"Because McNair works exclusively with first-generation and
low-income students, as well as underrepresented students of color, we
worked hard to make sure each scholar had the space and support needed
to help them maintain a sense of community, even while we were
remote," Martin said.
Gabrielle Angel, a senior who is majoring in women, gender, and
sexuality studies, said the McNair community became integral to
success beginning with the spring "stay home, stay safe"
executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and continuing into the
"There is this group of people who are just like you, doing
research, which can be very alienating as a first-generation
student," Angel said. "But you're in this community of
like-minded people and engaging virtually with this group regularly."
Angel had plans to travel during the summer to Los Angeles and New
York City to finish their research project, "The Monstrous
Queer," delving into newspaper articles and other forms of media
from 1970-1999 that depicted people of color who identified as LGBTQIA
as "monsters." As the university's COVID policies continue
to restrict travel, Angel moved to researching online archives while
continuing to build a professional network.
"I have been able to virtually meet a lot of people who teach
WGS. It's a powerful community," said Angel, who plans to pursue
a doctoral degree with an eye on teaching as a career.
McNair Scholar Jessa Avalos was once studying studio art until she
volunteered with a friend, a natural resources management major, to
prune trees in Grand Rapids. Avalos enjoyed the experience and later
changed her major to NMR. She now brings a strong artistic background
to her classes, according to her faculty mentor Alexandra Locher,
associate professor of biology.
"Many people believe that art and science are separate, but in
fact they complement each other in many ways," Locher said.
"Jessa is able to creatively think about a problem and also to
quantitatively analyze it."
Avalos' research focused on the effects of an invasive species on
hemlock trees in Ottawa County. Much of the outdoor work was completed
before the spring executive order, and she finished her project
studying the county's satellite imagery remotely.
The McNair Scholars program has taught Avalos more than how to
conduct an intensive research project. "I am a first-generation
student. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school but didn't know how
to start. Our regular meetings and talks with Dr. Martin have helped
me sort that out," she said.
Martin is an alumnus of the GVSU McNair Scholar program who earned a
doctorate in sociology from the University of Oregon in 2017. He said
first-hand knowledge of the challenges underrepresented students face
helps guide his daily work. And during a year when research
experiences and meetings had to shift online, Martin applauded the cohort.
"The real credit goes to the students in all of this," he
said. "They showed an amazing amount of perseverance and courage
to show up every day during an extremely challenging moment in our history."