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McNair Scholars Excel in Graduate-Level Research

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McNair Scholar Shayna La Scala isn’t waiting until graduate school to jump into graduate-level research.

By the time she applies for a graduate program later this fall, the human services major will have completed several research projects – giving her an edge in the application process, and valuable insight into the time management and skills needed to lead research on her path to becoming a faculty member and director of a program for students recovering from substance abuse.

She and 17 other students in Cal State Fullerton’s McNair Scholars program recently completed about two months of research at universities across the map.

La Scala partnered with USC researchers to study Los Angeles County homelessness and access to water, sanitation and hygiene to guide future, on-the-ground responses to their needs.

“We went beyond the numbers and walked the communities to ‘ground truth’ our data,” said La Scala. “We interviewed over 100 individuals living on the streets of Skid Row. We also interviewed employees in local businesses in downtown Los Angeles to gauge how they respond to the homeless population.”  

At the University of California, San Diego, she studied how some drugs interact with the brain’s mGluR5 receptor and whether those reactions might show potential to serve as treatment for schizophrenia.

McNair scholar Darnell Calderon, a sociology major, partnered with grad students at UCI to explore coping mechanism among children, mothers, incarcerated fathers and grandparents. He’s also conducting research on determinants of anti-immigration attitudes.

Fellow scholar Denyz Melchor, a physics major, traveled to Germany and Monash University in Australia to investigate the populations of black holes and the signatures of gravitational wave backgrounds of all distant binary black hole mergers.  

Fellow scholar Kimberly Hardaway partnered in a UCI study of how a Mediterranean diet of whole grains, nuts and extra virgin olive oil can reduce inflammation and even slow progression of the blood cancers Myeloproliferative Neoplasms. The human services major discovered that learning more about the diet could empower patients to self-manage their symptoms and improve biomarkers associated with the disease.

She also learned that research doesn’t always result in lengthy presentations of difficult-to-understand slides. She created a poster and a card as a handout resource for doctors to share references to helpful websites with recipes and details on how to alleviate symptoms.

“The project definitely helped me with my major and helped me with the research needed to create a poster about my findings,” she said. “But now I know, with the ability to do research, there won’t ever be a day when I’m not learning or eager to learn more,” she said.

The McNair Scholars program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and assists underrepresented students achieve their educational goals beyond a bachelor’s degree. The scholars also participate in a summer institute — a series of workshops on time management and developing a graduate-level research project with a faculty mentor.