McNair Scholars Program selects eight students

Ronald McNair once said, “Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them.”

McNair, a physicist and NASA astronaut who passed away during the 1986 Challenger mission, had to live by that philosophy himself in graduate school. Near the end of his doctoral program, McNair lost all the data for his doctoral thesis, an accumulation of two years of specialized laser physics research discoveries. Despite the setback, he restarted his work and produced a second set of data in less than a year.

The McNair Scholars Program, named in McNair’s honor, emphasizes this same kind of work ethic and determination in its selected scholars.

Eight students, three juniors and five sophomores, were recently selected as McNair Scholars: juniors Ambreen Hooda, Vanessa Ortiz and Ashley Williams and sophomores Tae-Hyun Sakong, Alyssa Parra, Rosa Olivares, Anthia Liu and Christian Tovar-Vargas.

“The McNair Scholars Program is really dedicated to excellence in academia. For first-generation students, this is a way that the foundation has helped people who don’t have parents who have gone through the college experience to help us get all of the right connections, so that we can successfully graduate and successfully go into graduate programs and do whatever we want. That’s why I am so blessed to be in this program, because of the benefits of having these connections,” Liu said.

Tovar-Vargas is excited about the research opportunities and assistance the McNair Scholars Program will provide him with.

“I did research with Dr. Nishikawa in the political science department over the summer. It was based on environmental law in Mexico, and I did a lot of analysis on state websites to see what their policy was on environmental law,” Tovar-Vargas said. “Research interests for me include advertising and consumer psychology, and the cool thing about the McNair Scholars Program is that they kind of guide you through the whole process of conducting research.”

Liu appreciates the insight into the graduate school process that the McNair Program educates its scholars about.

“Our McNair advisor goes through everything about graduate school with us. We talk about some of the fears of graduate school, like how to pay for it and how to decide where to go, and since he’s been through it all, he can guide us and give us his advice,” Liu said.

One of the eligibility requirements for the McNair Scholars Program is that students must have an interest in graduate school. Tovar-Vargas, a psychology major, is certain he will attend graduate school after he graduates from Trinity.

“I’m already looking into a couple of graduate schools, and there’s a professional school of psychology in Chicago that really interests me. One of their programs has to do with Latino mental health that I might do. I’m also looking at their industrial organizational psychology program,” Tovar-Vargas said.

Liu, a business administration major, is interested in traveling to China to work in the international business field, but her dream is to attend the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

“My true passion is in the film and television industry and the behind the scenes technology and production of it. I hope that one day I can be a producer. I’m not aiming for fame in Hollywood, but I just love the medium so much that I would just really enjoy doing that,” Liu said.

Victor Rodriguez, a junior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, was selected to be a McNair Scholar last year, and this past summer was his first time to do research with the McNair Program. Rodriguez’s research consisted of experiments working with the Rieske protein. He hopes to attend medical school after Trinity, and he credits the McNair Program with giving him different opportunities to choose from after graduation.

“I had no idea about the graduate school process before coming to Trinity, so it has helped become more informed about my options after graduating,” Rodriguez said.

To learn more about the McNair Scholars Program, visit the Trinity University website at