Wednesday, September 14, 2011

McNair Director Cathi Eagan Retires After 34 Years of Service to IU

In August of 2011, Cathi Eagan, long-time Director of Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and Assistant Dean at the University Graduate School, retired from IU, but from what we hear she will continue to be busy! The staff at the University Graduate School would like to wish her the best. Here is her story of the time spent with us and a peak into her new endeavors. 

When Cathi Eagan joined the University Graduate School staff in 1993 as an Assistant Dean, the first thing she noticed was that there weren’t a lot of programs at IU to groom undergraduates for graduate school.

Eagan at her retirement party in August 2011.
 “I became interested in finding funds,” Eagan said, “an external grant, to be able to create a program. One year I went to the CGS (Council of Graduate Schools) meeting and sat next to someone who had a McNair Grant. It was the first competition that McNair had had and she had had her program for a couple of years. It was Vicki Kirby from the University of Missouri in Columbia.”

Inspired by that conversation, Cathi arranged to go to a grant writing session in Washington D.C., spoke with a lot of the McNair programs that existed at that time, and then wrote a proposal to create a McNair Scholars program at IU. The purpose of the program would be to help prepare students from diverse backgrounds for doctoral programs.

“So I took what I learned from the other McNair programs and what I knew from the Biology program (where she had worked previously on The Hughes Grant) and I wrote the grant,” Eagan said. “We were funding in 1995 and I’ve been working with the program ever since.”

“I think the strength of the program is that it’s an academic year program where we can get to know 25 undergraduate students very well—their personal, financial and academic background—and we can groom them into mini graduate students by the time they reach their senior year,” she said. “At that point, the students have had an undergraduate research experience, and they’ve had teaching training and teaching internships, so when they apply for graduate school their funding comes from either an AI or TA, or a fellowship of some type.”

“Over the years, perhaps the first eight years of the program, we had difficulty in learning how exactly we could prepare these students for graduate school so it didn’t interfere with their senior year. What we used to do was hold a lot of the workshops that we now hold in the summer in the fall—workshops to get them ready to apply to graduate programs. It was really getting in the middle of their academic work,” Eagan said.

“One day I was driving into work—and I still remember it—I thought what if we took one week in the summertime and we just compiled everything to help the students learn about fellowships, write the draft of their personal statements, get GRE training? And what if to pay for this, we had programs from around the country come and we could bring in the best and the brightest lecturers for these students—that’s how the senior summer camp was born,” she said. “It’s a very effective tool—we can prep our students in the summertime and they can have everything done so in the fall so they’re ready to submit applications for fellowships and graduate school.”

The senior summer camp is now in its eleventh year and it’s been duplicated in California, Chicago and by several institutions in the South. The camp lasts five days and is held in a remote location to limit distractions. Students learn about life as a graduate student, from how to be successful in their programs, to what to do if they run into complications within their departments and how to solve these situations, to how to strategically take the GRE. There is also a push to develop grant and fellowship writing skills.

Eagan is an integral part of the The Canine Express,
a group that transports shelter dogs from Indiana
to areas of the country where spay and neuter laws
have limited the number of animals for adoption,
giving the Indiana dogs a better chance at being adopted.
“They learn about fellowships, where the money is and that they need to apply for these things,” Eagan said. “Last year we had the Rhodes Scholarship recipient and the runner-up, we’ve had people who’ve gotten a Mellon Fellowship, Jacob Javits Fellowship, and so on. And I think it’s because we’ve forced them to apply to these fellowships. Even if they’re turned down, the student now has a better understanding for how to write a grant proposal and they can apply to other grants even as a graduate student.”

Even before the idea for the senior summer camp, Eagan had been invited to be part of the Penn State TRIO training team.

“I would go around the country; I did this each month for 5 years. At first I was doing GRE training and then it got so I was preparing staff for how to write fellowships and identify where the money was,” Eagan said. “And that’s where I met Orlando Taylor, Don Asher, so many of the TRIO people who are really heavy hitters. Those are the people that I invited to come to the senior summer camp. And that’s how we have so many dynamos who help us prepare our students.”

Eagan said she is looking forward to retirement, and although she’ll miss the students greatly, “it’s time to move on after 34 years.”

Over the last 25 years, when she wasn’t on campus working with students, Eagan has been working on issues of animal welfare. For the last seven years, she has taken her vacation days once a month to drive to New England with the CanINE Express; an organization that has transported more than 7100 shelter dogs to partner shelters in New England. 

“In New England, the spay-and-neuter message has been heard. So the shelters there are sitting virtually empty of well-socialized, healthy dogs ready to be adopted,” she said. 

Eagan is currently working to introduce better spay-and-neuter legislation in Indiana, writing grants for shelters, and taking care of her 88-year-old mother and her home. “For me, as long as I’m in Indiana, I’ll be devoted to stopping the killing of companion animals. It’s atrocious what’s happening, not only in IN, but also the Midwest and the South.”