Sept. 17, 2012

Outstanding urban students to enter Cornell in 'posses' of 10

discussion in president's office
Jason Koski/University Photography
President David Skorton, Posse President Debbie Bial, Vice Provost Laura Brown and Dean Peter Lepage discuss their partnership Sept. 14.

The College of Arts and Sciences will soon be home to a "posse" of highly motivated urban students through an agreement with The Posse Foundation, according to G. Peter Lepage, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who met Sept. 14 with President David Skorton and Debbie Bial, founder and president of The Posse Foundation, to celebrate the agreement.

The foundation, founded in 1989, identifies students from urban public high schools with "extraordinary" academic and leadership potential who might have been overlooked by traditional college selection processes.

"Cornell's partnership with the Posse Foundation is a natural fit, because our long-standing commitment to educational access, diversity and outreach aligns perfectly with their mission," said Skorton. "We look forward to welcoming the first posse to campus in fall 2013."

Bial concurs: "President Skorton's and Dean Lepage's commitment to leadership also aligns beautifully with the Posse mission. We couldn't be more thrilled with the Cornell-Posse partnership."

"It's extremely important to us in living up to our role in society to be as broadly accessible as possible," said Lepage. "Posse is helping us find students who might not have found Cornell otherwise and who will thrive here."

Students attend college in "posses" of 10. These groups serve as a support community for the students on campus and in their studies. Lepage cited a growing body of research that shows that when students have a strong sense of community and study in groups, they succeed at much higher rates.

The posse concept holds that admitting and supporting a small, diverse group of talented students, carefully selected and trained, can have a significant impact on the success of those students and can also provide a significant benefit to the college communities they join. Results so far are excellent: More than 70 percent of Posse participants assume leadership positions on campus.

Barton Winokur '61, a member of the Cornell Board of Trustees and chair of the Arts and Sciences Advisory Council, is an enthusiastic advocate of bringing Posse to Cornell. "Posse has figured out how to help students help themselves be successful," he said.

The New York State Opportunity Programs, in which Cornell has participated since the 1970s, offer some support features similar to Posse, but are only open to New York state residents. Posse students will initially come from Chicago.

While the foundation selects and mentors Posse students, Cornell admissions officers will make the final selection of the Posse scholar cohort, which historically graduates at a rate of 90 to 100 percent. On campus, the program will be managed in a College of Arts and Sciences partnership with the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives.

During the initial five-year agreement, one new posse will come to Cornell each year, and the students will receive financial aid to cover tuition. They will be enrolled through the College of Arts and Sciences, providing them the widest range of flexible majors.

Said Winokur, "There's nothing better than a liberal arts education for learning how to think about diverse problems and to think across disciplines, which are critical goals of the Posse program."

Before arriving at Cornell, each posse will participate in an eight-month preparatory program that addresses team-building, cross-cultural communication, leadership and academic excellence. On campus, students will meet weekly individually and as a group with Posse team mentors. Additional programs, to which the wider campus community is invited, such as an annual weekend-long PossePlus Retreat, are also part of the program.

As part of the College of Arts and Sciences' "Cornell Now" campaign goal, the college has set a $5 million fundraising target to support a portion of the financial aid and advising costs for the five posses.

Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.