Congress established the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program (otherwise referred to as the “McNair Scholars Program”) in 1986 to honor the memory of the Challenger astronaut and noted laser physicist. The McNair Scholars Program is a federally-funded TRIO program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. The McNair Scholars Program has been in existence at the University of New Hampshire since 1991.
Ronald E. McNair (1950–1986) was a NASA astronaut, accomplished musician, and black belt Karate instructor. He grew up in Lake City, South Carolina, working in cotton and tobacco fields to help support his family. McNair excelled in school, graduating as valedictorian from Carver High School in 1967. His high school achievements earned him a state scholarship, and he entered North Carolina A&T State University that fall to study physics. As an undergraduate, McNair was named a Ford Foundation Fellow and a Presidential Scholar. He graduated magna cum laude from the physics program. These honors earned him a scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he completed his doctoral studies. While working at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California, McNair was invited to apply for the NASA space program. His second mission aboard the space shuttle Challenger ended in an explosion that killed all eight astronauts on January 28, 1986. That year, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program was established to serve students like Dr. McNair who are committed to high standards of academic and personal achievement.