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Success Stories

TRiO Works! McNair Changes Lives!

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Kerensa Allison PhD Photo

Kerensa Allison, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 1996)

Current Position: Associate Professor, Anthropology

Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho

Dr. Kerensa Allison earned a Bachelor's Degree in Biology from Eastern Washington University (EWU) in 1997; a Master of Science Degree in Biology from EWU in 2000, and a PhD in Anthropology from Washington State University in 2010.

In her own words:I am the oldest of three children who grew up in a rural apple-producing town on the Canadian border (population 1,700). My mother and father worked hard to make ends meet; welfare, frequent moves, and wage labor were all part of my adolescence. Graduating from high school in 1993, I enrolled at Eastern Washington University the next fall, where I found myself underprepared for the college experience. Fortunately Eastern's TRiO Student Support Services provided the foundation to complete my biology degree, and acceptance into the TRiO Ronald E. McNair Scholar Program changed the course of my life. TRiO McNair at EWU is not solely about preparing students for the GRE or helping them write their statement of purpose for graduate school. McNair helped me break down my personal barriers of self-doubt, which haunts all first-generation and low-income students. McNair provided the guidance in application, personal support during my academic journey, and celebration when I finished both my Master's in Biology (EWU) and Doctorate in Anthropology (WSU).

I recently accepted a tenure-track position working for Lewis-Clark State College where 80% of the student body qualifies for TRiO services. I will continue the TRIO legacy to help guide, support and inspire the next generation of TRiO students.


Callaway Grad PicMicheal Callaway, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 1998)

Current Position: Residential Faculty and Writing Program Administrator, English Department

 Mesa Community College (Mesa, AZ)

Dr. Micheal Callaway entered the TRiO McNair Program at Eastern Washington University in the summer after his sophomore year, in 1998. He completed a second summer of McNair research in 1999 and worked for the program teaching GRE preparation in the summer of 2000.

In his own words: "I feel very fortunate. I became aware of the McNair Program by accident. Back in the late 90s the McNair Program was located across the hall from the Academic Success Center (ASC), which housed TRIO Student Support Services. One of the advisers in the ASC suggested that I check out McNair. I had an hour to kill before my next class, so I walked across the hall. Those were five of the most important steps in my life. Up until that point, I didn't have any life plans. I was in college because my parents told me that I had to go. They both had GEDs and couldn't give me any insights into what the higher education landscape looked like. They just knew that I needed a degree to be successful. The McNair Program put me on track for success. I conducted research under the guidance of tenured faculty in the English department and presented at regional and national conferences.Micheal Callaway Argument in Composition Photo

The TRiO McNair Program even coordinated meetings with graduate schools on the trips to conferences. Meetings with faculty from other graduate programs were invaluable. From those experiences, I realized that my work with McNair set me apart from other undergraduates. Coming from the background that I did, it was easy for me to discount my own achievements. I had conducted research, "so what?" I thought that since my McNair faculty mentors were also my teachers that they praised my work because they liked me. The validation from scholars who didn'tknow me helped me see the value of my own work. My McNair advisers didn't praise my work because they liked me; they saw promise in my work and wanted to support me as I grew into a scholar. Those experiences also taught me not to doubt my ability to make meaningful contributions to my field of study. Most of all, I realized that graduate school was within my reach. I never would have completed a doctorate degree, published articles or published a book if not for the program."


Alvina Cawston, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 2003)

Current Position: Postdoctoral Resident

San Carlos Apache Reservation Wellness Center

Dr. Avila Cawston earned a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Eastern Washington University (EWU) in 2005; a Master of Science Degree in Clinical Psychology from Oklahoma State University in 2007; and a Psychology from Oklahoma State University in 2012.

