you want to accomplish. Even if the idea of making a list of tasks to complete sounds anxiety-inducing, MSRE and graduate school demand a level of attention that other projects will not so in the long run, creating a comprehensive schedule is worth the effort.

Taking Care of Yourself. Organization comes not just from addressing the work you need to do for MSRE but also finding the time to take care of yourself. Having a hectic schedule makes it hard to address very human needs like eating, sleeping, or having fun. While your priority this summer should be completing your MSRE project, it is important not to let it be your only priority. While making your schedule for your MSRE work, write in when you’re going to have lunch or dinner, when you’re going to chill out and watch Netflix for an hour, or even when you need a nap. It’s not about planning out every minute of your day, but it is about making sure you have a comprehensive schedule that addresses your needs both as an academic and as a person.

The best way to manage your time and stay organized is to find the methods that work best for you. There is no one size fits all schedule that could address everyone’s needs, so the best organizational strategy is to find what works best for you. Test out different schedules and calendars, determine whether you want to use planners or apps, decide what your time is worth and how you want to use, and always remember to find the time for both yourself and your research. Staying organized can be overwhelming but learning to make organization a habit can benefit you long after the MSRE process.




McNair 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 for 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 Alumni Spotlight: Michelle Haikalis

June 28, 2017

McNair Gave Haikalis the Confidence and Skills to Thrive

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.


I Went to Berkeley… And Got Much More Than a T-Shirt

July 28, 2016

by Jenn Andersen, McNair Graduate Assistant

Having been in your shoes just two years ago, I know that MSRE goes by much quicker than you ever anticipated. It’s a lot of work, and California McNair Symposium at UC-Berkeley is the finish line. So what do you do now? Here are five things you should do once you are back in Nebraska.

1. Reflect on your experiences. What did you get out of MSRE? The reflective essay is one of the most important assignments you will do as a McNair Scholar. Think about your experiences, what you’ve learned, and how you felt during your first year as a McNair Scholar. Writing this essay helped me to see how far I’d come and how ready I was to be a graduate student. Reading it again after graduation and before starting my graduate program gave me insight into how I’ve grown as a scholar since MSRE.

2. Take a break. One of the most important things about ending MSRE is taking a break once it’s over. If your experience was anything like mine, you lived in your lab, worked on your paper, poster, and PowerPoint once you were home, and still had to take care of real-life issues. Make sure you enjoy the last little bit of time before the GRE and applying to graduate school take over. Learning how to do this now will serve you well in achieving a good school-life balance.

3. Get your name out there! Email the people you made contact with at the Berkeley Symposium. Contact potential mentors at graduate schools.  Make appointments to talk with UNL professors to discuss your future goals. You never know when one of those connections will help you. See Abe Flanigan’s July 16, 2015, McNair blog post about networking for tips and ideas!

4. Keep up with your research. One of the best things about taking part in MSRE is the skills and knowledge you gain in your field. Leverage this to start work on your senior thesis! Keep working on your project or start a new one. You can always spend some time in a new lab for a different perspective.

5. Start prepping for Graduate School applications. If you’re graduating within the next year, graduate application deadlines will be here before you know it. If you have another year, this is the time to work on getting your materials together.

  • Start narrowing down your list of graduate schools.
  • Take the GRE within the next month after the end of MSRE.
  • Explore websites like for ideas on where to find funding, either for current research or for your future graduate career.
  • Reach out to your faculty recommenders and make sure you know what they need to complete your letters. Professors may have very exacting standards for their letter packets.
  • The more you do now, the less you need to do before the due date!

Challenges for First Generation Students

June 30, 2016

McNair Scholars Reflect on their Experiences at UNL

by Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant

Everyone knows starting college is hard. For the first generation college student, however, there are unique challenges that come with being the first in your family to attend college. Below are some first-hand experiences of current McNair Scholars and alumni who were first-generation college students at UNL.

What challenges did you face as a first-generation student? Were there challenges that you specifically remember being unique to your situation as a first-generation student?

