McNair Student Spotlight - Rachel McOwusu

McNair Scholar Rachel McOwusu recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her McNair research project, conference travel, and overall graduate school preparation experience. Rachel is a senior at Northern Michigan University who is majoring in Social Work and will graduate in May 2014.

Rachel with poster

Briefly describe your McNair research project

My McNair research examined the effects of developmental assets and it correlates and protective factors associated with adolescent sexual risk-taking behaviors and attitudes using a sample of high school students from the Marquette-Alger County School District. Since research on risk-taking behaviors specifically on sexual health behaviors and attitudes among adolescents has focused on substance abuse, condom use and parent-child relations. There is little to no research on the significant correlation between developmental asset levels and the attitudinal and behavioral patterns associated with risk taking behaviors such as early sexual engagement among high school youth. Developmental Assets are key individual or environmental resources that enable and nurture young people to develop healthy, positive behaviors.

Developmental assets are crucial for the healthy development of all youth, regardless of their community size, geographic region, gender, economic status, race, or ethnicity. The Great Lakes Center for Youth Development established a conceptual framework for understanding and assessing youth development that consists of internal and external developmental “assets”. One small regional study of adolescents found that youth with higher developmental asset levels are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as violence, sexual activities, drug use, and suicide, and are more likely do well in school, value diversity and take on leadership roles. It is suggested that youth with more assets experience greater success in life and participate in fewer risk-taking behaviors.

Anyone who can commit their time, energy and/or resources to making a difference in the community by promoting healthy youth is an asset builder. Being supportive, honest, responsible, reliable, trustworthy, caring, a great listener, open-minded, optimistic and promoting positive values are all characteristic examples of an asset builder. Asset builders usually engage in healthy relationships, look for good in others, encourage the youth to strive for success, model positive behavior by setting examples, and build good relationships with the youth by taking the initiative to connect using simple gestures and understanding while educating the youth about personal values, beliefs and decision making.

Tell us about your recent travel

Since most of the graduate schools I am interested in are on the East Coast, I decided to present my research at the annual McNair Scholars Research Conference held at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), which was fully funded by the McNair Program. Whilst in Maryland, I got a chance to drive to Washington DC and visit a few of the graduate schools on my list. I also got a chance to talk to a couple faculty members at Howard University, George Washington University and at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. During the research conference, I got to participate in a business card mixer and for the first time got to present my research in front of many students and faculty members from schools across the nation. It was such an overwhelming experience and I wish I did this earlier or I could do it every year. I also won an award and not to mention the food that was served was great! During the graduate fair, I got to speak to many representatives from most of the schools on my list and even received fee waivers from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other great schools.

Share your thoughts about the McNair Program.  How has the program helped you?

I honestly could go on and on about how much I love this program. I really hope students will take advantage of this great opportunity. When I first found out about how much work that was involved in the research part, I was ready to give up but I realized what kind of opportunity this would be for me. With the help of the McNair staff and my super awesome research mentor Dr. Trella, I was able to complete my first research. This program has also helped me prepare myself for graduate school because of the many workshops we get to attend like the GRE Prep, Grad School Prep and Scholarship Resources. The McNair Scholars also receive fee waivers for almost all the graduate schools across the nation which saved me a lot of money since I plan on applying on about 20 schools all for FREE!!! Heather is always there to help anyway she can and she makes great Rice Krispies too. Jenny and Terri are great resources for the program and very friendly and welcoming. Being a McNair Scholar is just a great accomplishment. I have being able to overcome my fear of public speaking, my friends and family are beyond proud of me and also once people find out I am a McNair Scholar, their eyes lighten up and get super excited. I am such a proud McNair Scholar and so happy this has opened up so much opportunities for me. Plus you get PAID for doing research, it just doesn’t get better than this!

What are your plans for the future?

My future plan is to work with Sexually Abused Children and victims of Domestic Violence mainly throughout the continent of Africa. My grad school research will be focused on the “developmental consequences of childhood experiences of sexual abuse and its long term effects on relationships during adulthood and the characteristics of families in which such abuse occurs”. Through my preparation for graduate school, I found out my International Development major is more focused towards Politics & Economics which I am not interested in. So I decided to focus more on my Social Work minor which is what I have always been passionate about. I have decided to enroll in grad school to get a Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree and maybe go to Law School afterwards and be a full time Social Worker and a part-time Volunteer Lawyer.