In her own words: The McNair Program set me on the pathin life that I had dreamed of, but did not know how to achieve. TRiO McNair gave me a sense of purpose and drive to work towards the goals that I thought were impossible. Most importantly, the McNair program provided me with unyielding support to realize my goals. Not only did I learn how to prepare a curriculum vita, write a statement of purpose, and learn the scientific rigor of research, the program instilled a confidence within me I did not know I had. This new found confidence allowed me to seek out and capitalize on opportunities that I would have previously let slip by. The program broke down the hidden barriers that minorities often face and fostered an environment of excellence. The McNair program was a family; a home away from home. I am so grateful to everyone in the McNair program, staff and scholars, for all the love and support. My path was forever changed from the first day I was warmly welcomed into the McNair Program.


Rita Davis Photo

Rita Davis, Doctorate (EWU TRiO McNair 1996)

Current Position: Acute Care Physical Therapist

Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital

Rita Davis earned her Master's in Physical Therapy from Eastern Washington University in 2000.  That year, she also was awarded the Minority Scholarship Award from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). She began work at the Yakima Regional Medial Cardiac Center in 2007, and completed her Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) at the University of Montana in May 2011. In August 2011, she took her current position in the acute care setting at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.  She plans to continue her education by pursuing an MBA in Healthcare Management.

In her own words: "First of all, TRiO McNair gave me an instant support system for furthering my education. Being the first person in my family to go to college meant that although my family was proud of me, they did not always understand how to help me. The program taught me how to be a better student and to get what I needed out of my programs. McNair TRIO allowed me to develop my leadership skills by mentoring students in the cohorts after me, which I loved doing. The staff at EWU's McNair TRIO program still offer me support as I continue to pursue higher education opportunities. I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to be a McNair Scholar. It was an experience that gave me the tools I needed to be successful and skills that I use everyday."

Ms. Davis is married to Steve Davis, who graduated from EWU's PT program in 1998. They have two children, Lucia and Henry.  

Erin Dietel-McLaughlin (EWU TRiO McNair 2001)


Bowling Green State University






Frank King, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 2004)

Program in American Studies

Washington State University






Nallely Galvan, PhD  (EWU TRiO McNair 1998)

Educational Psychology

University of Illinois






Christina Torres Garcia, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 1997)


Dr. Torres García earned her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies and Social Thought from Washington State University. Currently, she is the Director of the TRiO Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program and has taught in the fields of Chicano Studies, Sociology, Women's and Gender Studies at Eastern Washington University and Chicano Studies at Yakima Valley Community College.

Her research interests and studies focus on historical, social, and political issues affecting Chicanas/Latinas in the Pacific Northwest. Her interest in illustrating the dynamic modus operandi of the intersections of systematic layers of oppression has resulted in reclaiming the voices of Chicanas and Latinas whose life stories enrich academia today. As a Chicana from Mexican farm working background and first-generation college student, Dr. Torres García's life dedication is to raise critical consciousness among students by unveiling social inequalities and empowering marginalized groups to become agents of positive change and engage them in civic responsibilities.

Apart from running the Ronald E. McNair Program, Dr. Torres García is working on a textbook manuscript for a Chicano Studies course.


Martin Meraz García PhotoMartin Meraz García, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 1996)

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Chicano Studies

Eastern Washington University

During Dr. Martin Meraz García's junior year at Eastern Washington University, he was introduced to the TRiO Ronald E. McNair Scholar Program. His decision to apply to the program was to have life changing consequences.

In his own words: "The program opened the door to a world I did not know, a world that historically has been only accessible to the elite. As a first-generation, low-incomeOrdinaryIndividualsWhoBecomeNarcotraffickersstudent, who barely knew how to read, write and speak English, TRiO McNair gave me the support and preparation that enabled me to earn a doctoral degree --a degree that allows me to teach at universities, to present my research at national and international conferences and to publish articles in scholarly journals. Most importantly, I am able to mentor students from backgrounds like mine and to encourage them to earn their degrees so that they too, will be able to contribute to their communities."

