A Federal TRIO Program

TRIO McNair Scholars Veterans Day Salute

The TRIO family of programs includes Veterans Upward Bound, but that’s not the only initiative that helps former military members.

Case in point: Adam Nicholson and Donald Spradling, vets whose educational paths were encouraged and enlightened by their participation in the McNair Scholars program. As we honor those who have served this Veterans Day, they share some thoughts.

Thank you, Adam and Donald and thank you to all who serve and have served.

D. Adam Nicholson

Hometown: Lawrence, KS

Degrees: B. A. Sociology, University of Kansas, 2013, M.S. Sociology, Indiana University, 2015

Current position: PhD Student, Sociology, Indiana University

Please describe your military service: I joined right out of high school as a way to eventually pay for college. I enlisted in the Marine Corps my senior year of high school and served from 2003-2007 as a Geospatial Intelligence Specialist (0261). During my enlistment, I served two tours in Iraq, one in Ramadi and one in Fallujah. I got out as a Corporal.

How did you become involved with the TRIO McNair Scholars program? I remember receiving an e-mail or a mailer about McNair in my sophomore year and not thinking much about it. I think at the time, my plan was to go to law school. I didn’t really know I was interested in research. But the seed was planted. The more I learned about McNair, the more I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. I met with Mulu, but it was too late for that term. She told me she’d hold my application and when the next year rolled around, I got an interview and was accepted into the program.

How did McNair help you? I really don’t know how to put into words what McNair has done for me. I learned the research process, how to ask the right questions and see what type of work has been done. But more than that, I became confident in my abilities and became really aware of the fact that there was a place for me in higher education. I also made some incredible connections with scholars and administrators. Through McNair I was able to visit the state capitol in Topeka, and the Capitol in Washington, DC and speak to representatives about the importance of providing opportunities for underrepresented students.

Please describe your life and career goals. How have they been impacted by your participation in McNair? I wish I was certain what my goals were. The one thing I know for certain is that I want to do something big and something that really changes the world. I like to think that my research is important and will add to our understanding of social problems and how to address them, but I also know I want more for myself. I want to more actively advocate for underrepresented groups and play a role in the struggle for peace and equality. I’m still very much learning how to be effective in that pursuit.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you? Honestly, my friends have been the biggest influence in my life. I’ve met celebrities and high ranking officials, and other people who could be considered pretty important. But I am always amazed by the things my friends have accomplished. Whether it’s involvement in student government, working in the White House, going to prestigious grad schools, my friends have always amazed me by the tremendous things they do. They accomplish so much, while at the same time humanizing success. They motivate you to push yourself and also to be there for others who may lean on you for support.

Who has been the kindest to you in your life? Really, the same people. You want to surround yourself with support. Some people won’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and they’ll question and criticize you. Friends and supporters will challenge you, but only for your own good. In the end, they will be supportive and make sure you’re doing what’s best for you.  

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life? That failure isn’t really a thing. So much of what we view as failure is just a step in the process. We might not get the results we want and we might get discouraged, but you just have to be persistent and keep trying. The only way we really fail is when we stop trying. Always keep pursuing what you’re passionate about and keep striving to achieve your goals, no matter how discouraged you get. 

What would you tell a young student considering applying to McNair? Just do it. There’s absolutely no reason not to at least apply, regardless of what you think your chances are or if you’re sure about plans for the future. McNair can change your life for the better.

Inspirational quote or personal credo: I cut a page out of an inspirational calendar and keep in on my refrigerator. It’s a Homer quote that says “Go on with a spirit that fears nothing.” Life can be really intimidating, but you can’t let fear paralyze you. 

Donald J. Spradling

Hometown: Originally Tacoma, Washington, but my family and I now live here in Lawrence, Kansas.

Degree: Bachelor's Degree, Civil Engineering, University of Kansas, 2014. 

Current position: Currently accepted into KU’s Civil Engineering PhD program. I work here at the university as a GRA for Dr. David Darwin in the CEAE department. We are conducting research concerning the use of high-strength steel as reinforcement and headed bars as shear reinforcement. Our work is on west campus at the new structural research lab, which is an awesome place to be.

Please describe your military service. I joined the Navy while living in Newburg, Missouri. My father and uncle had both served a tour and I wanted to get out of the small town I lived in. My first duty station was the USS Ticonderoga in Pascagoula MS. I was a deck seaman and enjoyed doing counter-drug and law-enforcement operations near the Panama Canal and Colombia. I earned the opportunity to cross-rate into any field in the Navy. I chose to go into the field of satellite reconnaissance. I served an additional two tours near Cambridge England at the Joint Analysis Center, Molesworth. I really enjoyed the work, which consisted of geospatial analysis, identifying components of infrastructure, and working on time critical events. I was accepted into a commissioning program but was later offered the choice to retire as injuries suffered while stationed on the ship started to become more limiting. My highest enlisted rank was an E-6 or Petty Officer 1st class. Towards the end of my career however, I was an Officer Candidate. My total time in service was almost 12 years.

