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Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair, Ph.D.



The McNair program, officially the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, is a federally-funded TRIO program. The program honors the late physicist and astronaut Ronald Erwin McNair, Ph.D., who died during the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle explosion.

Ronald McNair was born in Lake City, South Carolina. He came from a low-income family. Determined to excel in academia and life, Ronald graduated as valedictorian in 1967 from Carver High School. In 1971, he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from North Carolina A&T State University (Greensboro). He then earned his Ph.D. in laser physics in 1976 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. McNair also received an honorary doctorate of Laws from North Carolina A&T State University in 1978, an honorary doctorate of Science from Morris College in 1980, and an honorary doctorate of science from the University of South Carolina in 1984.

In recognition of Dr. McNair’s expertise in physics and his numerous accomplishments, he was selected from a pool of thousands by NASA for the space shuttle program in 1978. Dr. McNair flew into space in 1984, becoming the second African American to fly in space. He flew again in 1986, aboard the ill-fated Challenger, where he was lost along with 6 other crew members (Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, and Francis Scobee).

Dr. McNair received many honors and distinctions throughout his life: Presidential Scholar (1967–1971), Ford Foundation Fellow (1971–1974), National Fellowship Fund Fellow (1974–1975), NATO Fellow (1975); winner of Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year Award (1975), Los Angeles Public School Systems Service Commendation (1979), Distinguished Alumni Award (1979), National Society of Black Professional Engineers Distinguished National Scientist Award (1979), Friend of Freedom Award (1981), Who’s Who Among Black Americans (1980), and an AAU Karate Gold Medal (1976). He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Dr. McNair was also a dedicated son, brother, husband, and father.

Dr. McNair’s legacy continues to be preserved through the McNair program. The goal of the McNair program is to increase the number of low-income and first-generation college students, and students from historically underrepresented populations that earn graduate degrees (e.g., Ph.D. and Master's degrees). At CSUSM, TRIO McNair is dedicated to assisting students in successfully completing their undergraduate degrees and preparing for/succeeding in graduate school.