Zully Perez Sierra (McNair Senior Scholar): “As a first-generation student, I had a slow and difficult start in college. For example, I retook a calculus course not knowing the different options of tutoring available to college students. For my first two years, I didn’t know of the job opportunities in my major which lead to unclear goals of obtaining a degree.”

Kassie Guenther (McNair Scholar 2013–2015): “Two specific memories come to mind. The first was after I’d been accepted to UNL and I sat down at the computer with my mom to fill out acceptance paperwork. I remember being asked what courses I wanted to enroll in, what residence hall I wanted to live in, which meal plan I wanted to purchase, and how I’d be paying the University. Although this was a fun and exciting time, it also resulted in my first real wave of shock and anxiety. I started to realize I didn’t know anyone who could share their experiences about what college was like or tell me which choices to make. I had no idea how I was going to pay for my tuition, room, and board, or books, and didn’t know where to begin in terms of choosing classes or a residence hall. My loved ones provided me with their warmth and support, but I struggled with finding individuals who had been through the process and could definitively tell me what college was going to be like. The second situation occurred as I sat in a large lecture hall during freshman year, learning about careers and opportunities available to psychology majors. For the first time, I learned that I’d need to pursue graduate work to obtain my dream career – being a psychologist. As naive as this sounds, I had no idea because nobody I knew had ever been through this process or knew anything about this major! Not only did I have few people to talk to about the rigors of being an undergraduate, I felt lost and alone in the idea of graduate school.”


Did you utilize office hours/academic advisors as an undergraduate? Why or why not?

Zully: “I utilized office hours frequently because I was used to asking instructors questions about the material in high school. I also would find myself struggling in courses in which my exam grades were lower than I had ever obtained. I wanted professors to know I cared about learning but needed help to understand the material.”

Kassie: “Every single semester I went to visit Celeste Spier and Tony Lazarowicz in the advising center to discuss my options. As annoyed as they might have been with my list of questions and frequent visits, I relied on them for academic advice and support. They understood my concerns, provided valuable information and ultimately guided me through much of my undergraduate career. I owe them both a huge thanks!”

Alicia Michelle Rogers (McNair Senior Scholar): “Professors are truly one of the best—often untapped—resources students have on campus. Their wealth of information, extending from the information they teach to professional development, to life experience, really enriches those students who choose to step into their office and initiate conversation and a relationship with them. Eventually, all students will have to ask their professors for professional recommendations, especially those planning to pursue graduate education. When relationships are built early and maintained with faculty, they get a better idea of who the student is, their abilities and passions, and are better able to convey those attributes in letters of recommendation.”


How did you become active in your lab/ get to know your McNair mentor? Did you feel comfortable using your mentor as a resource for academic advising and other types of advice after the McNair Summer Research Experience (MSRE)?

Zully: “By meeting an upperclassman through an engineering organization, I learned about research opportunities at the university. Therefore, I asked my academic advisor about research opportunities in the department, and that same day my advisor introduced me to my current McNair mentor. I’ve asked my McNair mentor about the type of conferences to attend and present our research.”

Kassie: “I decided to simply be honest with my research lab and McNair mentor, for that was the only way I was going to succeed in the pursuit of graduate school. I set up countless meetings and asked real and honest questions. I specifically remember asking what graduate school was like, how they handled moving away from home, what the possibilities of being accepted were, and if they felt they had a work-life balance. These were answers I wanted and needed to know, and they were some of the only people who could provide me with that knowledge. Sometimes, looking back, I feel a sense of remorse in asking so many questions. Perhaps I was too burdensome, maybe I took up a lot of their valuable time, what if some of my questions seemed inappropriate or made me appear immature and unsure of myself? In the end, I am happy I asked those difficult questions and was proactive in my attainment of knowledge because it led to my successful admission to a graduate program.”

