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Two School of Social Work undergraduate students were inducted into the prestigious McNair Scholars program, administrators of the program announced in February.
Treston Shaw and Jamie Ba, both of whom are social work majors, were inducted into the program along with 15 other UTA undergraduates. The other students are majoring in science, engineering, technology or other disciplines, administrators of the program say.
As McNair Scholars, the students will participate in training to prepare them to enter graduate school. The training is comprised of research, study for graduate admissions examinations and instruction in skills such as interviewing.
The goal of the program is for students to earn masters and doctoral degrees, says Joan Reinhardt, director of the program.
“They get a taste of what graduate school is going to be like,” she says of the scholars.
Shaw learned of his selection days before an induction ceremony was held to recognize the McNair Scholars. “I was overwhelmed with joy,” he says.
The undergraduate students each will receive a $3,000 stipend to conduct research in their respective fields.
“It’s amazing,” says Ba. “Research over the course of the summer is going to be like a nine-to-five job, so it helps. It definitely helps.”
Shaw transferred to UTA from Tarrant County College intending to become a clinical social worker. Once at UTA, he saw fliers about the McNair program, researched it and became drawn to its emphasis on accelerating above the bachelor’s degree level.
He then shifted his career focus – from clinical social work to instruction, research in social work and student affairs. For inspiration, he looked to his past: He had been inspired by school counselors who, in fact, were social workers – with advanced degrees.
His counselors told him he could achieve a terminal degree; He struggled with believing he could.
“With undergrad, I know I can do it,” he says. “I didn’t have doubts.”
Graduate school, though, is uncharted territory. He is particularly unnerved, he says, at attending graduate classes at many universities where ethnic or racial minority students, those who are disabled or gay, lesbian or transgender students might be less represented.
“For African-Americans at predominantly white institutions, that can be kind of intimidating,” he said. “I was not confident enough. You’re feeling like a shadow and you’re kind of overlooked.”
However, Shaw is finding his footing at UTA and with the McNair Scholars program.
For 2018, UTA ranks No. 1 in Texas and No. 23 in the nation for masters degrees conferred to African-American students, according to Issues in Higher Education. The university ranked No. 1 in Texas and No. 11 in the nation for bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-American students, according to the magazine.
Shaw wants more students from traditionally underrepresented communities to realize higher education is more attainable than they might perceive.
“I’m thinking, like, African-American students who come from a low-income background, who are navigating college, I want them to relate to my life,” he says.
The McNair program will assist Shaw and Ba by paying their graduate school application fees and training them for face-to-face interviews, Reinhardt says. The program also hosts classes to provide scholars with information on graduate student experiences, such as budgeting and money management.
Ba transferred to UTA from a community college in Pemberton, New Jersey where she studied nursing. She moved to Texas, became involved in community service with an Arlington-area nonprofit and changed her career plans to becoming a social work researcher.
“I’m trying to learn more to help not just myself and my family, but others in my community, she says.
Social work research will support her interests in families, domestic violence and community development, Ba says.
Both students will spend several weeks in the summer performing graduate-level research and writing on a social work topic. They will earn three credit hours of independent study and will be eligible to present their findings at an annual conference of McNair Scholars held at various sites around the country.
Once they complete their undergraduate studies, they each are expected to enter graduate school to pursue masters and doctoral degrees.