The McNair Scholars Program, through the Center for Access & Postsecondary Success (CAPS), is an intensive research and graduate school preparation program for upper-division STEM undergraduate students interested in pursing careers in academia. Scholars become academically well-rounded, competitive candidates for graduate study, and are prepared to successfully pursue a doctoral degree. Earning the title means participation in a multi-semester, year-round program until graduation.
McNair Scholars work closely with a faculty mentor, learn how to evolve into an undergraduate researcher in a STEM discipline, explore career trajectories, and are equipped with all of the research, writing, presentation, and professional development tools necessary to be competitive candidates for an M.S. and Ph.D. degree. Maria began in Gregory C. Sartor’s lab as a CAPS Research Apprentice in the fall of 2022 and then was selected to be in the preparatory course for new Scholars in the spring of 2023. During the fully funded, eight-week, research-intensive summer component, Maria researched the potential use of Hydroxynorketamine, a metabolite of ketamine, on opioid withdrawal symptoms in mice. Maria presented her research project, titled Neural Mechanisms Involved in Opioid Dependence, at the Annual Poster Exhibit for the CAPS Summer Research 2023 Program. Working in Sartor’s lab has given Maria early exposure to research and a better understanding of what’s involved in a Ph.D. program.
“Having the opportunity to start research early has been an amazing experience and quite the eye-opener. It allowed me to realize that I want to continue down this path,” says Maria. “Being part of the Sartor lab has been an exceedingly enriching experience where I have been able to grow both as a researcher and an individual. I am excited to continue working on this project in order to deduce the mechanistic functions of Hydroxynorketamine.”
As a McNair scholar Maria is also given the opportunity to speak with UConn groups about the program. As an immigrant and first-generation college student Maria understands how valuable programs like the McNair Scholars can be for students in STEM. The research opportunities within CAPS Research are for first generation college students and may self-identify as underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Her promotion of the program encourages students to have the confidence to apply and brings awareness to the holistic support the program offers. Beyond her academic achievements, Maria finds time to participate in campus organizations such as the School of Pharmacy Diversity Committee, CAPS College/Student Support Services, and the Dominican Student Association.
“Maria is a paradigm for all that students learn about themselves through the opportunities our CAPS Research office offers,” says Renee Trueman, Director of the CAPS Apprentices & Scholars and McNair Scholars. “From exploratory to advancing on an independent project, through workshops and community engagement to hone professional skillsets and build cultural capital and financial literacy, students recognize the potential we see in them as they blossom into industrious troubleshooters who will go on to be competitive applicants for Ph.D. programs nationwide.”