Michelle: “Honestly, all it took was an email and an in-person meeting with my McNair mentor to get me involved in the research I am now a part of. What I found most interesting was that he told me the main reason why he allowed me into his lab was my involvement in the McNair Scholars program. Besides myself, he has only ever allowed one other UNL undergraduate student to work in his lab (to my knowledge). Since the research deals with HIV and other human pathogens, it was important that he felt assured of my character and that I could handle the responsibility and risks of the research—being a McNair Scholar gave him that confidence. Now I’ve been in his lab for over two years and have built a positive working relationship with a well-connected professor who will help me in any way to reach my personal and professional goals. I felt comfortable utilizing my mentor as a resource for advising. What I think is important is that students take the initiative to meet with their mentors. Mentors are very busy individuals, saturated in meetings and responsibilities which often doesn’t leave them much time for advising. To counteract this, students need to be purposeful in their connections with their research mentors. This means initiating times to meet, developing a plan for the conversation they wish to have, and following up with their mentors after the meeting. Communication is the key to all relationships, and research mentors are no exception.”


How did you handle your MSRE project? Did you get results other than what you expected? How did you handle the results? Any particular frustrations that came up during MSRE, and how did you handle them?

Zully: “For the MSRE project, I followed the research outline/task list that I’d need to have signed by my mentor and give to McNair staff. The task list helped me to organize and keep track of every day to day tasks of the research.”

Kassie: “I worked on a team of helpful and inspiring graduate students who provided encouragement, feedback and the ability to learn and challenge myself. With their help and guidance, I felt few struggles throughout the process because I knew that I was doing my best, and they were helping me to produce good work. This is not to say that the experience was not challenging and effortful. I just knew to not be discouraged because I was surrounded by amazing supporters.”

Michelle: “I think I handled it fairly well. My biggest challenge was balancing time at the lab with MSRE deadlines and other responsibilities. What helped me was meeting with my mentor to come up with a reasonable deadline schedule by which to plan my weeks with. Having this schedule helped me to allocate my time appropriately throughout the summer, ensuring no area was neglected. Even if I did get behind in my research, communicating this with my mentor was key. It showed him that I was mindful of my lab work, while also demonstrating resourcefulness with my time as a student.”


What resources do/did you utilize as a first-generation student for support as an undergraduate student? Did you go on to participate in them as an advisor/mentor?

Zully: “I became involved in three engineering organizations. In two of the organizations, I held executive positions as volunteer chair and as treasurer. I’m also a William H. Thompson Scholar and I served as a mentor my sophomore year and as a tutor the last two years. I also joined a bible study. I used first-year experience and transition programs, study shop, OASIS, and resource centers. Overall all of the resources were very helpful for any class assignment or studying for exams.”

Kassie: “I relied heavily on my involvement in the William H. Thompson Scholars Learning Community. They took me under their wing when I arrived at college, provided me with a mentor and cohort, taught me valuable academic and professional skills, and helped to develop me as a leader as well as a person. As soon as I was able, I did my best to give back to the community by working as a peer mentor to other incoming students. The program was a large contributor to the success that I felt in college as well as the sense of belonging and community.”

Michelle: “Other than faculty mentors, I didn’t utilize any resources on campus—because I didn’t know about the resources available to me or where to look to find them. I also feel as though my faculty mentors filled the necessary gaps for me that other resources would have filled. However, I was involved in the First Husker program at UNL as a mentor for incoming first-generation college freshmen. It’s designed well to set the student up for success at UNL, answering questions for students, as well as their parents. One of the biggest things I found most helpful for students about the program was the workshop on finances. It went over everything students need to know about how to manage their money to finding financial aid. I didn’t use the Study Stop locations, but I always directed students to this for help in their classes (I’m a teaching assistant). They have tutors there to help students in a number of different classes, as well as free coffee. Who doesn’t like coffee?”


Utilize Your UNL Resources!

There are many resources on campus for first-generation students. It’s important to build a relationship with your academic advisor to help navigate through your undergraduate career, as well as discuss your long-term career goals and what resources might be available to help you reach those goals.

The First Husker Program brings first generation incoming freshmen to campus early to allow them to acclimate to college life before the craziness of move-in day begins. Throughout your time at UNL, you can access Academic Success Workshops, the Study Stop, and First Husker Peer Mentors. Find out more information about these and other transition programs at

Other key resources include:


And remember, as McNair Scholars, you don’t have to navigate your undergraduate or graduate careers alone! You’ll find support is always just an email or phone call away. Once a McNair Scholar, Always a McNair Scholar!