A Federal TRIO Program
  • Home
  • About
  • News Archive

News Archive

This News Archive features highlights from the 2015-2016 academic year. For previous news features, please try our "Newsletter" section.

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.

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




McNair Scholar Wins University Award

Cassandra Osei, a senior double majoring in History and Latin American Studies, was the recipient of the Rusty Leffel Concerned Student Award.  This award is presented to a student who has demonstrated through his or her actions a genuine concern for furthering the ideals of KU and higher education as a whole.  The Rusty Leffel Award is one of seven University Awards given to students at the University of Kansas.  The University Awards are among the most prestigious awards presented at KU, recognizing students who embody service, dedication, or academic excellence. Every year, students are nominated for one of seven University Awards. 

Cassandra has demonstrated such concern through her passion for social justice, namely black feminist and civil rights movements.  Through her research opportunities and engagement in the KU Community, Cassandra has discovered her educational and career interests and strove for positive change at KU. 

Prior to and during her first year with the McNair Scholars Program, Cassie’s research interests centered on black feminism, specifically on feminist movements in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Cassie expanded her research interests to feminist movements in other cultures, studying Brazilian black woman identity and politics as part of a study abroad project.  In the summer of 2014, Cassie studied systematic racism through university admissions policies as part of a research experience for undergraduates program, expanding her research interests further and providing a better understanding of injustices that affect people of color in higher education.

Cassie has used this knowledge of issues that hinder women and people of color to create positive change for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  As a member of the Multicultural Affairs Committee with the KU Student Senate, Cassie has raised awareness of cultural sensitivity and diversity in admissions, and was involved in initiating a diversity task force to make KU more inclusive.



Eleven TRIO McNair Scholars earn KU degrees, Honored for Undergraduate Research Achievements

Eleven graduating University of Kansas seniors in the TRIO McNair Scholars Program in the Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI) have received certificates, awards and special scholarly cords honoring their completion of the rigorous program. Their achievements were recognized at a May 2 banquet at the Kansas Union that included remarks from Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, other university leaders and program alumni.

As one of eight Federal TRIO Programs in AAI’s Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP), the McNair Scholars Program engages its students in various learning activities designed to help them become competitive candidates for graduate school. Each scholar conducts a summer research project in his or her major field of study under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

“This is always a thrilling moment in the academic year,” said McNair Scholars Program Director Mulu Negash, herself an alumna of the program. “We watch these students grow intellectually and advance in their fields of study, and while their roads to success are not easy, their time at KU and with McNair teaches them how to rise above difficult challenges to accomplish goals.”

In addition to their participation in the summer-research internship, scholars complete an interdisciplinary-research-methods course and a GRE preparation course sponsored by the program. They also meet individually with program staff every two weeks during the academic year and attend monthly workshops.

This year, students presented their research at national and regional McNair research conferences at the University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Baltimore County and the Heartland Research Conference in Kansas City.

 “They may forget the various theories and systems they learned, or our conversations and presentations with McNair, but I am confident that they will retain valuable critical-thinking, research and scholarly skills,” Negash said. “Our aim for this program includes helping individuals refine their resiliency and tenacity, develop resourcefulness and imagine greater futures than what they otherwise might have thought possible.”

Gray-Little and AAI Director Neal Kingston presented each student with special scholarly cords to commemorate their journeys to graduation. Blue cords represented the intellectual scholarship and rigorous research projects the students completed. Gold cords went to students who earned departmental honors and completed undergraduate honor’s theses. Kingston and CEOP Director Ngondi Kamatuka presented students with certificates for successfully completing the McNair Scholars Program, and several were honored with special awards.

Clint Jensen (gold) of Kansas City, Mo., served as the senior speaker and also received a McNair Spirit Award; Yliana Ruiz (blue) of Guadalajara, Mexico, was recognized with a McNair Spirit Award.

Ronald E. McNair Challenger Awards went to Jamie Fuller (blue) of Wichita, Kan., and Jon Nelson (gold) of Salina, Kan. The Katherine Humphrey Memorial Award went to Ruaa Hassaballa (blue) of Khartoum, Sudan, and the LaTina Sullivan Memorial Award went to Louisa Hussein (blue) of Accra, Ghana. The Chico Herbison Leadership Award went to Joshua Russell (gold) of Lawrence, Kan.

Others to earn gold cords were Merritt Schenk of Buhler, Kan., and Tyler Wieland of Clay Center, Kan. Others to earn blue cords were Paul Fowler III, Lawrence, Kan., and Eric Rivera of Los Angeles.

KU faculty members Nathaniel Brunsell (geography), Evangelia Chrysikou (psychology) and Allan Hanson (anthropology) were honored with McNair Mentor Awards for their exceptional service as mentors and their commitment to advancing underrepresented students in scholarly endeavors.

Belinda Hinojos, who received the McNair Scholars Outstanding Achievement & Service Award, addressed the banquet as McNair Alumna Speaker. Hinojos, who holds two KU degrees—a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in counseling psychology—went on to earn a PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Nebraska Lincoln, where she now works as a psychologist in the school’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and also serves as the Latino outreach specialist and liaison for UNL’s TRIO Programs.


