A group of Cornellians are providing major funding for the College of Arts and Sciences’ Posse Program.
Ron McCray ’79, and Dennis ’65 and Joyce ’66 Black are contributing $2 million for a challenge grant that encourages alumni to support the program, which offers scholarships to Chicago high school students with great promise and brings them to campus each fall in “posses” of 10 students. The challenge will match gifts of $1,000 to $250,000 and runs through 2020.
McCray has fond memories of his own “posse,” a group of Cornellians he still sees often. “But for those people, I don’t know how I would have made it through,” he said. “We gave each other emotional, intellectual and other support in an environment that was new to most of us and that gave us balance to go out into this world and not be undone by it and, in many cases, to succeed.”
Dennis Black, who grew up in Chicago, heard about the program and decided to make it a focus of his philanthropic efforts at Cornell leading up to his 50th class reunion in 2015. Since then, he has continued to increase his support.
“The idea that I could be a part of potentially changing the lives of 100 kids, most of them from Chicago public schools, is really thrilling to me,” Black said. “The more I get involved and the more chances I have to meet with Posse scholars, the more passionate I become about the program. Their excitement, their enthusiasm, their freshness – it’s contagious.”
Black, an English major, has hosted Posse scholars for lunch at his Chicago office and at receptions in the summer. He is senior adviser to the chairman at Mesirow Financial and a Cornell University Council member. Joyce Black minored in French at Cornell and teaches French to adults.
McCray has also hosted Posse scholars for campus dinners. A government major, McCray is a private investor and corporate director. He is a Cornell and Harvard Law School trustee. McCray said the Posse organization does a good job identifying and preparing students for the rigors of a Cornell education.
“As a veteran executive in charge of hiring people and training them, I believe that the traditional process of admission into these schools misses a lot of people with top-notch talent,” McCray said. “It doesn’t capture a lot of traits that are indispensable in living a rich, productive and effective life.” These traits, he said, include grit, determination, resilience, good judgment and the ability to collaborate.
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. Barton and Susan Winokur, both Class of 1961, were instrumental in bringing the program to Cornell in 2013. Posse groups support the students on campus and in their studies. Cornell’s sixth Posse arrived on campus this fall.
For questions about the Posse challenge, email Julie Albertson, director of development for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.