Taking Their Posse to College
Sixty-two Washington, D.C.-area high school seniors have been selected by the Posse Foundation to receive full-tuition scholarships to attend top colleges and universities beginning in fall 2011. The students, who were honored at a Jan 5 reception and awards ceremony at George Washington University, were chosen for their exceptional academic and leadership skills.
Lisa Hubbard, one of five Posse scholars selected from Friendship Charter School in the District, said she hopes to be the first in her family to finish college.
“When I get a degree I’m going to come back and motivate others in my community,” said Hubbard, who will attend Bucknell next fall. “I like that Posse gives you a chance, no matter where you come from.”
Since 1989, the Posse Foundation has recruited and trained more than 3,100 outstanding young people from urban high schools and has sent them to partner colleges and universities. The scholars, however, are not asked to meet the challenges of college alone. Instead, they are sent off in supportive, multicultural teams or “posses” of 10 students. This year’s Posse students will receive more than $8 million in scholarship money to attend Bucknell University, Grinnell College, Lafayette College, Pepperdine University, Sewanee: The University of the South and the University of Wisconsin- Madison. In addition to the scholarship, students receive support from the foundation throughout their time at college.
To help students like Hubbard make the transition to college, all Posse scholars will undergo intensive preparation over the next eight months to ensure they arrive on campus well prepared for academic work and student life. Foundation officials say that such preparation has contributed to a 90 percent college graduation rate for Posse scholars. They contrast that with the fact that just nine percent of D.C. public school students who start high school currently graduate from college within five years according to a 2006 study commissioned by D.C. school officials.
Lyndon Thweatt, a Posse alumnus who grew up in the District and now works in the communications department of Sodexo, a huge multinational food and facilities management company, said the support he received from the Posse Foundation helped him beat the odds, graduate from college and get started on a successful career. “They offer professional development programs that help prepare you for the work force and place you in internships and job opportunities,” says Thweatt, “to gain experience more so than money.”
Both Thweatt and his high school buddy Nygel Knighton have stayed involved with the Posse Foundation since they graduated, mentoring younger students who have faced the same challenges they did, including Langston Tingling- Clemons, who credits their friendship with helping him complete his Bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University in 2010.
In addition to D.C., Posse has offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City, which together have sent more than 3,100 students to college. Posse partner colleges and universities have awarded $334 million in four-year, full-tuition merit scholarships to participating students.
“Posse’s incredible college and university partners are investing time, energy and resources in the promotion of equity in education and social justice. They believe in the intelligence, talent and dreams of young people who might not always show up on their radar screens, and are giving them a chance to excel,” said Paloma Garcia-Lopez, director, Posse D.C.
Frank Sesno, Advisory Board chair for Posse D.C. and director of the George Washington School of Media & Public Affairs, noted that this year’s Posse scholars have “brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the program already, it’s easy to see how they will be leaders on campus. They personify the dynamism and diversity of the Washington area. It’s no exaggeration to say that the contributions they will make will help change the world.”
Posse, which was one of ten organizations to receive a share of President Barack Obama’s $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize winnings for its innovative work, got started because of an inner city student who said “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.”
Shirley Bloomquist , a former teacher turned volunteer and mentor, said she feels that Posse helps translate student’s success in high school into further success in life. “These students have already proven that they are leaders. Those are the people that Posse looks for,” she said. “They look for students that will be leaders on campus.” 2011 awardee Terry Bennett said he felt like the Posse scholarship was made for him. He played football, basketball, football and track at Ballou Senior High School.
“I knew I was capable of getting the scholarship,” he said. Another member of the Posse D.C. Advisory Board, Lydia Thomas said she was proud of the fact that the Posse Foundation has been able to provide for students like Terry for more than two decades. “Through Posse and its partner schools, over $8 million will be awarded to students in tuition to institutions like Pepperdine, Grinnell, and Lafayette,” said Thomas.
“I’m going to Grinnell in Iowa,” said awardee Genevieve David. . “I just want to say that Posse really got to know me as a person,” she continued, “they get to know you like a best friend.”