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During the academic year, Southeast Missouri State University's student-led publication, the Arrow, contributes campus news for KRCU's digital and broadcast audience.

SEMO Celebrates All-Female Cohort Of McNair Scholars

Hannah Wolfe - Southeast Arrow Photographer
The McNair team presented their research this past weekend in Kansas City, MO at the 25th Annual McNair Heartland Research Conference. Pictured left to right: Lainey Edwards, Indya Smith, Mya Weakly, Camille Shoals, Leah King, Neosho Smith, Delaney Adams

This year, Southeast celebrates female empowerment in a McNair cohort composed entirely of women.

Composed of 11 female students of varying ethnicities and ages, these women have set out to carry on the legacy of Ronald E. McNair by contributing research to underrepresented fields and pursuing their education to the doctoral level.

The McNair Scholars Program is a program in which first-generation students, limited-income students, and those who are underrepresented in either the population or their field of study can further their education to a doctoral level with a commitment to a Ph.D., Ed.D, Psy.D or D.S.W. 

Camille Shoals is one of the members of the current cohort and is double majoring in communication studies with a specialty on the public and rhetorical communication track. 

“We are like a family,” Shoals said. She recalls feeling surprised, yet excited when finding out with her fellow scholars the cohort was composed entirely of women.

“When we first added it up and figured it out, we were like, ‘Wow, that kind of means a lot.’ We have all had some really great times together, and if I did not know these women or know what they are doing and what they are researching, I would be a different person. I love my cohort. We even gave ourselves the nickname ‘The Divine Goddesses’ because we are all female.”

Shoals said the studies her fellow scholars are doing have excited her, and she cannot wait to see what they do and celebrate their successes with them. Shoals said scholars in this cohort are studying how Black and biracial women express themselves through literature. 

They have another scholar who is studying drug decriminalization, and if that can come to Missouri, the psychological and economic outcomes of that. They also have scholars studying body positivity during COVID. “We have a lot of different disciplines being acknowledged,” Shoals said. “And if I was not in McNair, I would not have any instinct to get to know them better. And that's why I'm excited. I am able to be like, ‘I am so happy for your success. I am so happy that your discipline is helping you get to where you need to go.’”

After submitting the primary application for the program, the applicant goes through an interview process with the program staff. After the interview process is completed, the student will complete their formal application, gather references from Southeast faculty and staff, and submit a two-page “Statement of Purpose” that outlines their interest in the program.

The opportunities the program can offer to a student have also helped Shoals further her studies financially. The program offers a potential reimbursement opportunity for graduate school applications, Graduate Record Examinations, and travel, thanks to financial literacy programs.

“The main concern for me when applying to graduate school was how I was going to take the GRE. They offered half off GRE waivers, and as a McNair scholar, I also have a fee waiver for application fees, and applying to undergrad was pretty expensive, and applying to graduate school is even more expensive,” Shoals said. 

“There are some schools that have a $125 application fee. So, without me being able to waive that, I would not be able to apply to many of the schools on my list.”

TRIO programsDirector Valdis Zalite said he could not be more proud of the current cohort.

“Every one of the ladies we have selected was selected by virtue of their interviews,” Zalite said.

“There were plenty of applicants, but as the interviews came and went, and more and more applicants moved on, it became clear that the women who are now selected were the strongest. Each and every one of them has shown that they have the most attitude, aptitude, and ‘will to do’ moving forward.”

Lainey Edwards, another member of the cohort, is majoring in English literature and also feels strongly about what her cohort offers herself and others.

“Having the cohort be all women, I think we can all agree that it makes us feel we are in a safer environment. We do not have to worry about stepping on each other's toes, and we can have raw conversations when we really need to, which is great. It is a really great group,” Edwards said.

Like her fellow scholar Shoals, Edwards shares her enthusiasm for the whole group and is always excited to see what they will do next.

“They're all — ‘intense’ is not the right word. But I want to say they're really intense,” Edwards said. “You know, everybody is very much so about what they're about and very passionate about what they're researching and their field, which is great. They are intense in a good, passionate way.”

Edwards’ fellow members are not her only motivation, as she relies on her academic advisor for help and support, as well.

Edwards said getting into a master's program is the main motivation. But Edwards also feels motivated by her mentor. 

Edwards said “I'm super glad that my mentor is an advisor and that she's super hands-on and super helpful. That's the main motivation, because when you have somebody that's so hands-on and so willing and giving, you're like, ‘Okay, I cannot disappoint or let anyone down.’”

The McNair Scholars Program was created to honor the legacy of Ronald E. McNair, a man who stood for the underrepresented, and against all odds persevered so others could do the same.

The “Divine Goddesses” of Southeast stand among them, hoping to encourage others as well as their fellow members to carry on their studies and allow their creativity to blossom to the fullest.

For those wishing to get involved with the program, there are two recommended ways to apply. 
Applications may be filled out online at the SEMO Support Services section of Southeast Missouri State University's website, or by visiting the McNair offices in the University Center on Southeast’s campus.

The Southeast Arrow is a contributing partner with KRCU Public Radio.

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