Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of being part of K-State’s McNair Scholars Program. As a first-generation college student, the program has given me the direction and confidence that I lacked during my freshman year. The opportunities offered by the program are endless, but the summer-long research project is what undoubtedly had the biggest impact on my academic career.
In the summer of 2018, I wrote an essay titled “Anchor, Compass, Sail: The Black Panther Party in African-American Children’s and Adolescent Literature.” With the help of my McNair advisors and mentor Dr. Anne Phillips, I spent about three months reading dozens of texts and writing a nineteen page essay. The final draft focuses on three texts: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia, Fire on the Streets by Kekla Magoon, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. My essay analyzes the representation of the Black Panther Party in each novel, and also how the stories encourage readers to look into America’s history in order to understand the present.
This was the largest research project I’d ever created, and at times it was mentally and emotionally challenging. However, I noticed that my writing and research skills improved dramatically. That summer helped prepare me for the 600- and 700-level classes I took the following year.
While writing the essay, I had no idea the opportunities that would follow. Throughout the following year, I presented my research at three conferences: The Heartland McNair Conference in Kansas City, the Kansas Teacher’s of English Conference in Wichita, and the Children’s Literature Association Conference (ChLA) in Indianapolis, Indiana.
At the beginning of 2019, Dr. Phillips helped me apply for the Carol Gay Award, an undergraduate essay award offered by the Children’s Literature Association. The national award recognizes an outstanding paper on children’s literature. I could hardly believe it when, a few months later, I received an email notifying me that I had won the award. My essay was also recognized with the Clark M. Brink Memorial Essay Award, an award presented by the English Department every spring.
The ChLA conference in June was a life-changing experience for me. At first it was intimidating being one of the youngest scholars in attendance, but I quickly felt at home. I had the opportunity to present in front of scholars I admire, converse with new people, and build a stronger relationship with some amazing graduate students. I would highly encourage any student to attend ChLA or similar conferences. My academic confidence improved thanks to the experience.
The McNair Scholars Program and the English Department have given me endless tools and opportunities to succeed. After I graduate in December, I will be working at Manhattan Public Library and I plan to apply for graduate school in the upcoming year. I am also currently writing a YA novel. I will leave K-State knowing I found a wonderful place to talk about children’s literature, writing, and more. I will truly miss all the people who make these programs great.
— Savannah Winkler (BA ’19)