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The Power of Mentorship

McNair Scholars

Senior education major Nicola Anglo-Raymundo (left) worked with mentoring professor Stacy Bailey, Ph.D., on Anglo-Raymundo’s research as part of the McNair Scholars program at UNC. Photo by Woody Myers

May 24, 2022

Through UNC’s McNair Scholars program, senior education major Nicola Anglo-Raymundo worked with Assistant Professor Stacy Bailey, Ph.D., on a research project that helped her define her plans for the future.

Growing up in Westminster, Colo., Nicola Anglo-Raymundo found reading and writing difficult in elementary school. While she was born and raised in the United States, Anglo-Raymundo’s parents came to the U.S. from the Philippines. English was essentially a second language for her, and, while no one knew it at the time, she also had dyslexia.  

“It was just difficult going through classes like that,” she remembers. “But I was able to make it through because I had teachers who never gave up on me. I remember what really changed me in fourth grade was when I told my teacher ‘I don’t like reading; it’s never clicked with me.’ And she walked with me to the library, and we went through essentially most of the books until I found something of interest. Anyone who knows me now knows that I’m a voracious reader.” 

That moment sparked her love for reading, and it helped set her on a path to teaching, leading her to UNC’s English Education program. She’s currently student teaching and preparing to graduate this spring before going on to graduate school — her participation in UNC’s McNair Scholars program.  

Anglo-Raymundo learned about the McNair Scholars program, one of 187 programs at institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico funded by the U.S. Department of Education, a couple of weeks before her first semester at UNC. She and her parents were attending UNC’s Center for Human Enrichment (CHE) welcome dinner when Krista Caufman, the director of UNC’s McNair Scholars program, sat down and talked with Nicola about her future plans and the McNair Scholars program.  
The program helps students prepare for — and succeed — in graduate school. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education who have demonstrated strong academic potential. 
“We are a graduate school preparation program,” Caufman says. “Our goal is ultimately to actually diversify the professoriate. We’re aiming to get more students from typically underrepresented groups to become faculty members, so they need to go to graduate school and get Ph.D.s.” 
The idea of pursuing an advanced degree stayed with Anglo-Raymundo as a freshman and into her sophomore year. As she explored her goals for the future, she applied for and became a McNair Scholar as she began her junior year. 

Connecting Students and Faculty 

The scholar/mentor experience is key to the McNair program at UNC, and Anglo-Raymundo knew she’d need to find a mentor who could help guide her through the rigorous eight months her research project would demand. 
“I wanted a professor who could match me on my passion level. I don’t do lip service. I’m very, ‘My actions will speak that I will advocate for my students,’” she says. “And a professor who always came to mind was Dr. Stacy Bailey. She’s my academic advisor, but the passion she showed for helping students, the fact that even though we’re all book nerds, she always says, ‘Know that we’re not teaching books, we’re teaching students.’ Her passion for students is what really stuck with me. So that’s the reason why I approached her.” 
Bailey, assistant professor of English, had experienced the difference a mentor can make in reaching professional goals when she was a graduate student at UNC. At the time, she was teaching middle school and high school English in and around Greeley while raising two children.  
It wasn’t easy to juggle so many priorities, but she worked with Professor of English Jeri Kraver, Ph.D., and Professor of Psychological Sciences Kevin Pugh, Ph.D., and says those connections made a huge difference for her.  
“Having a mentor really opened my world to opportunities that I didn’t even know existed,” Bailey says.  
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UNC in 2005 and 2009, followed by her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in 2014. She continued working with undergraduate students at UNC, including Anglo-Raymundo. As they started to work together through the McNair program, they were both covering new ground. 
“Nicola and I both went in not really knowing what to expect, and I honestly think that it turned out beautifully because she and I already knew how to talk to each other and how to work with each other,” Bailey says. “I already knew what her passion was, and she already knew about my research, so that allowed us to clear some of the logistical hurdles so smoothly.” 
Bailey’s research focuses on social-emotional learning. “In a broader term, it’s really about motivation for learning,” she says. “We far better serve our students when we see them as people first, and then we can work with them and help them. And really, that’s the philosophical undergirding for Nicola’s research, too, not seeing students as students, but seeing them as people first. Her primary thrust for her research is culturally responsive pedagogy. She wants teachers, especially in the secondary system, to understand that the students in front of them aren’t just students. They’re people.” 
As Anglo-Raymundo worked on deciding what her research project would be, Bailey helped her narrow her focus to what was important to her.  
“She was just trying to talk to me about my passions and I said, ‘I really like this idea of students feeling seen culturally in class,’” Anglo-Raymundo says. “Growing up Filipino, I grew up with a stigma that each time Filipinos were talked about in class, either they were the people that America had to save, or savages.  
“My methods class (when I was planning my research) was based on culturally relevant pedagogy. I told Stacy, ‘I really like how you look through a culture lens, how you keep in mind how to talk about systemic issues.’ Then we did a literature review and I told her I’ve noticed even though a lot of people claim that we don’t use diverse literature in classrooms, no one has really done the data and looked through curricula. She said, ‘You’ve found your gap.’” 

