Posse helps teens take on college together

By Annie Zorn

Nia Robinson (center), Geovany Martinez (back row, glasses), and Melisa Topic (back row, far right) with their Chicago Middlebury Posse and trainer  Sam Williams (center)
Nia Robinson (center), Geovany Martinez (back row, glasses), and Melisa Topic (back row, far right) with their Chicago Middlebury Posse and trainer
Sam Williams (center)

A school-record 11 Lane seniors won Posse Scholarships this year and will attend college next year as part of the national organization’s design to help leadership-driven public school graduates navigate higher education. Winners spend their four years with groups of 10 students from around the Chicago area with whom they will share a supportive safety net.

This year’s winners will attend universities all over the country from Pomona College in California to Middlebury College in Vermont.

The Posse Foundation, which awarded 608 full-ride scholarships across the country last year, gets its name from a student from the Bronx who had received a scholarship to an Ivy League school but dropped out. Posse founder Deborah Bial told the New York Times that the idea to call the organization “Posse” originated when that student said that he “would have never dropped out of college if he had his posse with him.”

Posse Scholarship groups are multicultural, which the Foundation believes is important to providing support for minority students on campuses that can be more that 90 percent white.

“Diversity is important to me, but the students embracing it is even more important,” said Nia Robinson, Div. 584, an African American student who will be attending Middlebury College in Vermont next fall on a Posse Scholarship.  “The people they choose for the scholarship are people who embrace diversity.”

Posses meet every week during their freshman and sophomore years of college. Meetings during their junior and senior year are optional. Posse students are using rest of this school year and the summer as an opportunity to bond with their groups and to learn about college readiness.

“Every week, on Wednesdays, we have a meeting where we go from four to seven, and we do team building and we just talk to each other and get to know each other,” Robinson said.

Additionally, they will have weekly mentoring from Posse liaisons and will receive internship opportunities and an alumni network as they near graduation.

Caliani Gaytan, Div. 571, who is attending DePauw University next fall, has only good things to say about other students with whom she will be spending her next four years.

“They’re all amazing people and have done amazing things for their communities,” said Gaytan.

According to the Posse Foundation website, 51 colleges and universities partner to deliver scholarships to students from nine major cities: Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City and Washington, D.C.

The extensive interview process to win a scholarship is called the Dynamic Assessment Process (DAP). Posse’s website explains that DAP aims to recognize talent that isn’t already acknowledged by traditional academic meters such as test scores. According to the Lane College and Career Center website, there are no official academic requirements to get the scholarship, but high school GPA and ACT scores are considered to measure students’ academic potential.

Robinson recalls the interview process as unorthodox.

“We had to put one hand behind our back and build a castle out of straws and tape — it was really cool,” Robinson said.

Melisa Topic, Div. 570, who will be attending Middlebury, and will be in Robinson’s Posse, has similar memories of her first interview.

They said, ‘imagine the room is full of chickens — now chase them.’ We had to get down on the floor and chase them, and there were 100 people in the room!” Topic said.

The exercise was not without meaning according to Topic.

“Everyone was rigid and nervous, so I think the reason for it was to loosen us up and  get us goofy and they wanted us to feel comfortable interacting with each other,” Topic said.

Other Posse recipients such as

 Patel, Div. 582, who will attend Cornell, found value in being able to improvise.

“During the interviews they would have us perform random skits, so improv was really important,” Patel said.

Though the interviews are lighthearted, the competition for the Posse scholarship is serious.

“It was torture having to wait weeks between each interview.     When they did send out responses, everyone who was competing for the scholarships was notified at the same time,” Patel said, “I’d just be walking to my seventh period and someone would tell me that Posse sent out a list-host email,”

If students want to apply for the scholarship for next year, they first have to get nominated. This requires an application and a teacher recommendation completed May of junior year.

Counselor and Scholarship Coordinator Ms.Console reviews the applications and selects the 20 most qualified candidates. This year she received 80 applications for the 20 spots. But a nomination from a counselor is not the only way to get one.

“I can only nominate 20 students; however, students can be nominated by an outside organization or a Posse winner,” Console said.

Console said there were 50 nominees in total this year.

This year’s winners attributed their success to being themselves.

“Don’t worry about what other people are doing to make themselves stand out, just be who you are and they will see right through that,” Gaytan said.

Another piece of advice is to show up to arrive to the interview on the right day. Robinson read the date wrong and came a month early to her first interview.

“I looked back at the message and I was like I can’t believe this is happening,” “I told them that too — it was really funny,” Robinson said.