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The McNair student scholars from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh recently traveled to Washington D.C. as a way to immerse themselves in American history and culture.

The McNair Scholars Program is designed to help aid under-represented students in their quest to get accepted into a graduate school. To apply for the McNair Scholars program one must be a first-generation college student with financial need or a member of an under-represented minority group.

“One of the greatest benefits of the program is the research experience that the students gain because it gives them an advantage over other students applying to grad schools,” Program Director Mary Seaman said.

The McNair Scholars Program is federally funded and receives about $220,000 each year. UW Oshkosh received a five-year grant for the program from the U.S. Department of Education in 2007. The grant provides student scholars with a paid summer research internship at UW Oshkosh.

“The experience has shown me how much I enjoy conducting research,” said junior nursing major Kathryn Baez, of Menasha. “It’s exciting to start out with a hypothesis and to see how it evolves.”

The students’ research took up most of their summer, and by the end of August they were ready for a break. The trip to Washington D.C. came at the perfect time.

The group arrived in D.C. on Aug. 22; they were so excited that they took in all of the monuments on the first night.

“It was a very memorable trip,” said Rejeanne Lehron, a university associate and program assistant.

From the moment they arrived in the nation’s capital, the group never stood still. During the five days that the scholars were in D.C., they took on many tourist attractions — from the Holocaust museum and the Library of Congress to the Smithsonian museums and the gave-site of Ronald E. McNair himself.

One of the group’s favorite stops was the Library of Congress. Lehron described the library as being amazing and said she couldn’t help but wonder what people were reading as they sat there.

“My favorite part of the trip was by far the Library of Congress and the Holocaust Museum,” said senior microbiology major Weston Fredenberg, of Shawano. “The Library of Congress houses such a vast amount of knowledge that it is staggering to a scholar such as myself. It is truly the Alexandria of modern times.”

Although this was meant to be a cultural trip and a break from their summer research, a few student scholars visited graduate schools while they were there.

“The close interactions with the individuals who will be accepting or turning down my application to their graduate program were priceless,” Fredenberg said.

The summer research topics are unlimited and provide valuable experience that scholars can bring into their graduate programs. The summer 2010 research topics ranged from understanding minorities in American film to accessing the socio-economic aspects of dental care in Wisconsin.

“In the McNair Scholars Program, every potential project is treated extremely seriously, and more than likely the researcher will be able to perform that experiment,” Fredenberg said.

Baez and Fredenberg agreed that the McNair Scholars Program has really opened doors for them and allowed them to experience more than they expected.

“Just to be able to say, ‘Yes, I am a McNair Scholar,’ has changed my life for the better,” Fredenberg said. “I will always be grateful to the program director Mary Seaman for having faith in my abilities and for seeing great things in my future.”