Ronald E. McNAIR

Biography

Ronald Erwin McNair was born October 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina to Carl and Pearl McNair. He attended North Carolina A&T State University where he graduated magna cum Laude with a B.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.

Dr. 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 shuttle Challenger.

Besides his academic achievements, Dr. 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 daughter.

After his death in the Challenger space shuttle accident in January 1986, members of 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 E. McNair's life represented.

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Finally, the center will support the development of two master's degree programs in Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Management and the development of undergraduate minors in those same fields. The undergraduate initiatives will allow students in more traditional engineering disciplines, such as mechanical and electrical engineering, to supplement their studies and specialize in those fields. Students graduating from these programs will be prepared to contribute immediately to the aviation and aerospace industrial cluster. The presence of a ready workforce will be a major advantage for South Carolina in its efforts to attract more companies associated with the aerospace field.