Posse scholars reflect on four years of growth

As Ololade Olawale ’18 and Amir Patel ’18 graduate from Cornell this Sunday, they 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, who will be graduating this weekend.

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 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 back home in Chicago, while they were in high school, Both Patel and Olawale listed Cornell as their top choice, knowing that they didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school. 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 way 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 based on what each student needs.

“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 their own community on campus.

“Each scholar plays a major role, in no insignificant way, to 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 their field of focus, the College of Arts & Sciences, the larger Cornell University community, the Ithaca and Thompkins 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 their four years at Cornell, Olawale and Patel have both refined their areas of study, and now feel they have a good idea what they want to do with their careers.

“The government department is everything I thought it would be. I’m interested and passionate about the topic,” said Patel, who started out focused on economics, but eventually chose a government major. Patel will be working 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 to deliver for the company. “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’s 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 premed. “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.”

Lindo said this process of exploration is key to students’ growth and development at this key time in their lives.

“The point of going to college, I learned early on, is to try new things, and be afforded grace to change your mind multiple times without major repercussions,” Lindo said. “Posse serves as a good springboard for scholars and their peers to have in-depth discussions and learn from one another in a unique way. I think it contributes to and encourages these ebbs and flows of interests and goals.”

Patel encouraged 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 they will go to if they need help, either with academics or with 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 include Nicholas Caldwell, majoring in English; Yordanos Goshu, majoring in computer science; Shania Sukhu, majoring in biology & society and Sarah Zumba, majoring in English.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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