The McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is named in honor of Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair, a renowned laser physicist and astronaut. Dr. McNair's’ life was cut short due to a tragic accident aboard the USS Challenger Space Shuttle in January 1986. Dr. McNair graduated magna cum laude from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1971 and received his Ph.D. at the age of 26 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. While at MIT, Dr. McNair performed some of the earliest development of chemical and high-pressure CO lasers. He went on to study laser physics at E’cole D’ete Theorique de Physique in Les Houches, France. He was well published and nationally known for his work in the field of physics through the Hughes Laboratory.
Dr. McNair was the recipient of three honorary doctorates; a score of fellowships and commendations; an accomplished saxophonist; and held a sixth degree black belt in karate. He was married to the former Cheryl Moore and the father of two children, Reginald Ervin and Joy Cheray.
After his death, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program to encourage ethnic minorities, women and other underrepresented groups to pursue graduate school opportunities, in particular doctoral studies. It is one of the seven (7) federally funded TRIO programs, which provides direct services to low income and/or first-generation college students. These programs are designed to help students overcome class, social, and cultural barriers to higher education.