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Dr. Ronald E. McNair

Ronald Erwin McNair
Ronald Erwin McNair

Ronald Erwin McNair was born on October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, to Carl and Pearl McNair. Although he grew up amidst crushing poverty, McNair always exhibited a deep thirst for scientific knowledge. While in junior high school, Dr. McNair was inspired to work hard and persevere in his studies by his family and by a teacher who recognized his scientific potential and believed in him. Dr. McNair graduated as valedictorian from Carver High School in 1967. In 1971, he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Physics degree from the North Carolina A&T State University (Greensboro). In 1976, Dr. McNair earned his Ph.D. degree in Physics from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the age of 26 and went on to work with the Hughes Research Laboratory where he became recognized as an expert in the field of laser physics.

In addition to his academic achievements, Dr. McNair received three honorary doctorate degrees and many fellowships and commendations. These included Presidential Scholar, 1967-1971; Ford Foundation Scholar, 1971-1974; National Fellowship Fund Fellow, 1974-1975; a NATO Fellow 1975; and an Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year, 1975; Distinguished National Scientist, National Society of Black Professional Engineers, 1979; and Friend of Freedom Award, 1981.  He also held a fifth degree black belt in karate and was an accomplished jazz saxophonist.

Dr. McNair realized his dream of becoming an astronaut in 1978 when he was selected from a pool of ten thousand applicants for the NASA space shuttle program and became the second African-American to fly in space. His first space shuttle mission launched successfully from Kennedy Space Center on February 3, 1984. Two years later he was selected to serve as Mission Specialist aboard the ill-fated U.S. Challenger space shuttle. He was killed instantly when the Challenger exploded one minute, thirteen seconds after it was launched. Dr. McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. After his death in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident on January 28, 1986, Congress approved funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which is dedicated to the support and promotion of the high standards of achievement exemplified by McNair to encourage low-income and first-generation college students and students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups to expand their educational opportunities by enrolling in a Ph.D. program and ultimately pursue a career in academics.

NCCU complies with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all programs and activities (including sexual harassment and sexual violence) in the University's educational programs and activities. For additional resources or to file a Title IX complaint, visit the NCCU's Title IX webpage.
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