Syracuse University is among 168 colleges and universities from across the nation selected as sites for the highly competitive Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. SU is now part of a national network that recognizes and fosters the goals of talented students determined to pursue doctoral study. "Universities are both consumers and producers of academic talent," says Graduate School Dean Howard Johnson. "The thrust of the McNair program is to produce high-quality faculty for the future."

The program, established in honor of the late astronaut who died in the Challenger space shuttle tragedy, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. It requires participants to have a 3.0 grade point average, faculty recommendations, and either a financial need or be from underrepresented populations in doctoral education. The SU program will accept about 20 students each year.

SU’s McNair Project, "Building a Diverse Professoriate," is a collaborative effort between the Graduate School and the Division of Student Support and Retention. Johnson and Horace Smith, associate vice president for undergraduate studies and retention, are the program’s co-executive directors. "Our program enables the University to provide opportunities for students who have outstanding potential to be successful in graduate school, but would not otherwise have an opportunity to pursue graduate education," Smith says. "The program prepares students academically and emotionally, and helps them develop confidence and skills for success in graduate study."


Students are selected for the program during their sophomore year, and participate in McNair activities during their junior and senior years, says JoAnn May, director of supportive services. May and Stacy Tice, Graduate School assistant dean, co-direct the program, which features professional development seminars, preparation and practical exercises for college-level teaching, preparation for the GREs, assistance with graduate school applications, a mentoring program, and an independent original research project. The research project is a cornerstone of SU’s program and links students with faculty mentors in their chosen discipline.

Tracy Ann Bernson, a graduate student in English and women’s studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, was a McNair Scholar while an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire. She says the experience helped ease the transition to graduate school. "McNair gave me the confidence to pursue my goals," she says. "It opened doors, gave me networking opportunities, and helped me believe I had the ability to achieve what I wanted."
                                                                                                                                            —JUDY HOLMES



Jaipaul Roopnarine’s desk overflows with papers and the walls of his office are lined with crammed bookshelves. Mixed in with those books are framed photos of his children. These aren’t the only kids in his life, though. The child and family studies (CFS) professor focuses his research on how early childhood education affects students over time. "Education sets the stage and, in some cases, determines the eventual destiny of children," he says.

One of Roopnarine’s contributions to the field is a textbook he compiled with Penn State University professor James E. Johnson, featuring articles that take a historical and explanatory approach to practices in early childhood education. First printed in 1987 and now in its third edition, Approaches to Early Childhood Education is used nationwide by those considering a career path in shaping the lives of young children. Here in Syracuse, the book–which includes contributions from Roopnarine’s CFS colleagues Mellisa Clawson and Alice Sterling Honig–is used in both childhood development courses in the College for Human Development and inclusive education courses in the School of Education. "The book brings together diverse models of early childhood education and addresses how these different philosophical approaches prepare students for grade school," Roopnarine says. "There are many different thoughts on the subject, but the single purpose is to teach children to become competent adults. "

Chapters are devoted to the traditional child-centered Montessori system, as well as the innovative Italian approach to early childhood education called Reggio Emilia, which gives children more control over the construction of their learning environment and how they view the world. "Most of us think we learned to draw; they are drawing to learn," he says.

Roopnarine also has studied Caribbean immigrant families who come to the United States and how the parents’ theories on early childhood education conflict with common American practices. "These parents tend to have stringent beliefs about education and want a strict academic curriculum," Roopnarine says. "That clashes with the more play-based curriculum here." He believes that educators must understand the diverse ways in which various cultures approach early childhood education. "For obvious reasons, teachers should have an interface with the native culture and the school culture," Roopnarine says. "The children do better, parents support their children’s education better, and teachers more fully understand their students’ behavioral and educational needs."

Roopnarine also believes that when children are educated early, they adjust better to society, thus reducing such problems as juvenile crime and teen pregnancy. "There are many poor children who don’t have access to quality education and child care," Roopnarine says. "For a few thousand dollars a year we can inoculate children against social and educational failure."
                                                                                                                        —DANIELLE K. JOHNSON

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