Dr. Martin Meraz García earned his PhD from Washington State University in Political Science. His book, Ordinary Individuals Who Become Narcotraffickers, was published by Kendall Hunt Publishing in 2012.

Giana Elena Hammer, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 1998)

Molecular and Cellular Biology

University of California







Sheikh Omar Jobe Photo

Sheikh Omar Jobe, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 2006)

Current Position: PhD Dissertator in Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology and MBA Candidate in Marketing Research

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sheikh Omar Jobeis currently finishing his PhD in Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology and MBA in Marketing Research dual degree at the University of Wisconsin Madison.  He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Washington University with a major in Biology as McNair Scholar.  Shortly after graduation, Omar worked for Medtronic Inc., one of the world's largest cardiovascular medical device manufacturing companies.  At Medtronic, he worked as a senior animal research technician with responsibilities including developing study operational procedures and maintaining departmental safety policies, SOPs and guidelines.  Working for Medtronicallowed Omar to learn about combining scientific research experience with the businesses of large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to better serve the needs of health care consumers and patients.  This exposure led him to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he is currently finishing his PhD in Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology and an MBA in Marketing Research.  For his excellence in academic achievement and research, Omar has received various merit-based awards including Pfizer SGI President's Best New Investigator from Society for Gynecologic Investigation and USDA-NIFA-NRI awards from Society for the Study of Reproduction.  As a graduate student, his work has led to various presentations at national/international conferences as well as publications in high impact peer-reviewed journals.  

In his own words: "Most students understand that college will be different - and harder - than high school, but many minorities including myself do not realize exactly what those differences and challenges will be.  More importantly, there are few academic programs that have attempted to counteract the various visible and invisible barriers minorities encounter upon entry to college such as the TRiO McNair Program.  The Eastern Washington University McNair Scholar Program provided tools and an outlet for grappling with the competitive demands of academics and economics, the needs of family and the search for meaningful relationships.  Moreover, the program provided a blueprint and resources to enter graduate school and various tools for retention. Apart from helping me learn about the rigors of life and academia, preparing for the GREs and building presentation skills, the McNair program gave us the opportunity to travel to conferences and meetings for professional development.  It is because of them that we always remember that as TRiO McNair scholars we are here to contribute to the value of the world and adhere to a deep sense of purpose and ultimately increase the number of minority and underrepresented populations in graduate programs."

Atara MacNamara, PhD (EWU TRiO McNair 1998)

AtaraMacNamara became a McNair Scholar in 1998 and graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2001 with a degree in Psychology. She attended graduate school at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and received her Ph.D. in Psychology in 2008. She is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology and Business Management at Centralia College.

Exceptional Faculty Award  



Jon Panamaroff

Jon Panamaroff (EWU TRiO McNair 2001)

Current Position: Executive Director and Senior Vice President

First Nations Oweesta Corporation

Mr. Panamaroff is an enrolled member of the Sun'aq Tribe of Kodiak, Alaska and a descendent of the Koniag Alaskan Native Cooperation. Prior to joining OweestaJon had spent his professional career in finance and Native American economic development.  He worked as Northwest Zone Credit Manager for the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development, Division of Capital Investments as well as with the Department of the Interior.  He also was Vice President of Business Development and Senior Commercial Lending Officer at Native American Bank, N.A, as well as a Commercial Credit Card Analyst for Bank of America, and a Project Manager/Lead of the Program Management Office and IDIQ center at Koniag Services, Inc. 

Over the last five years Jon has been directly involved in managing or generating over $500 Million of investment capital into Native Communities. This investment went directly to individual Native entrepreneurs, Tribes, Tribally & Alaska Native owned enterprises. At the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development Jon set himself apart by providing nearly $60 Million of loan guaranties in 2009 to tribal enterprises while working with and visiting many of the 110 Tribes in the Northwest Zone to discuss solutions to Native American enterprise development. This was recognized and Jon was selected for the Department of Interior's Indian Affairs Leadership Development Program which grooms GS14 &15 managers for Senior Executive Service positions. 

JonPanamaroffPhotoCheckAs a Vice President at Native American bank Jon serviced his 26 Tribal and Alaska Native Corporation owners by producing much of the bank's commercial loan portfolio. When leaving the bank Jon was presented with the Best Business Development Officer award. 

Mr. Panamaroffcompleted his Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration and a Bachelors of Arts in Organizational Psychology withdepartmental honors in both disciplines from Eastern Washington University.  He states his experience as a TRiO McNair Scholar at EWU helped him build a strong foundation for a professional career bringing positive change to Native American communities throughout the country.

Jon also earned a Master's of Public Administration from EWU, and is currently working on a Graduate Degree of Banking at Colorado where he plans to graduate in June 2012. 

In 2010, Mr. Panamaroff was recognized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Developments "Native American 40 under 40".

Alicia Peaker

Alicia Peaker is currently the CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital Liberal Arts at Middlebury College. She successfully defended her dissertation, 'Our English Ground': Women, Literature, and the Environment, 1900-1950, at Northeastern University in April 2014. During her tenure as a graduate student she organized six graduate conferences and served as the PhD representative and Vice-President of the English Graduate Student Association. She has also worked as the Project Co-Director for OurMarathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive, the Project Manager for The WomenWriters Project, and the Development Editor for GradHacker at Inside Higher Ed.

"As a McNair scholar, I had my first experiences with formal mentorship. The summer grant I received from McNair allowed me to focus on drafting a strong writing sample and preparing for the rigors of graduate education while working closely with a faculty mentor. For the first time in my life, I was getting deeply valuable feedback on my research and writing. Perhaps even more valuable to my development as a scholar were my experiences with my cohort. My colleagues came from similar backgrounds but also, like me, were determined to pursue higher education in spite of the barriers. We formed reading groups, writing groups, and general accountability groups to support each other through the grueling PhD application process.

 My connection with McNair plugged me into a national network of support unlike any I had experienced before. Recognizing the importance of such networks, I became involved in other communities in graduate school such as the Graduate Consortium of Women's Studies, Occupy Boston, and the Digital Humanities community. My personal experiences with these diverse networks continually inform both my research and my pedagogy."

Andrew Pereira (EWU TRiO McNair 2010)

Current Position: Senior Undergraduate Student

Eastern Washington University

Andrew Pereira is currently an enrolled senior at Eastern Washington University, majoring in Psychology.  

In his own words: "I believe the TRiO McNair Scholar Program and its staff have taken my raw and unorganized determination to make something of myself, and they turned it into something useful: the desire and means by which to obtain a PhD. Without the guidance and coaching I've obtained through McNair, I would not be as fully equipped as I now feel I am to achieve my dreams for the future. Neither of my parents obtained a college degree, so I wasn't able to get the necessary guidance from them. My mother doesn't even have a high school degree, and she also learned English as a second language. With the complexities and costs involved in the graduate school application process, I felt like the system was working against me, and my family wasn't able to offer much help. Not until finding the TRiO McNair Scholar Program was I able to find common cause with others like me looking to better their lives, people aiming to make substantial contributions in the world, and a staff with resources to help make it all possible.

They have coached me, guided my natural talent, and empowered me to feel confident in my intellect, presentation skills, research techniques, and ability to get into graduate school. I've now had the pleasure to be a participant of their summer research seminar and have produced a research paper that I am very proud of. Along with the work I've done in the summer, I've developed a strong respect for the research process. I believe educating students like me to further our body of scientific knowledge should be a high priority."


Cheryl Dykstra-Aiello (EWU TRiO McNair 2009)

Current Position: PhD Student in Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology

University of California-Davis.

Cheryl Dykstra-Aiellois currently a graduate student in Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology at University of California-Davis. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Washington University in 2011, with an emphasis in Pre-Med as a McNair Scholar.

In her own words: "When I was growing up as the oldest of six children, my parents who were both high school drop-outs, encouraged me to graduate from high school and to get a job. Although I wanted to attend college, I knew that it would place a burden on my parents because from the ages of 14 through 19, I had been told I needed to work on a nearby tobacco farm during the summers and into the beginning of the school year in order help my parents pay their bills and to look after my siblings. When, in the 11th grade, we lost our home to foreclosure and found ourselves homeless for a brief time, I knew that I would have to put my own dreams on hold because my family came first. I followed my parents'advice, obtained my high school diploma and got a bookkeeping job. Although I continued to toy with the idea of becoming a college graduate over the next few decades, I logically decided that it would be better to remain working.

That changed for me, however, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35 and realized that life would not wait for me. The time for dreaming had come to an end and the time for action had arrived. With determination and hope for a better life, I returned to Eastern Washington University to obtain my Bachelor of Science degree. I didn't dare dream beyond that degree because, as a first generation college student, I didn't even know it was possible. Thankfully, I was introduced to the McNair program during my junior year and found a community of support and encouragement as well as a means to an end that I didn't even know existed.

When I became a McNair scholar, my path toward a Ph.D. became clear and withthe help of the program, I was given tools to get into graduate school that I would not otherwise have obtained. In addition to learning how and what to do to apply to the graduate program of my choice, I was also been given the opportunity to conduct research and to present that research - here at Eastern, as well as in Wisconsin and San Diego. As a McNair scholar, my value as a graduate student rose because the schools to which I applied knew that I had committed to a program outside of my regular school curriculum, had obtained research experience and knew how to write up and present my results. Additionally, having the opportunity to travel to conferences in order to make presentations allowed me to hone my networking skills and to make contacts at schools of interest with other students and faculty.

The McNair program doesn't just provide students with the tools to get into graduate school, it provides those of us who don't quite know how to get to our goal with the hope we need to keep going on our chosen path."

Candice Helsing (EWU TRiO McNair 2005)

Current Position: Northeastern University PhD student, Teaching Assistant and Researcher: Sociology with Violence Concentration

Boston, MA

Candice Helsingholds an interdisciplinary Master's degree from Eastern Washington University in history, anthropology, and psychology, and is currently working towards a PhD in sociology with violence concentration at Northeastern University in Boston. She plans to complete her comprehensive examinations next year - the first in violence and conflict and the second in criminology.

Candice Helsingis currently working with Dr. Nikos Passasfrom Northeastern's criminal justice department on a study funded through a grant from the United Nations that examines the efficacy of anti-corruption agencies across the world. This is an extension of an earlier project where they compiled anti-corruption agency information into a large directory. Additionally, she is developing a project with Dr. Jack Levin in the department of sociology that examines potential victim characteristics as they correlate to police statements to media in serial murder cases. She is also a teaching assistant, and hopes to teach her own classes at Northeastern following the completion of her coursework next year.

In her own words: The Ronald E. McNair Scholar program fundamentally changed my life and allowed me to reach for goals I never imagined possible. As a first generation college student from a low-income background, the McNair program leveled the academic playing field and truly taught me how to be a scholar. Prior to McNair, I had some vague notion of what graduate school might be like, but I never dreamed I would be able to attend or attain a PhD - I knew nothing of the application process or the intricacies involved in selecting a program to fully match my objectives. However, through McNair, I have been able to move from a small town in Washington State to an amazing university in Boston, where I work with some of the most respected names in my given area of study. TRiO McNair gave me the strength to make such a drastic change in my life, challenging me to grow intellectually and to expect more out of my life in general.

Anyone that comes from a first-generation, low-income background like myself can attest to the fact that attending college is much more difficult, whether or not mainstream American political discourse accepts this as fact. The Ronald E. McNair Program helps students to shape and realize their objectives, fostering future researchers and giving them a voice where they might not otherwise be heard. Accordingly, I can say definitively that I would not be where I am now without McNair.                                                                       

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