Oscar McClain, Former Louisiana GEAR UP Student

Oscar McClain is a former Louisiana GEAR UP student and mentor with LOSFA’s Aspire to Inspire Comprehensive Mentoring Program. 

In May 2019, he graduated from Southern University with a bachelor’s in Chemistry. He plans to enroll in graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering. 

“I know I can’t make a difference in everyone’s life, but I cherish the ones that I have been able to impact. The students I serve are priceless to me because they’ve become like little brothers to me. I know that once I have gained their respect and trust, they look up to me and count on me. Knowing that, I try my hardest to never let them down.”

Oscar McClain is a former Louisiana GEAR UP student and mentor with LOSFA’s Aspire to Inspire Comprehensive Mentoring Program.

For the last three summers, you’ve spent time as an intern with Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. How did you get connected and how have you grown through this experience?

I had never heard of Los Alamos until my freshman year at Southern University. A lady Ms. Brenda McNeely, who works with the Louis Stokes-Louisiana Alliances for Minority Participation (LS-LAMP) Program called me in to her office to tell me I had been offered a 10-week internship – and I thought, I didn’t apply for this, so how do they know about me? It didn’t take me long to realize that she had put in a word for me with this company. That moment taught me that you never know who’s watching you or the blessings that may come from what they see. 

Every summer, the project I work on is a little different. This past summer, I was able to explore dynamic mechanical analysis using various materials to study the viscoelastic actions of polymers and scanning electron microscopy to obtain deeper insight of the surface of different types of corn stover.

Being there is always a great experience. Everyone understands the meaning of teamwork and no one is trying to outdo anyone, or exalt themselves. Working there has allowed me to become a better team player. 

I think anyone who has met you would say ‘Oscar has it together.’ What do you think is the key to your success?

I’m a work in progress. I would say, take advantage of every opportunity possible and within reason, because you never know what it may lead to. We all have a purpose in life, and it just may be one of those opportunities that comes your way. 

I worked hard to get the outcomes I wanted in life, but I’ve had some highs and some lows.

My grandfather passed right when I was beginning high school and that took a toll on me. But I channeled all of that into my studies and when I graduated, I was my class’ salutatorian. 

Thanks to LOSFA and Louisiana GEAR UP’s Aspire to Inspire comprehensive mentoring program I got to take a trip to Washington, D.C., right after high school, for the Better Maker Room campaign. It’s a campaign within former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, to get students to do beyond a high school education.  I got to meet Ms. Obama and ask her a question during one of the sessions. That was such an awesome experience, and it had a huge impact on me. I was encouraged, inspired and motivated to stay on the path to make something of myself.

Everything was going great, throughout my collegiate years until the summer after my junior year in 2018.  While I was in Los Alamos for my internship, I got an unexpected phone call – my father was on life support. He was sickle cell anemic and needed blood. That was really heavy and all I could do was pray. I was on a flight headed back to Baton Rouge and 15 minutes after I landed, my brother called and told me that my father had passed. He wasn’t just my dad; He was my best friend. I was down, emotionally, for a month. One day I remembered my father always talked about wanting me to get a good education. I picked myself up and pushed through to honor him the best way I knew how – I graduated from college with a 3.7 GPA. That’s what I enjoyed about being able to mentor the students – using my story to inspire them. One thing I tell people that’s true about my life – overcoming adversity is how you achieve success.