Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986) was born and raised in Lake City, South Carolina. He came from a low-income family, but was determined to excel in academia and life. He graduated as the valedictorian of Carver High School in 1967, received his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics, magna cum laude from North Carolina A&T University. In 1976, he received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ronald McNair was nationally recognized for his work in laser physics and was one of the thirty-five applicants selected by NASA from a pool of ten thousand. In 1984, McNair became the second African-American to make a flight into space. He was a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger. He was a member of the crew when the Challenger exploded nine miles over the Atlantic after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 28, 1986.

McNair exemplified excellence and was the recipient of several honorary doctorates, fellowships and commendations. In 1989, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program was established by the U.S. Department of Education to prepare eligible participants for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Lee University is tasked with honoring McNair’s legacy by challenging, encouraging, and supporting scholars to high academic excellence and doctoral degree attainment.

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