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University of Missouri

The Professor of Education

Renae Mayes landed her dream job. She thanks the McNair Scholars Program.

Renae Mayes is an assistant professor and director of the school counseling program at Ball State University, but before she came to Mizzou, she didn’t even know she could be a professor.

Renae Mayes is an assistant professor and director of the school counseling program at Ball State University, but before she came to Mizzou, she didn’t even know she could be a professor. Ball State Photo Services.

When Renae Mayes, BS Ed ’08, stands in front of her students at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, she almost can’t believe she’s there — not least because the assistant professor and director of the school counseling program didn’t even know she could become a professor when she first arrived at Mizzou.

You don’t know what you don’t know,” says the former first-generation college student. “I didn’t know how my professors got where they were.”

It wasn’t until Mayes took a class with Eryca Neville, BS BA, BS BA ’91, M Ed ’96, PhD ’06, EdSp ’13, that she considered graduate school. Neville pushed Mayes to think about how she could change education through research. She didn’t shy away from difficult conversations about race, class, culture and the impact they have on students in an academic environment. “As a person of color, I had been waiting to talk about that,” Mayes says.

With a newfound desire to study how educators could be more culturally responsive, Mayes joined the McNair Scholars Program, which prepares students from underrepresented groups for graduate school. Today, she is the one starting the dialogue, something she attributes to having been a McNair Scholar. “The program gave me an edge,” she says.

Her research focuses on identifying students of color who are gifted and also have a disability, or twice-exceptional students, and giving them the support they need.

A lot of people speak about twice-exceptional students, and it’s understood they’re talking about white students,” Mayes says. “I’m investigating what that experience is like for students of color.”