The U.S. Department of Education awarded Boston College’s Learning to Learn Office the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Grant—a $1.3 million sum over the next five years.
“[This grant] means we can continue to serve our students from first-gen, low income, and underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in pursuing research and graduate education,” said Chasneika Astacio, associate director of the McNair Scholars Program. “So the program is built to offer services and to provide academic advising, financial aid advising, and counseling to our students … in order to offer them opportunities for research.”
The McNair Scholars Program is a national organization that works with low-income and first-generation students to help them prepare for graduate school, according to BC News. BC’s McNair program is hosted by the Learning to Learn Office.
The McNair Program focuses on graduate education in particular, according to Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey, director of the Learning to Learn Office.
“There is a gap among first generation, low-income students and underrepresented groups,” Contreras-Godfrey said. “When you look at professors, scientists, and researchers in particular, those areas have very low numbers of persons of color and these backgrounds. So, our goal is to really fill those types of roles through promoting graduate education, in particular doctoral degree attainment as a pathway to achieve those career goals.”
BC’s chapter of the McNair program has received the McNair grant five times in a row, totaling 20 years of funding for the Learning to Learn Office.
“It’s been here since 2003 … so for us, it’s huge to be able to continue to work here,” Astacio said. “I feel like we’ve grown a lot institutionally, and the fact that we continue to get it at BC just speaks to the hard work.”
The grant has helped the Learning to Learn Office send more and more students to graduate school, Astacio said.
“We were just doing our numbers for the last 10 years, and we’ve sent 63 percent of our students to grad school, which is huge,” Astacio said. “It’s a huge number, and it alludes to the work that we put in it. And the reason why I think we continue to get it is because our work speaks through the grant and through our student experiences, but also us meeting those objectives is something that we pour our hearts and souls into every day of this office.”
Contreras-Godfrey said BC competes nationally to win the McNair Scholars grant—only 189 universities win the grant.
“I think for me in particular, it means that we’re doing something right,” Contreras-Godfrey said. “We are competing at a national level. And there are tons and tons of wonderful institutions that apply for these grants. We’re one of 189 institutions.”
Astacio says that the most important thing she tells her students is to never give up or let anyone tell you no.
“I always tell my students to push for the stars to the moon and beyond,” Astacio said. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you no, and if they do say no we’re gonna find a back door. Or we’re gonna find a new door to open. So for me, it’s always the opportunities that we can open up for our students and remain to serve right that’s important.”
Many BC McNair graduates attribute their success to the Learning to Learn Office, Astacio said.
“A lot of the things that our students always say when they graduate is ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys. I wouldn’t be doing this. If it wasn’t for being here, I wouldn’t be going to grad school,’” Astacio said.