Samesha Barnes Ivey, Ph.D.


Dr. Samesha Barnes Ivey serves as the director of the McNair Scholars Program and the Thrive Center. A native of Augusta, GA, she earned bachelor’s degrees from Clark Atlanta University and Georgia Tech through the Dual-Degree Engineering Program. Post-graduation, she worked as an R&D engineer in the Inkjet Media Division of Hewlett-Packard in San Diego, CA where she sensed that something was missing from her career. She was motivated to return to school and continued her education at the University of Florida.

After earning her doctorate, she completed a post-doc with the NSF South East Alliance for Graduate Education & the Professoriate (SEAGEP) where she helped to prepare STEM PhD students for academic careers and led study abroad trips to Chile, China, and Brazil as part of the Science & Engineering in a Global Context initiative.  She is dedicated to the holistic success of students, ensuring that they don’t just survive, but thrive as they pursue their educational goals. To her, this work is not a job – it’s a ministry that aligns her skills with a deep passion for motivating, mentoring, training, and teaching.


Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering - University of Florida

M.S. in Materials Science and Engineering - University of Florida

B.S. in Chemical Engineering - Georgia Institute of Technology

B.S. in Chemistry - Clark Atlanta University

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Iliana Villegas, Ph.D.

Assistant Director

Dr. Iliana Guadalupe Villegas is a sociocultural anthropologist and was a first-generation and non-traditional student. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New Mexico State University and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from UF. She spent almost two years in Guatemala and Southern Mexico conducting ethnographic research studies with vulnerable populations. She worked with victims of human trafficking and adolescent Mesoamerican migrants.

Prior to her role as the assistant director, she worked as an academic success coach for the McNair and SSS TRIO Programs at UF. She has also worked as adjunct faculty at Stetson University, the University of Southern Mississippi, and New Mexico State University. She enjoys volunteering her time developing and delivering workshops on immigration, race and racism, and Catholic Social Teaching in her church. One of her favorite hobbies is watching DC superhero movies and series. Being a desert native, she enjoys the van life and camping in Florida and neighboring states. As a Latina and mother of two adult children, she believes in providing opportunities and representation to underrepresented populations.


Ph.D. in Anthropology - University of Florida

M.A. in Anthropology - New Mexico State University

B. of Interdisciplinary Studies - New Mexico State University

A.A. in Legal Studies - College of Southern Nevada

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Ronda Vinson

Administrative Assistant

Ms. Ronda Vinson, a native of Gainesville, FL, brings over two decades of dedicated service to the University of Florida, where she has been an integral part of the institution since 1995. In her current role as the administrative assistant for the McNair Scholars Program, she serves as a welcoming face for faculty, staff, students, and their families.

Her work not only connects her with individuals from diverse backgrounds but also positions her as a positive and influential role model in the lives of those she interacts with. Her commitment to fostering a supportive community aligns seamlessly with the core values of the McNair Scholars Program. She embraces the wisdom of an ancient African proverb that resonates deeply with her approach to nurturing and guiding the program's students: "It takes a village to raise a scholar."

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Barbara Alejandra Sousa

Graduate Assistant

Barbara Sousa is a second-year Master of Public Health Student with a concentration in social and behavioral sciences. Barbara participated in the McNair Scholars Program as an undergraduate student and has a passion for maternal and child health research. She hopes to pursue a PhD in public health in the future. 


B. of Public Health - University of Florida

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