Posse Foundation Launches STEM Scholarships

By Stern, Gary M. | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, April 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

Posse Foundation Launches STEM Scholarships


Stern, Gary M., The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


Since Deborah Bial, founder and CEO of Posse Foundation, launched it in 1989, the nonprofit has helped students, including many minority undergraduates, earn 5,444 scholarships from 51 participating colleges. Its roster of colleges includes Cornell University, Bryn Mawr College, Dickinson College, Northwestern University and smaller school such as Agnes Scott College.

Bial, a 49-year-old graduate of Brandéis University who earned a doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grant in 2007, named it the Posse Foundation because of what a high school student once said to her. "I would never have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me," the student said. Bial realized that many talented minority students are isolated and don't know how to navigate the complex world of financial aid and require peer support.

"If you grew up in Flushing or the Bronx and end up in Middlebury or Nashville, you're less likely to turn around and return home, if you have a posse," she said.

Bial describes Posse as a "leadership and diversity program." It consists of young people from mostly large, urban high schools who represent file diversity of America. "These are people who may not show up on the radar screen of mostly elite colleges in the U.S.," she said.

Posse students who graduate from Bryn Mawr, Northwestern and Brandéis, for example, "can draw on that position to take a job as CEO, journalist, head of a hospital or run for office, and their network will look much like other Americans. That's the goal of Posse," Bial said. Hence, it's creating a new kind of leadership network.

To retain students, Posse has devised a five-pronged program that includes pre-college training, campus training and career programs to keep their eyes on the target: graduation.

Bial says that most years Posse Scholars graduate from college at a rate over 90 percent, though it varies year to year. In 2012-13, for example, the graduation rate was 89 percent. When students drop out of the program, it's mostly for personal, health and financial reasons.

Urban and minority students at elite colleges often feel like a fish out of water, like the character Eddie Murphy played in the film "Beverly Hills Cop." They often feel "nervousness, fear and trepidation but a lot of that is alleviated when you have a team of students, a program behind you, and you're now part of a community," Bial said.

In developing the nonprofit, Bial devised a structure where 10 Posse Foundation students form a team or posse for support and work with mentors to stay in college. Since each campus accepts 10 Posse students, by the end of four years, 40 Posse students have developed on each campus. Students tell Bial that they know they have cohorts who hail from the same city, background or neighborhood, though she stresses that may include a Hispanic, Pakistani and Jewish colleague.

The other secret sauce of the program is that the 51 participating colleges finance the scholarship of Posse students. That enables Posse to raise money to keep its organization thriving. The colleges "honor Posse students for their talent and leadership. It's a merit scholarship," Bial said. She says these students are capable and bright and offering their talent and expertise; it's not a "deficit" program, but an opportunity program.

In the 2013-14 over 15,000 students applied for the 660 spots. While Posse describes itself as a "race-neutral program," more than one-third of the recent class identified themselves as Latino and more than half of its students are minority. …

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