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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Posse program supports student achievement

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: Features

This academic year marks the 14th year that Brandeis University has worked with the Posse Foundation, which works with public high school students in urban areas that have great potential for academic achievement, founded in 1989 by Brandeis alumna Deborah Bial ’87.

The Posse Foundation has joined up with 39 top colleges and universities in addition to Brandeis and has eight sites throughout the country, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Washington D.C.

Posse partner colleges and universities award Posse Scholars four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships. Posse’s success stems from the support system––or each student’s own posse. Each Posse student is placed in a supportive and multicultural team of 10 students, which serves as a way for increased individual and communal development. Posse claims to have started when one student said, “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.” These simple words started what the Posse Foundation considers a “movement” to gain diversity in representation for leadership roles.

Posse at Brandeis works through two systems: one for the liberal arts and one for the sciences. Each year, 10 Posse students are selected for each section of study. In order to be chosen, a student must undergo a Dynamic Assessment Process or (DAP). This non-traditional forum scouts outstanding leaders that would otherwise be overlooked, but would excel in certain colleges and universities. Unlike Liberal Arts Posse students, Science Posse scholars must complete a two-week “Science Boot Camp” prior to the start of classes and are required to enroll in introductory science and math courses during their first year of study.

Dean of Academic Services Kim Godsoe oversees the Brandeis Posse Scholars and believes that it is a great method for success. “Posse students are leaders in the classroom and in campus activities. They are regularly on the dean’s list [for academic achievement] and hold many leadership positions across campus,” Godsoe said. “The energy and enthusiasm with which they embrace Brandeis is inspiring. After Brandeis, Posse Scholars are leaders in business, communications, education, science and non-profit work.”

Posse students generally surpass the level of the average college student. With a 90 percent graduation rate, which is much higher than the national average of 55.5 percent, a number of Posse students go on to acquire leadership roles after their graduation in their careers.

This past week, the Office of the United States Press Secretary announced that President Barack Obama would invest more than $100 million in students that pursued science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The Obama Administration plans to take steps to prepare 100,000 math and science teachers to meet the increasing demand for STEM graduates over the next generation. Both the Posse Foundation and Brandeis University were mentioned in the enhancement of the means to increase the number of STEM students. Brandeis University was one of the first academic institutions to invest in the Posse Foundation, and trialed the first ever posse devoted specifically to the sciences or “STEM Posse.” The first of these Brandeis STEM Posse students had the promising result of a 100 percent graduation rate, with most of the students pursuing graduate or professional degrees in a STEM field.

In a recent interview, President Obama mentioned founder and MacArthur awardee Deborah Bial as an “innovator” who “proposed a model to identify promising students from disadvantaged urban backgrounds using an alternative set of qualities as predictors of success in college.”

“President Obama’s support is exciting, but it doesn’t change the number or the way that we select students. It does demonstrate that Posse and Posse Scholars are respected on a national level,” Godsoe said.

Irv Epstein, a Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor at Brandeis University founded the Brandeis Science Posse. Four years ago, Epstein won a million-dollar grant from the country’s prime private funder of science education, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant, to start the STEM Posse program at Brandeis. With this grant, the Brandeis Science Posse was up and running by fall 2008 when the first Science Posse of 10 arrived. Just a year ago, Epstein won another grant of $600,000 for the STEM program.