FIU celebrates 16 years of McNair Scholars, welcomes new inductees


From robotics to energy, tissue engineering, behavioral health and mosquito research, FIU’s McNair Scholars represent some of FIU’s top undergraduate researchers and most successful students.

Named after Ronald Erwin McNair, the renowned American NASA astronaut and physicist, the McNair Scholars Program is a Federal TRiO program designed to prepare students from low income, first-generation, and traditionally underrepresented groups for doctoral studies.

Since its inception in 2003, the program at FIU has served more than 375 students and has produced 166 graduates. Seventy McNair alumni are currently enrolled in graduate programs—and, this fall, several of the last cohort’s alumni will be starting Ph.D. programs at Stony Brooke, Georgia Tech, MIT, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and other prestigious universities around the country.

“Through its highly selective process, the McNair program identifies students who are curious, research-oriented, and who want to impact the world through science,” said program director,  Alla Mirzoyan. “McNair scholars are truly an elite group of undergraduates who strive to rise to the top of the educational pyramid but because of their background as underrepresented or first-generation scholars, they often believe that getting there is not possible. The program gives them the support, the tools and the roadmap to achieve their highest aspirations and to fundamentally change the narrative for them and their communities.”

At FIU, the program is focused on helping students pursue doctoral studies in STEM and provides funding support, mentoring, research and professional development opportunities.

McNair Scholars participate in courses, seminars and workshops on topics related to graduate school preparation; complete a paid research experience under the guidance of a faculty mentor; and have the opportunity to present their research at local, regional or national conference. This summer, McNair Scholars will engage in high-quality research projects at FIU and universities across the nation such as Harvard, MIT and Berkley.

“My academic experience completely changed after I joined the McNair program,” said McNair Scholar Denis Ortega Ioni, who is double majoring in biomedical engineering and physics. “Last summer, I had the opportunity to do summer research at the University of Rochester—and, this year, I will be heading to MIT!

“Thanks to the McNair Program I have received countless opportunities to participate in research with incredible faculty [and] have been funded to attend STEM conferences across the country. The McNair program has made me a better researcher, and it has exposed me to a plethora of prospects for graduate school. I am truly thankful to be a part of the McNair family.”

Maria Zapata and her parents

On April 15, the McNair Scholar Program inducted 18 new members and re-welcomed nine scholars for a second year. A rite of passage, the celebration includes a pinning ceremony and a special recognition of the students’ accomplishments to date. This year, the students heard from Lidia Kos, the associate dean for the University Graduate School and associate vice president for research, who told the story of past McNair and undergraduate researchers in her lab who since have pursued fruitful careers in academia, government and the private sector.

“Having the privilege to be part of the McNair Scholars Program only continues to motivate me more to reach my goals,” said Maria Zapata, a newly inducted McNair Scholar. “Coming from a first-generation household, becoming a McNair Scholar means I can be an example to my family on following my dreams. My little sister will see my success and know that anything is possible for her if she works hard for it.”

You can view profiles of the 2019 McNair Scholars here.