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SOU, RCC get grants for minority students

The schools will get a combined $552,358 in federal money for programs benefiting minorities
A student climbs one of the stairwells at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. [Mail Tribune/file photo]

The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College over $500,000 combined to help underrepresented students receive a higher education.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden jointly announced RCC will get $277,375 toward its Talent Search Program, while SOU will get $274,983 toward the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program.

“This incredibly important funding will provide crucial support for our rural students and students with disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve opportunities and pathways to higher education that may not have been accessible without these awards,” Merkley said in a statement.

Wyden added, “I’m gratified (that) these federal investments in Oregon recognize those difficult challenges for students in both rural and urban settings.”

Both Talent Search and McNair are considered programs under TRiO — not an acronym, but rather, the name of a small number of programs funded under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. Talent Search assists underrepresented students in grades 6-12 in completing a high school education and enrolling in post-secondary education. McNair aims to prepare underrepresented undergraduate students for a doctoral program, in hopes of increasing the number of people holding such degrees.

McNair Scholars

The McNair Scholars Program is named after Ronald McNair, the astronaut who was killed aboard the Challenger space shuttle when it exploded in 1986. After his death, Congress and his family set aside funds for the nationwide program. SOU was named a McNair Scholars Program institution in 2003.

SOU serves 28 McNair Scholars Program recipients a year, according to Naomi McCreary, program coordinator.

In a written statement to the newspaper, McCreary explained that the U.S. Department of Education grant responsible for funding McNair Scholars runs on a 5-year cycle. With the previous cycle up, SOU now enters its fifth, which will run until 2027. With an allotment of $274,983 for each academic year, SOU is awarded funds totaling $1,374,915 over the 5-year grant cycle.

“I am ecstatic that the Department of Education has recognized the amazing work the Southern Oregon University McNair Program has done since 2003 and felt it should continue being funded,“ McCreary wrote in an email. ”This funding/program is so important to our rural community in helping students to recognize and reach their potential.

Katie Minich, an SOU senior majoring in sociology and anthropology, hopes to be one of them. A 35-year-old mother of three who runs her own business, she is proud to say she is a first-generation student, as well.

Applying to be a McNair Scholar was a lot of work, she said, but it was well worth the effort. Being a scholar involves conducting research that is published in the “McNair Journal” every year.

“It gives you a lot of edge over maybe some other folks doing undergraduate work,” Minich said.

Quinn Reynolds, an SOU undergraduate majoring in biology, said he hopes to go to University of Washington in Seattle, focusing on bio-medical research. Reynolds wasn’t always interested in graduate school, but his mentors convinced him otherwise.

“I realized there are other paths, one of which was graduate school, and McNair actually allowed me to explore applications to graduate school,” said Reynolds, who was not even sure he’d be accepted into the McNair Scholars Program. “Well, I got in and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful program.”

Talent Search

RCC has received the Talent Search grant since the 2006-07 academic year, supporting students at a few “target schools in Jackson County,” including North Medford High School, Crater High, Prospect Charter School, Hedrick Middle School and Scenic Middle School.

This new round of grant funding — totaling $605,788, taking into account last year’s funding and this year’s — gives RCC the ability to serve 1,092 Talent Search students, an increase of 500 from last academic year. The money will also go toward a variety of costs associated with Talent Search, including hiring additional staff and being able to provide free educational activities such as field trips to tour college campuses

“RCC is thrilled at the opportunity to expand our Talent Search Programs in Jackson County to serve more youth,” said Hollie Adair, director, TRiO and Talent Search equal opportunity centers.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.