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Posse’s Next Step: Graduation

BU’s first group of scholars reflects on four years here

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Jessica Palacios came to BU almost four years ago as a first-generation college student. Palacios, whose parents had emigrated from Jalisco, Mexico, was one of a dozen scholars from Atlanta, Ga., and its suburbs. She worked hard toward her degree in international relations, volunteered as a tutor in Chelsea schools, and made friends across campus.

She also learned, in her freshman year, that she was pregnant.

She returned home to Georgia to have her daughter and assumed she would never return to BU. She felt doubly ashamed—first for abandoning her education, and second for feeling that way after the birth of her beautiful baby.

Palacios was at her parents’ home when she started getting, as she says playfully, “harassed.” Staff from the Posse Foundation in Atlanta were in constant contact—emailing, calling, and leaving Facebook messages for her. Then her BU Posse joined the push, calling her and sending gifts. It was their encouragement, she says, that persuaded her to return to BU in January 2011.

Posse  Scholar Palacios on Commonwealth Ave

Jessica Palacios (CAS’13). Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

“When I came back to school after the year and a half,” says Palacios (CAS’13), “I really realized how important my Posse friends were. If they weren’t here, I probably would not have come back. I probably would’ve just stayed in Georgia.”

That full-court press by her friends and mentors was an example of Posse at its best: a provider of hope and support to a member in need. It’s also one of the basic convictions of the Posse Foundation. Since 1989, Posse has guided more than 4,200 leadership-oriented students from urban centers to 40 participating universities, which in turn have provided nearly $485 million in full-tuition scholarships. The idea seems simple: send a group of talented students from similar backgrounds to college together, and they will boost one another’s chances of thriving. So far, it seems to be working: Posse students have a national average graduation rate of 90 percent.

Boston University began its partnership with the foundation in 2008. Of the 12 scholars who arrived that fall, 8 will graduate this month. Palacios is on track to graduate in fall 2013, and three have left school. Since that first contingent, three more groups have arrived, and another will land at BU this fall.

Many of the scholars admit that they were skeptical when first approached about the program. Palacios googled it to see if it was real. Eni Adedokun (ENG’12) says she believed it only when she got a phone call following up on an invitation. And Schyler Cain (COM’12) was also wary.

“This must be a scam,” Cain remembers thinking. “Who’s going to give me four free years of college?”

The first group of Posse scholars came north with an earful of warnings from back home. Friends and family members feared they would freeze during New England’s harsh winters. A friend of Adedokun’s made her a mammoth blanket, which she stuffed into a suitcase. The new freshmen wondered where they would find a home-cooked meal. (Palacios says she still hasn’t found tortillas like the ones her mom makes.) And several had heard that Northerners could be extremely rude.

Cain remembers feeling intimidated freshman year by students who had attended Northern private or charter high schools. “It took me a long time to realize that it’s not that I was stupid,” she says. “It’s that they had learned things that I hadn’t learned. And at the same time, I had learned things that they hadn’t learned. I just needed to figure out that I can do it.”

“It was my goal just to get everyone to that Southern hospitality mentality,” says Sharrod McClusky (CAS’12), “that mentality where you just walk through and are able to smile and say hello.”

Reuben Buchanan (CFA'12) (from left), Jonathan Cooper (SMG'12), and Sharrod K. McClusky (CAS'12), members of Posse. Photo by Cydney Scott

Posse members Reuben Buchanan (CFA’12) (from left), Jonathan Cooper (SMG’12), and Sharrod K. McClusky (CAS’12). Photo by Cydney Scott

McClusky participated in the First Year Student Outreach Program (FYSOP), a weeklong volunteer opportunity for incoming students, and stood atop the Umoja table at Splash to welcome freshmen to the group. He later became president of Umoja, BU’s Black Student Union.

Posse scholars came to BU knowing they would be in the minority, but they also knew that they were special; the group met with President Robert A. Brown, and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) came to know them all by name. Still, they say, they never acted like an exclusive clique. They joined Greek life, student clubs, and intramural sports teams, studied abroad in Italy and Mexico, and joined national associations within their fields. They quickly learned how to walk faster, navigate the T, and study for classes that challenged them as they had never been challenged before.

Posse mentor Jeffrey Allen, a School of Management assistant professor of information systems, points out that the scholars also brought to BU something that was in relatively short supply.

“Anybody who walks our campus and opens their eyes can clearly see that we have a lack of black and Latino students,” says Allen. “We’ve struggled for many years, and I think that we’re bringing on board a group of minority students who are really focused on academics, largely from a leadership perspective.”

Allen, the scholars say, has been a major part of their success here—a constant mentor and friend. Students met with him regularly their first two years, visited his office, met his family, emailed, and called him on his cell and home phone numbers at all hours.

Watch this video on YouTube

In the video above, Posse students discuss the important role their mentor, Jeffrey Allen, an SMG assistant professor, played in their lives. Photo by Frank Curran View closed captions on YouTube

“You get to know the students in a fairly close manner,” he says. “It’s almost like being a surrogate parent.” He describes his job as “an Oprah moment for the full-time frame,” and he plans to attend each of their convocation ceremonies and slap them a solid high five after they cross the stage.

As to life after BU, most Posse scholars have a plan, as well as a dream. McClusky hopes to someday represent Georgia’s fifth district in Congress. Adedokun will pursue a doctorate in pharmaceutical engineering to fight to find a cure for brain and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Cain wants to work for an advertising firm like Hill Holiday. And graphic designer Reuben Buchanan (CFA’12) will continue to develop his clothing line, Scarecrow Apparel.

Palacios says she will miss them all. Meanwhile, she Skypes her daughter, calls every day, and visits her at her parents’ place whenever she can.

“I just couldn’t give up on the idea of going to school,” Palacios says. “I had to do something for me and Natalie for our future.”

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

25 Comments
Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

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25 Comments on Posse’s Next Step: Graduation

  • Kasey Elliott on 05.10.2012 at 5:30 am

    I’m so proud of Posse One! Wish I could be there to watch all of you walk.
    Much love to all of you.
    Kasey E.
    BU Posse 2

  • Student on 05.10.2012 at 8:02 am

    This article was great. It’s nice to hear positive stories about BU despite all the negative press we’ve had this semester. This is the BU that I know and love!

  • Caleb D. on 05.10.2012 at 9:32 am

    Really nice package, Leslie and Robin. Compelling, and something that should make BU proud. Especially like the Jeff Allen video. Most of all, congrats to the Posse I members, one and all, and especially you, Jessica P.!

  • Shakeela Najjar on 05.10.2012 at 9:37 am

    I’m so proud to be part of the same graduating class as this group. I know many of BU’s Posse students and they are some of the most open-minded and thoughtfully active people I’ve met on campus. I wish them the best of luck!

  • Dr. