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Who is Ronald McNair?

Ronald E. McNair

Dr. Ronald E. McNair was an American physicist and NASA astronaut from Lake City, South Carolina. Despite his humble beginnings, his will and determination for greatness was quickly recognized. At 9-years-old he sparked a scene with city police as he refused to leave the segregated Lake City Public Library without permission to check-out books. With persistence, he was ultimately allowed to borrow the books and the library has since been re-named in his honor.

After graduating from Carver High School in 1967 as the class valedictorian, he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Physics with great praise from North Carolina A&T, and received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. After receiving his doctorate, he was among the few selected to work with NASA, where in 1984 he became the second African American to take flight into space. 

Nationally recognized for his work in laser physics, McNair was a mission specialist on the Challenger space shuttle. Despite a successful first mission, McNair was killed in 1986 when the Challenger disintegrated nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean, only seconds after take-off. His legacy lives on through those influenced by his unbending determination, regardless of the obstacle. The Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program at CU Denver stands to serve 25 first-generation and low-income students and/or students under-represented in graduate education who share McNair’s strong ambitions of completing a Ph.D. program and earning their doctoral degree.

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