BUFFALO, N.Y. -- More than 500 undergraduates from around the
country, most of them first-generation college students, will
arrive in Western New York this week for a research conference
intended to spark their interest in careers in academia.
"All of these students come from backgrounds and families where
they would have gotten little exposure to navigation of the
graduate-education process," explains Henry Durand, senior
associate vice provost of undergraduate education at the University
at Buffalo. "The goal of this conference is to continue nurturing
their interest in careers in the professoriate."
The 18th annual UB McNair Research Conference, to be held July
19 – 21 in the Niagara Falls (NY) Conference Center, may be
the largest undergraduate research conference of its kind in the
U.S. Freeman A. Hrabowski, PhD, president of University of
Maryland, Baltimore County will deliver the keynote address.
Approximately two-thirds of the participants are enrolled in the
McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at such schools as
UB, Alabama, Michigan State, Temple, Mississippi, Vermont and
McNair students are from low-income families and are the first
in their family to attend college. Funded by the Department of
Education, the McNair program is named in honor of Ronald E.
McNair, PhD, a pioneering African American astronaut who died in
the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
Other conference participants are from groups historically
underrepresented in higher education: African Americans, Native
Americans, Hispanic and Pacific Islanders among them. They are
enrolled in such campus programs as C-STEP, LSAMP and S-STEM,
designed to support and encourage student interest in science,
technology and math-related academic programs and careers.
More than 100 UB undergraduate students will present research
conducted with faculty mentors.
University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Maryland, and
Maryland Baltimore County, University of Mississippi, University of
Vermont, University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, University of
Southern California, and the University of Colorado are among the
institutions sending students to the UB conference.
They will attend a graduate school fair, participate in
workshops on how to apply to PhD programs and visit UB's Graduate
School to learn about the university's doctoral and master's
"These are very bright and motivated young men and women,"
Durand says. "Only students who perform faculty-sponsored research
are eligible to present at the conference. We give them the same
kind of platform to showcase their research as we would provide to
a faculty member."
Students will present research results on dozens of topics in
the sciences, humanities and social sciences, ranging from the
dangers of prenatal smoking to patterns of money laundering in
Russia to development of nanomedicine therapies for heart
UB student Christine Tjahjadi-Lopez, for example, will present
research she did on ethical approaches to diamond retailing. She
was mentored by UB geography professor Trina Hamilton, PhD, who
studies corporate, environmental and social responsibility.
Tjahjadi-Lopez said the research project has provided "a deeper
glimpse into the ethical retailer market" and persuaded her to
minor in geography at UB and pursue it in graduate school.
"Christine has really been a superstar research assistant,"
Hamilton says. "She's accomplished much more than I had originally
expected, and she has demonstrated not only an excellent work
ethic, but also a genuine inquisitiveness about the research
process, and about the intersections between research and social
"Overall, this will make Christine a more informed and critical
evaluator of other research, whether presented in academic journals
or the popular press, and a better candidate for future graduate
UB student Nurys De La Cruz will present a poster describing
research she performed alongside UB associate professor Gregory
Fabiano, PhD. She investigated differences in parenting styles
among mothers and fathers who have children with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
"Nurys is a terrific example of how rewarding it is to work with
undergraduate students," says Fabiano, a nationally known
researcher in the ADHD field. "In only two months, she has learned
a lot about research methods and has been a great addition to our
lab. Her enthusiasm is contagious."
De La Cruz plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology after
she graduates from UB next year. "Two of the most important things
I have learned through this experience are how to conduct research
and how to share it in a professional and correct manner," she
says. "I feel I have the tools necessary to conduct and present
research in any field of choice."
According to Durand, when undergraduate students perform
research with accomplished faculty members it increases their
chances for acceptance into doctoral programs and encourages their
pursuit of careers as college professors and researchers. McNair
program alumni are currently teaching at institutions all over the
world. But more needs to be done, Durand says.
"A study on faculty diversity by Cathy Trower and Richard Chait
at Harvard University, revealed that more than 90 percent of full
professors at research universities are white, and more than
three-fourths are male," Durand points out. "It's no stretch to
realize that this lack of diversity probably impacts scholarly
inquiry, pedagogical approach, departmental climates and
"More than one third of full-time faculty members are 55 or
older," he adds. "As a result, the coming decade will require
record numbers of new faculty to accommodate enrollment growth and
"Some large institutions will need to hire more ladder-rank
faculty in the next 12 years than they already employ. This,
combined with projected diverse demographics of the nation, makes
increased faculty diversity critical to serving both the interests
of the academy and society at large."