Ronald E. McNair
Ronald Erwin McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, S.C., to Carl and Pearl McNair. He attended North Carolina A&T State University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in physics in 1971. McNair then enrolled in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned his Ph.D. degree in physics in 1976 at the age of 25.
McNair soon became a recognized expert in laser physics while working as staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratory. NASA selected him for the space shuttle program in 1978 and assigned him as mission specialist aboard the 1984 flight of the Challenger.
McNair received three honorary doctorate degrees and many fellowships and commendations. These included Presidential Scholar, 1967-71; Ford Foundation Fellow, 1971-74; National Fellowship Fund Fellow, 1974-75; named Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year, 1975; Distinguished National Scientist, National Society of Black Professional Engineers, 1979; and the Friend of Freedom Award, 1981; as well as many others. He also held a fifth-degree black belt in karate and was an accomplished jazz saxophonist. He was married and had a son and a daughter.
After his death in the Challenger tragedy in January 1986, Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This program is designed to prepare and encourage low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students to enroll in a graduate program of study leading to a doctoral degree and to consider careers in college teaching. This program is dedicated to the high standard of achievement Ronald McNair's life represented.