Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Awarding 'Genius' Endeavors: Four 2007 MacArthur Fellows Share Their Research Pursuits

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Awarding 'Genius' Endeavors: Four 2007 MacArthur Fellows Share Their Research Pursuits

Article excerpt

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program gives unrestricted $500,000 awards to a select group of talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their pursuits. Here are four of this year s winners:

Tapping Every Student's Potential


For almost 18 years, Dr. Deborah Bial has been making college accessible to inner-city students by working with colleges to create alternative ways to identify talented students who may not meet the traditional standards for admission--high SAT scores and class rank--but have other qualifies essential for success: motivation and leadership.

The founder and president of the college-access organization, The Posse Foundation Inc., Bial was awarded the MacArthur grant for her continuous dedication to making a college education become an attainable dream.

"Winning the MacArthur fellowship is not only wonderful for me but for Posse," says Bial. "MacArthur identifies people that have potential for the future and that's exactly what Posse is about, too."

With the help of Posse staff who sort through the nominations made by teachers, counselors and community organizations, Bial selects promising students from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.

Selected students join a "posse" or a small group that participates in an eight-month pre-collegiate training program that includes seminars in team building and academic workshops.

Posse students get free tuition from the 28 partner colleges that include Boston University, Brandeis University (Mass.), Vanderbilt University (Tenn.), and Wheaton College (Ill.). Over the course of the students' college careers, Posse monitors the progress of the students, who are required to participate in study programs.

Though Posse is located in major cities, Bial says it is neither a minority nor need-based program, and is geared towards all types of students, regardless of race.

"In the United States, people use the term diversity as a synonym for minority, but we don't do that at Posse," says Bial. "We want everyone involved in the conversation of college diversity and leadership equity."

Since the foundation began, it has sent nearly 2,000 students to college with awards totaling $175 million, but Bial wants to send 5,000 students to college by the year 2020.

Bial received her bachelor's and master's from Brandeis University and her doctorate in education from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

--By Margaret Kamara

Improving Bedside Manners

A representative from the MacArthur Foundation, at first posing as a reporter, called to inform the stunned Dr. Lisa Cooper, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, that she was being recognized for her work in studying the quality of communication between patients and physicians and how it relates to racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

Cooper, who has a medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says she has employed a variety of techniques in her research, including analyzing patient and physician surveys and listening to audio recordings of patient visits.

Improved interpersonal dynamics when patients are allowed to discuss personal and family-related issues, Cooper adds, helps build rapport between patients and physicians and helps foster patient involvement.

"Visits where the patient talks more and the doctor talks less tend to be more satisfying to the patient," says Cooper, adding that her intense interest in medicine blossomed at an early age.

"I was raised in a medical family. My grandmother was a nurse and my father was a surgeon," says Cooper as she recalls visiting her father's clinic in her native Liberia. "I'd see children come in who didn't fed well and I thought, 'I'm going to be a doctor and take care of children. …

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