A group of alumni are providing major funding for the college’s Posse program for at least the next five years.
Ron McCray ’79 and Dennis '65 and Joyce '66 Black are contributing $2 million as part of a challenge grant, encouraging other alumni to support the program, which offers scholarships to students from Chicago and brings them to campus each fall in “posses” of 10 students. The challenge, which will match gifts of $1,000 to $250,000, kicked off Dec. 1 and will run through the end of 2020.
McCray has fond memories of his own “posse,” a group of Cornellians that he still sees often, so he knows the importance of having a support group of fellow students.
“But for those people, I don’t know how I would have made it through,” he said of his friend group. “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 Posse 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 to ensure that there will be future Posses.
“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.”
Dennis Black has hosted the Posse scholars for lunch at his Chicago office and receptions in the summer when they’re home. An English major, Black is senior advisor to the chairman at Mesirow Financial, where he served as general counsel from 2009 until April 2016. Prior to joining Mesirow, he was a principal at Goldberg Kohn, where he was a founding member. Black is 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 has served in various roles at Career Education Corp., including chairman of the board, interim president and CEO and was also vice president and chief administrative officer of Nike, Inc. He is a Cornell and Harvard Law School trustee, a member of the board of Jazz at Lincoln Center and part of the Boston Celtics owners group.
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.” Some of the most important traits, he said, are grit, determination, conflict resolution, resilience, judgment, risk and collaboration skills.
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. The posse groups serve as a support community for the students on campus and in their studies.
Cornell alums Barton and Susan Winokur, both Class of 1961, were instrumental in bringing the Posse program to Cornell in 2013. At Cornell, Posse members meet frequently, and Posse advisors work to connect students to mentorship and services based on what each student needs. Cornell’s sixth Posse, pictured right, came to campus this fall.