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Scholarship Program Helps Guide First Generation College Students To Grad School

Westminster College
Westminster is a private liberal arts college in Salt Lake City and the only McNair Scholars partner in Utah.

A grant-funded research program at Westminster College is helping to prepare a diverse pool of students for graduate school by funding summer research projects.

One of the students is Debbie Samaniego, a first generation student and Marshall scholarwho just finished her senior year at Westminster. Her research focused on working conditions for migrant labor in the U.S.


During a presentation last week, Samaniego discussed the dangers migrant workers face, primarily on farms and in factories, sharing anecdotes of life-threatening injuries ignored by supervisors.


This issue hits close to home for Samaniego who comes from a family of Mexican immigrants.


“It’s not just about publishing papers and talking about the problems but also taking action," says Samaniego.


“We work with low-income, first generation and underrepresented students who would like to go to grad school," says Jo Hinsdale, director of the McNair Scholars Program at Westminster.


The federally funded McNair scholarships are what allow Samaniego and her peers to focus their summer on research by providing living stipends and academic support.


Westminster is the only McNair partner in Utah and Hinsdale has been running the program since it began in 2003. The hope is that these underrepresented students, the majority of whom are women, will go on to pursue careers in academia.


“In order to help all students access college and be retained and graduate from college we need a more diverse professoriate and these students will do that," Hinsdale says.


Former students from the Westminster program can be found teaching at universities all over the country.


The McNair scholarship is part of the TRiO program which President Trump has proposed cutting from the federal budget, but Hinsdale hopes it will survive and continue to shape the future of higher education.


Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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