At the University of Minnesota, young scholars in the program named for the fallen astronaut are reaching for the stars.
Naima Bashir, a senior at the University of Minnesota, has a keen interest in learning about parents’ involvement in their children’s education in her Somali community. This summer, she was able to conduct a research on the topic when she was one of 21 top students to participate in the U of M McNair Scholars Summer Research Program.
The McNair Scholars Program, now in its 14th year at the University of Minnesota, is named after Ronald McNair, the African American astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion. It aims to encourage and assist minority, disabled or low-income undergraduates to enroll in graduate programs or professional schools. Besides conducting hands-on research, participants have been attending motivational workshops, graduate record exam prep classes and research writing workshops.
Bashir, a 2003 Hopkins High School graduate who majors in family social science and child psychology, conducted a research under the guidance of family social science professor Catherine Solheim on the research titled ""Parent-School Partnerships: A Study of Somali Immigrants in Minnesota."
Bashir, one of nine children of Muhubo Muse and Abdullahi Bashir of Hopkins, knows full well the importance of parental influence on a Somali child’s education.
"I’ve had a lot of support from my parents," Bashir said. "They stress that education is a big thing and that it provides opportunities you otherwise would not have. They push us a lot."
Urged on by her parents and her own desire to excel, Bashir has overcome obstacles to succeed. Her family arrived from Kenya just seven years ago and Bashir attended junior high and high school in a mostly white suburban school.
"There weren’t any Somali students and very few African Americans," she recalled. "Socially I felt alone and felt like an outsider."
The social isolation didn’t stop Bashir from doing well in high school and being accepted into the University of Minnesota. At the U, Bashir immediately found a social network when she joined the Black Student Union and the Somali Student Association. "That helped a lot. I met new friends right away," Bashir said.
Academically, Bashir found her major but she needed a mentor for guidance. She searched the various mentoring programs the U offers and found professor Solheim.
"I need a mentor and someone to motivate me," Bashir said. "I was very lucky to find professor Solheim."
Under Solheim’s guidance, Bashir started conducting her research and the McNair Program allowed her to dive into the project full time this summer. In addition to providing research funding, the McNair Program also gave Bashir encouragement and support.
"McNair is designed for someone like me," said Bashir, who plans to continue her research on barriers facing Somali youth through the U of M Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.
"I feel welcome and I feel like we are a family. It motivates you and makes you feel you can do anything you put your mind to."
Bashir, who will be the first child in her family to receive a degree from a four-year university, is certain she will pursue her goal of earning a master’s degree in
educational policy and administration.
"Applying for graduate school is a big thing and I didn’t think I could do it," Bashir sad. "The McNair Program is very helpful. It makes me feel positive that I will get into graduate school."
Since 1991, the McNair Program has sponsored more than 300 students. Of those, 60 percent have gone on to graduate school.