When Associate Professor of English Joann Quiñones was a high school kid in New Jersey, she didn't think she could afford to go to college. Unsure that she could even pay the application fees, at one point she tore up a stack of college applications. Quiñones' mother had enrolled in a community college to earn an associate's degree, but neither parent had followed the traditional route to a bachelor's degree.
"Then one day a guidance counselor at my high school said, 'hey, there's a recruiter from Rutgers downstairs. You should go talk to her,'" Quiñones recalls. "So I ended up going to Rutgers on a scholarship, and eventually a friend told me, 'There's this thing called the McNair Program - they give you money for the summer. So I did that, too."
Named after the African-American astronaut who perished in the Challenger disaster, the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program is a U.S. Department of Education initiative to encourage high ability students from underrepresented groups (including low income, first generation college students and certain racial minorities) to pursue doctoral degrees. Benefitting from the support network the program provided, Quiñones earned a Ph.D. in English at the University of Iowa.
"When I started graduate school, they told us that in English, it would probably take us 10 years to finish a Ph.D. Before I was done, about half the people I started with were gone," Quiñones says.
"After going through the McNair program and making up my mind that this is what I wanted to do, I never had a doubt that I would finish." She flashes a grin that tends toward the mischievous, adding, "It took seven years, and by the end I had two babies and a full-time job, but I finished."
Quiñones is now director of Earlham's McNair program. The effort offers special mentoring and guidance to groom students for graduate school, helps them sharpen their academic skills, supports the students' participation in summer research projects and funds their travel to academic conferences.
"We know that there is a lack of equity in access to education in this country, and the McNair program addresses that inequity. Earlham has been successful in this sort of effort before, but this grant makes our efforts much more systematic," she notes. "Where better to have a program like this than at a place like Earlham that is so committed to social justice?"