Third Posse group thriving at Cornell

This semester, the College of Arts & Sciences, together with the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) welcomed the third cohort of Posse Program students to Cornell.

And for the first time, OADI sponsored visits for First Year Parents Weekend, welcoming parents of this freshman group to visit their children, meet with other Posse families and explore Ithaca.

“Posse is providing him with opportunities and opening a lot of doors,” said Jose Roman, parents of Jonathan Roman ‘19. “He’s getting challenged here, but he’s adjusting well,” Carol Roman said.

Hammond Carter and Joy Walker, parents of Matthew Carter ‘19, said their son has always had lots of family support as the youngest of four brothers, but being a part of Posse meant he never felt alone at Cornell.

“Posse guided us along the way… and took a lot of stress off of him and us,” Walker said.  “We were a lot more comfortable letting him come up here.”

The Posse program is a full-scholarship college access and youth leadership program that brings promising students from urban public schools to top tier universities.

Cornell partnered with the Posse Foundation in September 2012 and brought the first posse of students to campus in Fall 2013. Students accepted to Cornell’s Posse cohort are admitted to the College of Arts & Sciences, where they undergo a liberal arts education and have access to a variety of different majors.  

The selection process is tough and demanding: Cornell draws its Posse students from Chicago, and nearly every high school in Chicago nominates at least one candidate for the program, bringing the Chicago cohort pool to around 2,600 students. The Posse Foundation narrows the pool from 2,600 to around 250 students; from that pool, Cornell then selects its “Posse” of 10 students, along with 10 other elite colleges. During the process, candidates for Cornell’s Posse cohort undergo a sessions of intense exercises and are evaluated based on their ability to respond to dynamic situations.

Effective teamwork skills, leadership skills, and resilience: these are the features that are sought in a Posse Scholar.

The process also seeks the most interesting students for each cohort: ultimately, the scholars, their varied backgrounds and their diverse interests are what truly make each Posse cohort so unique and exciting.

Posse member Carter ’19 is a chemistry major on the pre-med track: “I work smarter under pressure,” he says. “And saving someone’s life is the highest form of helping people.” Carter is also an athlete on the varsity track team – a 400 meter runner and hurdler who ran cross country all four years in high school.

Roman ’19 says he was first drawn to Cornell because of the China and Asia Pacific Studies (CAPS) major, having taken Chinese for all four years back in high school. Right now he’s a pre-med student considering majoring in the biological sciences or economics and is a member of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), an organization that strives to promote awareness of issues faced by the Latino population and create a sense of community for Cornell Chicanos, as well as Cru, a Christian fellowship group.

The reasoning behind creating “Posse” cohorts comes from the idea that students who arrive on campus as part of a group perform better. Posse 3 scholars meet weekly with each other, and studies have shown that students with strong support communities have higher rates of success.

“It’s intimidating going to college when you don’t know anybody,” Roman says, “but it was helpful coming to Cornell with a group.”

In addition to the support of their cohort members, Posse Scholars also receive support directly through the Posse program itself – starting from the time they are accepted. After being accepted into the program in December, scholars undergo “pre-collegiate training” for a period of eight months, attending sessions consisting of career workshops, writing workshops, team building activities and discussions about topics such as socioeconomic status.

“It helped us become closer as a group and made us think about the issues we would face at Cornell,” says Roman.  

Carter said the training taught him how to ask for help. “My biggest weakness is that I don’t ask for help,” he said, “but I learned to acknowledge that I can’t do anything alone and that I need help from others.”

Academically, he said the writing workshops provided during the pre-collegiate training were also valuable. “I’d never written a research paper before, and the writing seminar helped me understand the process of writing a paper, through a step-by-step process.” 

Scholars are also assigned a career advisor, a resume advisor and a faculty mentor to answer career, academic or life questions.

Ultimately, the Posse concept envisions not only the success of the Posse students, but also the impact they will have on the communities where they choose to live. The university, its students and its faculty benefit from the varied backgrounds, skills and interests of the Posse students; at Cornell, more than 70 percent of Posse scholars have taken on leadership positions. 

Gabriela Zamora ’17, a member of Cornell’s first Posse cohort, is the president of STEP Up, an organization that mentors Ithaca elementary school students in STEM fields; Anthony Halmon ’17, also a member of that cohort, is a mentor for SWAG (Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate), an organization that seeks to increase retention and graduation rates among black men at Cornell and Mary Khalaf ’17 has been an RA for the past two years in Mary Donlan Hall and is active in wellness projects.



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OADI staff meeting with students