Using Numbers to Tell the Story 

Bailey says that to work with her hypothesis, Anglo-Raymundo needed to focus heavily on quantitative data. “Her hypothesis was that there’s not enough literature out there in secondary classrooms that really reflects who students are. I said if you want to make that argument, you’re talking numbers. At heart, Nicola and I are both literature people. We’re humanities, and numbers don’t speak to us in that way. But she was so open and so willing.” 
Next, Anglo-Raymundo worked with Bailey to look at curricula used nationally in English language arts classrooms, examined the data for how the authors identified ethnically, and compared that to the student population data to see how well it correlated.  
“I tried not to declare the hypothesis because I didn’t want to create that bias, but deep down I felt, based on my own experiences, I was going to find that there was an over-representation of the ethnic majority, which was non-Hispanic/white based on the categories of data I gathered,” she says.  
Pulling data from the U.S. census, Anglo-Raymundo says that while 50% of students identify from the ethnic majority, 70% of the authors from all the curricula she examined were white males. 
“What really shocked me is how the Latina category for the authors who identified was less than 10%, when close to 25% of students identified as Latino. There was a huge underrepresentation there,” she says. 
Anglo-Raymundo’s project poses the question: “Do national curriculums or English language arts classrooms truly represent the US population?” After completing her research, she answered the question.  
“No. It didn’t matter if the other groups were represented because we’re not teaching every student, but one. We’re not trying to bridge the gap for every student, but one; we’re teaching all students and we have to create this level of equality.” 
Bailey says that beyond the opportunity to learn the skills for undergraduate research, the McNair program changes how students see themselves — and their future.  
“When undergraduates get to pursue research that’s meaningful to them, and then when the McNair program holds the space open for them and says, ‘Here’s a mentor. Here’s how to do this. Here’s how to print a poster. Here’s research day. Here’s the physical space. Here are people to listen to you,’ it changes something for them. It gives them agency. It gives them a voice many of them don’t really believe they have,” Bailey says.  
While she knew going into McNair that she wanted to train future teachers as a professor, Anglo-Raymundo says that her experience has helped her visualize plans differently. 

“It impacted me so much that it changed how I planned out the rest of my career. Looking into it now, seeing that the system is the way it is because of policies, and seeing how there are Supreme Court cases that essentially declared education as a non-federal right, it made me want to pursue educational policy in grad school.” 
Anglo-Raymundo also plans on working in secondary classrooms. “I am a firm believer that you can’t be an educational policy maker if you never set foot into a classroom.” 
She says her dream job would be to teach in the classroom, while also speaking to the Senate about education policies and, as a professor, teaching future teachers about policies and ways to create support for students.  

“When it came down to thinking about my career, I wanted to help people the way that my teachers have helped me. I want to show other students like me that you have a future, you can do stuff beyond what is predicted about you even though you don’t speak English as your first language. That even though you’re failing now, you could always have this huge chance to go back on the rise,” Anglo-Raymundo says.  

“And that’s what really inspired me to go into education. Yes, I like talking about literature, but for me, it’s all about the students and the fact that I could help so many students believe in themselves and their capabilities.”  UNC

–By Debbie Pitner Moors

Diversifying the Professoriate 

The McNair Scholars program, which first started at UNC with the 1995-96 cohort, was named for Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D., after his death in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident in 1986.  Congress’s goal in establishing the program was to encourage low-income and first-generation college students and students from historically underrepresented groups to enroll in a Ph.D. program and ultimately pursue an academic career. UNC’s McNair Scholars program, which has graduated nearly 400 students, is one of 187 in the country.  

The program is multi-faceted in its approach to preparing students to apply for and be successful in graduate school.  

“We know one of the things that will both strengthen the student as an applicant, and once they’re in graduate school, is to have a robust undergraduate research experience,” says Caufman. “So, we put that at the center of our programming.”   

Students spend their junior year working on an independent research project under the guidance of a mentoring professor. At the same time, they take a class that helps support them as they develop research skills and learn the components of the research experience. By the time they complete the program, they will have presented their research multiple times, written a manuscript based on their project, developed skills that strengthen their curriculum vitae and prepared for the GRE.    

“We hope that they stumble, and they have some failures in our program, so that they know how to overcome those, and when they get to graduate school and they’re doing it maybe a little bit more on their own, they have the confidence in themselves and they have the resilience to spring back from any sort of challenge that they’ve encountered,” Caufman says.    

It’s a rigorous program, Caufman admits, and it works. “We have at least four faculty members on campus who were McNair Scholars themselves,” she says. “I’m really proud to see that the model is doing what we hoped it would be doing and some faculty members are from an underrepresented or a more diverse group that wasn’t historically part of the professoriate.”