McNair Scholars Program
Preparing Students for Graduate School
Ronald Ervin McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina. Dr. McNair received a bachelor's degree in physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971. McNair was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and graduated magna cum laude. He received three honorary doctorates, a score of fellowships and achieved a black belt in karate. In 1976, he received his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), becoming nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics. After graduation from MIT, he became a staff physicist at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, California.
Dr. Ronald McNair lived an accomplished life as a research scientist, family man, pioneering astronaut, karate expert, jazz musician and a man of faith. As a crusader for education, his lifelong commitment was to continue his course to inspire students to dream big. Dr. McNair proclaimed, "I believe that in urban and rural cities there are great minds and talents with the hands that can control a spacecraft with the same dexterity that they control and handle a basketball. This talent must not be wasted."
In 1978, Dr. McNair was selected from a pool of eleven thousand, as one of thirty-five applicants for the NASA astronaut program. In 1984, he became the second African American to fly in space aboard the STS-41-B Challenger mission. Sadly, on January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after launch from the Kennedy Space Center; he was one of the seven-person crew who died.
After his death, Dr. McNair was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. Their goal was to encourage first-generation, low-income college students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups to expand their educational opportunities by enrolling in a Ph.D. program. Dr. Ronald E. McNair story serves as a model for people from all walks of life. His story is one that must be passed on from generation to generation.