How did you become involved with the TRIO McNair Scholars program? I saw an email about the program in a campus wide posting. I had a lot of questions about my goals and potential in grad school. I didn't really know who to ask about it and the staff at McNair seemed eager to help.

How did McNair help you? As a first-generation college student, the idea of applying for research grants, applying to grad school, writing a thesis, constructing a curriculum vitae, was daunting to say the least. I didn't know where to begin or even if I wanted to begin. The McNair program helped me through the process and gave me the opportunity to see if I liked the research process, which I do, very much. Most people don't know this about me but I'm a worker, I've worked all my life. Fixing cars, construction, landscaping... the list goes on. Was grad school and the collegiate-researcher life for me? I didn't know the answers to these questions and the McNair staff helped me sort it all out.

Please describe your life and career goals. How have they been impacted by your participation in McNair? Same as above... Currently I'm working on my MS and as a GRA in the CEAE department. If it wasn't for McNair, I'm not sure I would still be here. I probably would have left college to get a job with a bachelor's degree until I realized I needed more. Then I would have eventually tried to come back to school. My long- term goal is to continue my education and get my PhD. In the field of structural engineering, the work as a PhD is much more intriguing and will make the best use of my skills as a researcher and investigator. Whether or not I stay in academia or go into industry remains a mystery even to me. 

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you? My biggest influence to my life is collectively my wife and children. I have a wonderful supporting wife and six kids who call me dad. They encourage me, challenge me, and give me a reason to keep going. On days when my injuries like to make getting up a hard thing to do, there they are watching me, and I have to give them the right example to emulate. My wife makes me look good. I could not do what I do on campus or anywhere without her support. She handles everything behind the scenes, is my most trusted advisor, and my closest friend.

Who has been the kindest to you in your life? My older friends. I can't name just one person, as there are a significant number of people who have given me guidance through the years. Their kindness, generosity and tact have helped and guided me to be who I am. I always seek out older people for guidance: family members, neighbors, mentors.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life? Reading is the most important skill; with it all things are achievable. Perception is critical: Try seeing the problem from someone else’s point of view.

What would you tell a young student considering applying to McNair? McNair was an excellent opportunity for me. I met some great people from all over this campus. The opportunities they provide for personal and professional growth are critical to anyone who is considering grad school. The camaraderie with other like-minded individuals within the program was beneficial towards keeping goals and staying in the productive mindset. The mentoring and constant challenges kept me focused on my goals and taught me how to be and effective researcher.

Inspirational quote or personal credo: Everyone is equally entitled to happiness, in whatever form suits them.

If you would like to view previous McNair news features from this page - please visit our 2014-2015 News Archive.


On Friday December 6th, the McNair Scholars Program gathered for its final symposium and to celebrate the graduation of four scholars.  Louisa Hussein, Paul Fowler III, Jon, Nelson, and Tyler Wieland were honored for their contributions to research in each of their respective majors and attainment of their Bachelor’s degrees. Each graduate was individually recognized, using excerpts from their statements of purpose for both their McNair Scholars Program application as well as their Graduate school applications. The quotes highlighted the depth and growth of each graduate, demonstrating their strengths and personal accomplishments within the academic community. Paul Fowler III, graduating with his bachelors in History, is also the recipient of the Nicole Bingham Memorial Scholarship and the Undergraduate Research Award.  Jon Nelson, who will be receiving his B.A. in sociology, is also the recipient of the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Betty Wahlstedt award for excellence in the social sciences and the KU Office of Study Abroad Scholarship.  Nelson is a member of the Honors Program and is a National Merit Scholar.  Tyler is obtaining his bachelor’s degree with honors in atmospheric science.  He was also honored with the Undergraduate Research Award and is a Hixson ScholarLouisa Hussein is graduating as a dual major in psychology and applied behavioral science. During her tenure as a scholar she obtained certifications in First Aid & CPR, Service Learning, and the Research Experience Program.

Additionally, Graduate Assistant Chelsie Bright presented her final symposium with the KU McNair Scholars Program titled, “Disseminating Research.” Bright will be leaving her position as a graduate assistant with the program in order to expand her own research and obtain her PhD. Bright’s contributions to the program as an adviser and assistant are vast and will be greatly missed. The staff and students of the McNair Scholars Program wish all the best to our graduates and to Chelsie Bright.

For more McNair News - Check out the McNair Chronicle, Fall 2013

Ronald McNair

Ronald McNair

Ronald Ervin McNair, the second African American to fly in space, was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina to Carl and Pearl McNair. He attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where, in 1971, he graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. degree in physics.

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The Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the TRIO programs, was established at the University of Kansas in October 1992. It is one of 185 Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Programs nationwide, designed to help ensure that the next generation of American faculty members represents the diversity of our society at large by preparing students from groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education for doctoral study.