Atkins discusses Posse presence on the Hill

Deborah Bial, founder of the Posse Foundation, is scheduled to speak at Baccalaureate on May 23. Bial started the Posse Foundation in 1989 after hearing a student who dropped out of college say that she never would have dropped out of college if she had her posse with her. The Posse Foundation selects groups of 10 multicultural inner-city students who are awarded leadership scholarships for their four years at a Posse partner college. Posse plays a significant role on the Hill, ensuring about ten to 12 scholars every year.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology and Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs and Support Joe Atkins is currently mentoring his sixth Posse group. “Posse creates structure and support for these students, [for] what can be a difficult transition from their neighborhood or school system to a very elite college setting,” Atkins said. “All of the students I worked with up ‘till now came from New York City. Is there anything different  between NYC and Watervile? In looking around and perhaps seeing very few people who look like them. The whole idea of a Posse is…sending students off as a group.”

Posse has three goals: to increase diversity and expand the pool from which colleges can recruit, to help these places become more interactive, and to ensure that Posse members continue their education in order to graduate and take leadership positions.

Rather than sending students off to college alone, Posse aims to create camaraderie and support system within a group. Their mentors function as a point of contact who helps the scholars through their transition to college and provide guidance, which is necessary as some Posse scholars are first generation college students and don’t have anyone at home to aid them with the transition.

“There’s two things about Posse that people totally misunderstand. One is that it’s a financial aid program. It’s not,” Atkins said. Posse groups are picked before any students have to submit financial information. Applicants compete on the basis of grades and academic achievement. Atkins continued, “We don’t pick a student because they’re going to struggle. Everybody is above some threshold….What makes them stand out is how they interact with other people. The Posse scholarship is actually a leadership scholarship, picking students who will be active and involved.”

“[The second misconception] is that it’s a minority scholarship program. The reason you get a rainbow of people is because these are all students from urban centers in New York and across America,” Atkins said.  “37 percent of New Yorkers were not even born in the US. Posse exists in dealing with those urban public high school populations, cause those are the ones that are most invisible to Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin, and would not have been recruited.”

Posse has been at Colby for the past 14 years. “The first few years were difficult,” Atkins said. “In many ways they were the diversity at Colby. They were the pioneers. Some of the first ones dropped out. When the second group came, some sophomores dropped out and there were only 17 of them. It took a while to get a sense of community going. It started to change for me with Posse 4. They were the first group that didn’t imagine they were going to hate it here. They were a tight knit group and believed it was up to them to make the most out of it….They were also the first group to have Posse seniors, juniors, and sophomores ahead of them. Now, every Posse group has upper class members to ask for help and advice.”

The application process starts in the fall with 1600 applicants. The applicant pool gets smaller until there are about 250 finalists that are split into 10 groups of 25 students based on the school they want to attend. Then in the third week of December, a selection team will go from participating schools to the Posse city, spend the day with those students and go over their grades, SAT scores, and other application material and pick the students who will come to their school the next year, followed by an awards ceremony to celebrate the students who were admitted to the program.

These students then spend the whole spring preparing to go to college. In July, they go on a three-day retreat with the trainers from the Posse office and their mentor. On this trip, Posse scholars are “passed on” to their mentors. “When someone believes in you, it helps you believe in yourself. It’s very important having someone when you’re away from home that you can confide in and help you figure things out. That is a huge part in helping students to success even though it’s not easy,” said Atkins.           

The Posse program started in three locations: Boston, New York and Chicago, and has spread to to nine locations. Over the past 12 years, Colby has been recruiting Posse scholars from New York. Last year, Colby switched to recruiting scholars from Houston, as the college age population is increasing in the Southwest and decreasing in New England. “If Colby wants to remain competitive and still maintain the best students, they have to have students from Arizona, California and other Southwestern states thinking about going to Colby. If they don’t, the NESCACS will end up fighting over a shrinking pie. Fewer students, same schools, all wrestling for them,” Atkins said.

“The structure of Posse with the support of the Posse organization’s mentoring program is so beneficial that you wish it was available to more students,” Atkins said. “There are other students that are not a part of Posse that still need the same level of support. I think we have some a lot better in trying to offer as much mentor like support for that to work out.”

Comments are closed.