Student Spotlight: Nayelie Valenzuela, McNair and ISCORE-NSCORE Scholar

Nayelie Valenzuela headshot
Nayelie Valenzuela

Nayelie Valenzuela is currently a senior at Iowa State studying public relations. The Sioux City native was selected in summer 2017 as a McNair Scholar. McNair Scholars are part of The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. Nayelie, or Nay as she goes by, hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in communications or journalism. Her McNair research work was supervised by Daniela Dimitrova.

Why do you want to go to graduate school?

Though I enjoy the whole journalism and communications thing, I really want to focus on media representation and do research on that, and just focus a lot more on research rather than writing stories.

What are you involved in?

I’m involved in the McNair program, which is a post-graduation program for students who are interested in grad school. I’m also an NCORE-ISCORE Scholar, so I do a lot of research with a certain group of ethnicities, and I presented at the ISCORE Conference in March. I’m also a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated. I’m also a Multicultural Visions Program peer mentor for first-year students, and I’m also a Cyclone Aide.

Can you tell me a little more about the McNair Scholars program?

It helps low-income, first-generation, underrepresented groups prepare themselves for grad school. They help us get into research, understand the research process and learn how to present. It’s just a lot of prep for grad school.

How did you hear about it?

Three of my sorority sisters were McNair Scholars, and I didn’t really know if I wanted to go to grad school yet, but I always kept it in mind. My sisters really encouraged me to apply.

What is the application process like?

From what I remember, first you fill out the application on the website, and then it does have an essay question. You also need two recommendation letters. You also have to have a strong interest in pursuing a graduate degree, because that’s the main purpose of it. They’re very interested in students who are wanting doctoral degrees. Then, you have an interview with the directors of the program.

What was your reaction when you found out you were selected?

I was very excited, but also very nervous because I had no experience in research whatsoever. So that was my biggest fear, that I wouldn’t be good at it or that I would go about it the wrong way. And I was also scared because grad school is such a big step and a lot of time and money to think about. But everyone at McNair is really supportive and are there to help you succeed.

What’s your advice to any student who is interested in applying for McNair?

Just take the leap. There’s really nothing to lose if you’re really looking to going into grad school and getting your Ph.D. It’s such a great experience.

Can you tell me a little more about ISCORE?

So NCORE is National Conference on Race & Ethnicity, and ISCORE is the Iowa State version of it. NCORE is this national conference that is held every year for higher education faculty and staff to learn about different identities and to implement it at their institutions.

What do you do within the organization?

When I went to the NSCORE conference as a student, I attended the different sessions that were related to my ethnicity that I was assigned to, which was Asian-American Pacific Islanders. When my group and I came back from NCORE we had a class during the fall semester to do research and to study more on our group and see what issue was really prevalent in the Iowa State community or just in general.

Can you tell me about your recent trip to Washington D.C.?

I went to D.C. because I was selected as a representative of my area sorority chapter here at Iowa State. They chose sisters throughout the nation who they felt best represent their community and who had a strong commitment to talking to representatives and Congress about certain issues, which this year was immigration and DACA.

What was that experience like?

It was very exhausting going to all of those meetings in two days and having to communicate our opinion of the matter. But overall, I really did enjoy it and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

Interview by Tara Larson. Edited for length and clarity.