Posse program graduates Ololade Olawale ’18 and Amir Patel ’18.

Posse scholars reflect on four years of growth

Ololade Olawale ’18 and Amir Patel ’18 say they’re heading out into the world with a deeper understanding of who they are and what they want to do with their lives. Olawale and Patel are two of six members of Cornell’s second Posse class.

The Posse Foundation founded the Posse program in 1989 to identify students from urban high schools with great academic and leadership potential who might have been overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Students are given full scholarships to attend college in a “posse” of 10. These groups serve as a support community for the students on campus and in their studies.

During the Posse selection process in Chicago, while they were in high school, Patel and Olawale listed Cornell as their top choice. They said they didn’t think about some of the challenges they might face – transitioning to life in a small town, missing big college sports teams and tackling classes that were far harder than high school.

“Early on it was tough, but now looking back on it, I don’t care that I missed out on that stuff,” Patel said. “This has been a tremendous experience.”

“I got my first C my first semester at Cornell, so that was a reality check for me,” Olawale said. “But eventually Cornell helped me to see that who I thought I was isn’t really who I am.”

Both students say Cornell’s Posse program has evolved since its start in 2013 to offer mentorship and connect students to services.

“I tend to rely on a number of different people for advice,” Patel said. “Posse has introduced me to a community that I both trust immensely and lean on constantly.”

Olawale said her first two years were difficult, “but fortunately my Posse was my support system.”

Carlo Lindo, advising dean and Posse adviser, said each Posse student creates a community on campus.

“Each scholar plays a major role, in no insignificant way, in multiple communities that get larger as you pan out: first with their own Posse; the Cornell Posse community and their families back home; and then so many others such as [those in] their field of focus, the College of Arts and Sciences, the larger Cornell University community, the Ithaca and Tompkins County community,” he said. “They each experience these communities in unique ways and share in collective group development, but they should never feel alone.”

During four years at Cornell, Olawale and Patel refined their areas of study and now have a good idea what they want to do in their careers.

“The government department is everything I thought it would be. I’m interested and passionate about the topic,” said Patel, a former economics major, who will work at a startup company through Venture for America in the fall. “Studying government doesn’t give you a set of hard skills, like the ability to program or run data analysis, but I’m coming out with the ability to learn, and I think that’s a more valuable skill.”

In a startup environment, Patel knows he’ll need to be flexible, take on many roles and face pressure. “You need to be able to learn about your market, learn about your product and think strategically from a broad level,” he said, skills he says he developed studying the liberal arts.

“I discovered I wanted a major that would introduce me to the humanities as well as the sciences, so I chose biology and society,” said Olawale, who started out pre-med. “But junior year I had another epiphany when I discovered through an internship that I really liked the corporate world. I’m interested in business, but I have this background in science, so I’m interviewing and trying to sell my set of skills to companies. I know I’m not a finance major, but I have skills that are transferable to the business world.”

Patel encourages future Posse scholars to plan for their time at Cornell so they can make the most of the opportunities, be prepared to work hard and know who to go to for help with academics or the transition to life in Ithaca.

“I’m incredibly grateful for this scholarship and the Posse program,” Patel said.

Other Posse scholars graduating this year: Nicholas Caldwell, English; Yordanos Goshu, computer science; Shania Sukhu, biology and society; and Sarah Zumba, English.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Jeff Tyson