He overcame obstacles.
Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair, Physicist and Astronaut, dared to dream. As an African-American growing up in a poor community in the South, he encountered discrimination early in his youth. Yet this did not stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming a scientist.
He achieved academic excellence.
In 1971, he graduated magna cum laude from North Carolina AT&T State University with a B.S. degree in physics. Ronald McNair then enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1976, at the age of 26, he earned his Ph.D. degree in laser physics.
He became a leader in his field.
Dr. McNair soon became a recognized expert in laser physics while working as a staff physicist with Hughes Research Laboratory. He was selected by NASA for the space shuttle program in 1978 and was a mission specialist aboard the 1984 flight of the shuttle Challenger.
He was respected and commended.
For his achievements, Ronald McNair received three honorary doctorate degrees and many fellowships and commendations. These distinctions include: Presidential Scholar, 1967-71; Ford Foundation Fellow, 1971-74; National Fellowship Fund Fellow, 1974-75, 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.
He excelled in many aspects of life.
Ronald McNair also held a fifth degree black belt in karate and was an accomplished jazz saxophonist. He was married and was the dedicated father of a daughter and a son.
After his death in the Challenger explosion in January 1986, members of Congress provided funding for the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program to encourage college students with backgrounds similar to Dr. McNair's to enroll in graduate studies. Thus, the program targets students of color and low-income, first-generation college students. This program is dedicated to the high standards of achievement inspired by Dr. McNair's life.