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No limits

$1.3 million grant to help underrepresented students become Ph.D.s

In 1999, Judith Flores Carmona was a junior at California State University, Monterey Bay. She was a first-generation student with no idea about navigating college. Earning a doctoral degree was far from her mind.

“That year I took a class that changed my life Latina Life Stories with Dr. Rina Benmayor, a course on testimonio methodology. She is one of the authors of the book ‘Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios.’ I remember asking her what I needed to do to be like her, have her job one day, and she said, ‘you need to get a Ph.D.,’” Flores Carmona says.

Around the same time, Flores Carmona found out about the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and was identified as a student who should apply.

“I did and completed a summer at Claremont Graduate University working closely with top students of color from across the country, all of us taking graduate level courses,” she says. “When I returned to CSUMB, I had a clear goal in mind I was going to be Dr. Judith Flores Carmona.”

A 2022 award from the United States Department of Education to NMSU means the university can now offer a program that will support underrepresented students who want to achieve doctoral degrees, just like Flores Carmona, now an associate professor with the William Conroy Honors College at NMSU.

Under an effort led by Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Tony Marin ’98 ’08, NMSU will receive $1.3 million over five years to support the McNair Scholars Program, a federal TRIO program designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair Scholars are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential.

Marin was joined by a team of co-investigators to bring the McNair Scholars Program to NMSU after a 15-year absence. The team included Honors College Dean Phame Camarena, former interim College of Health, Education and Social Transformation Dean Henrietta Pichon and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Professor Merranda Marin ’99 ’07. 

“What is neat about this team is that all of us were first-generation college students who went on to earn our Ph.D.s, just like the McNair program objectives,” Camarena says. “This was a personal labor of love for us with over a year of planning and work together to make this happen.”

Merranda Marin adds, “Now, as a faculty member, I find it to be quite an honor to be able to assist new generations to look forward towards doctorate degrees as well as the social mobility and other opportunities that can bring.”

Camarena, Tony Marin and Merranda Marin will head the advisory and guiding team as co-principal investigators for the grant.

“The addition of the McNair Program to the NMSU campus will provide invaluable support for first-generation, income sensitive and traditionally underrepresented students who aspire to achieve a doctoral education,” Tony Marin says. “Through mentorship from our world-class faculty, support from our student service units and administrative oversight by the leadership of New Mexico’s first Honors College, I have no doubt the program will be successful in meeting the stated objectives.”

Camarena also would like to acknowledge Rebecca Campbell for her contributions to the grant development work that made the McNair Scholar Program possible as part of her 2022-2023 Honors faculty appointment. 

Elsa Arroyos ’97, associate professor of counseling and educational psychology at NMSU, says she owes her career in education to her experience as a McNair scholar, which afforded her a number of opportunities as a first-generation student.

“The program helped me to navigate undergrad as well as graduate school admissions processes and preparation,” Arroyos says. “I believe, most importantly, the program helped me to forge a professional and personal relationship with my McNair mentor, Dr. Enedina García-Vázquez, who introduced me to my discipline of study, school psychology. I would never have found my life’s work if it weren’t for my mentor.”


NMSU William Conroy Honors College Dean Phame Camarena (top, from left), College of ACES Professor Merranda Marin and Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Tony Marin are co-investigators of the McNair Scholars Program, a federal TRIO program designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies. NMSU faculty members Judith Flores Carmona (bottom left ) and Elsa Arroya are former McNair scholars who say the program helped shape their studies and careers.