By the Numbers: The McNair Scholars Program at KU

Since its establishment at KU in 1992, 263 students have participated in the McNair Scholars Program, with 16 new scholars joining during the 2013-2014 academic year. In 22 years at KU:

  • 224 Scholars have earned bachelor’s degrees
  • 109 Scholars have earned master’s degrees
  • 16 Scholars have earned PhDs
  • Eight Scholars have earned terminal/professional degrees (MD, JD, PharmD, PTD, VMD, EdD)


About AAI
AAI is the umbrella organization for four specialized educational research centers at the University of Kansas, including CEOP, which supports a wide spectrum of learners and provides educational information, counseling, academic instruction, tutoring, assistance in applying for financial aid and supportive encouragement to both students and their families. Programs help students overcome academic, economic, social, and cultural barriers to higher education. CEOP programs serve students at the University of Kansas, and youth and adults in the Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City areas. CEOP partners with more than 70 community agencies and schools in the state, including school districts in Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City, Kan., as well as the Kansas City, Kan., Housing Authority, the Kansas City Career Center, the KU Center for Research on Learning and the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth.

AAI’s other research centers are Agile Technology Solutions, the Center for Public Partnerships & Research, and the Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation. In all, AAI employs about 350 professionals, all committed to building partnerships, products, and programs in educational practice, assessment, and evaluation. These initiatives benefit children, adults, communities, and publicly funded agencies at the local, state and national levels.


Media Contact
Bill Woodard
Communications Manager
Achievement & Assessment Institute
The University of Kansas
bwoodard@ku.edu | 785.864.1680


Research Associate Receives TRIO Achiever Award

Dr. Jamie Bezdek, a KU alumna and participant in the McNair Scholars Program, was the recipient of the TRIO Achiever award at the 36th Annual MO-KAN-NE Conference.  The award is given to former TRIO participants that have received recognition within their profession or for outstanding academic achievement.  Dr. Bezdek received her bachelor’s degree in Speech, Language, & Hearing in 2001.  Dr. Bezdek would continue her post-secondary education at the University of Kansas, earning her Master’s in special education with a concentration in autism in 2006 and her Ph.D. in 2011.  In her time as a McNair Scholar, graduate student, and professional, Jamie has embodied the ideals of TRIO by being the first in her family to earn a Doctoral degree and using her education to positively impact disadvantaged students.

Jamie began her journey to impact the lives of others by studying autism in children as a McNair Scholar.  She began two undergraduate research projects with the department of Speech, Language, & Hearing.  Jamie’s first project studied the parental satisfaction of speech language services for students with autism.  Her second focused on the satisfaction, perceptions and preparedness of school speech-language pathologists working with students with autism.  This experience with autism, combined with the goals and values of TRIO, left Jamie with a vision to transform the field of special education by being an advocate for students who face special challenges in education.  Jamie would continue this vision during her post-graduate studies, eventually earning a Master of Education specializing in autism and a Ph.D. in special education.    

In her professional career, Jamie works to promote educational equality for all students by tackling ambitious projects on comprehensive school reform.  She works as part of a multidisciplinary research and training team committed to making a significant and sustainable positive difference in the quality of life of individuals and families affected by disability and the professionals who support them.  Currently, Dr. Bezdek works at the University of Kanas as a Researcher at the Beach Center on Disability, within the LifeSpan Institute working on implementing lasting change within school systems enabling them to appropriately and inclusively support all students through the SWIFT Center, a national technical assistance center for inclusive school reform.  Particularly, her research advocates for enhancing parent-professional partnerships, implementing school wide positive behavior support models in urban school districts.  Jamie has done exceptional work with USD 500 schools and other urban schools to promote school wide integrated frameworks for disadvantaged students.  Her commitment to educational equality is grounded in her beginnings as a TRIO student and serve as a prime contribution to her professional commitment similar to TRIO programs.



McNair Scholars Delivered an Inspirational Talk to TRIO professionals

On April 2, 2014, McNair alumna Diana Restrepo (pictured left) and current scholar Jamie Fuller spoke at the 36th Annual MO-KAN-NE Professional Conference in Kansas City, MO.  In front of an audience of 174 TRIO professionals, Diana and Jamie shared their academic journey and the role of TRIO programs in broadening their access to higher education.  Both women spoke about the challenges of navigating college and academics due to coming from families with little or no post-secondary education and few financial resources.  Diana and Jamie attributed their academic success to McNair Scholars Program and their faculty mentors.  Jamie and Diana told of how McNair and other TRIO programs are vital for the success of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented college students. Both scholars inspired TRIO professionals to continue to persevere in their endeavors to advocate for students. Diana is completing her Master’s degree in Latin American Studies form KU and will be starting her Ph.D. at KU’s Geography department. Jaime Fuller, a recent recipient of the National FLAS award, will be starting a Master’s program in Geography at the University of Kansas.




McNair Scholar Receives Student Leadership Award



On April 1, 2014, The University of Kansas Medical Center presented Ruaa Hassaballa with a student leadership award. Ruaa, a senior in the clinical laboratory sciences program, was honored with the Student Diversity Award, which is given to students based on their passion for diversity and the capacity to demonstrate leadership skills in this area.  Ruaa was nominated for the award based on her University service and leadership, which centered on diversity, teamwork and cooperative learning.  Ruaa’s award is featured on KU Medical Center Home Page. http://www.kumc.edu/