McNair Scholars shine during Summer Research Institute

Posted on July 01, 2021

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Sky Kihuwa-Mani (left) works alongside faculty mentor Dr. Joseph Santin.

Image of two people in masks looking at computer screen in lab setting
Sky Kihuwa-Mani (left) works alongside faculty mentor Dr. Joseph Santin.

This summer, 18 Spartans are conducting research, preparing applications for graduate school, and learning all things academic professionalization as part of the annual UNCG-McNair Summer Research Institute. 

The UNCG-McNair Scholars Program, launched in 2017, is a federally-funded TRiO program designed to prepare undergraduate students for the pursuit of a PhD. The program is specifically for students who are first-generation and from modest- or low-income backgrounds, or students from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in graduate studies. 

This year’s cohort – the largest in UNCG’s history – includes students from a variety of academic disciplines, from physics to psychology to speech pathology. Students spend eight weeks conducting research alongside faculty mentors, in addition to writing cover letters, studying for the GRE or MCAT, and learning the ins and outs of graduate school. The scholars’ research will culminate in symposium presentations in July, and then statewide colloquium presentations in the fall. 

Dr. Tylisha Baber, associate director of the program, has been particularly impressed with this year’s group. 

“As part of UNCG-McNair, we try to select students who are highly motivated, highly disciplined, and self-starters,” she said. “This group of scholars is very focused and motivated to attend graduate school. They take a lot of initiative in their education.”

While most of the program has remained virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful of students are conducting research in labs on campus. Sky Kihuwa-Mani, a biology major, is working in Dr. Joseph Santin’s lab. He is conducting in vitro experiments to assess frog breathing muscle properties before and after hibernation. This research could have significant implications for human health. 

“Being able to focus on research full time has been huge,” Kihuwa-Mani said. “It’s been transformative for my research itself, to collect data and prepare for publication, and it’s given me the opportunity to see what research would look like in a PhD program.”

Caraline Malloy, a psychology and international business double major, has been working with Dr. Brittany Cassidy to explore how group membership – specifically political affiliation – impacts the relationship between facial trustworthiness and likeability. 

Malloy plans to apply to graduate programs across the country, with the long-term goal of working with businesses and organizations on DEI initiatives, group dynamics, and workplace psychology. 

“The Summer Research Institute has been fantastic. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful this has been,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from the writing seminars. They really simulate the graduate school experience.”

While the scholars represent different academic disciplines and come from a variety of backgrounds, they all share a passion for research. And the Summer Research Institute has been the perfect place to cultivate that passion, and to sharpen their skills. 

“I’ve always loved learning. I feel like that’s the one thing people can’t take away from you – what you know,” Malloy said. “I’ve always loved asking questions and getting them answered, and that’s what research is. Through data collection and analysis, you can figure out answers to questions that have never been asked before.”

The McNair Scholars program is named for Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair, a physicist and astronaut who died during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenge. Click here to learn more about UNCG-McNair.

Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications


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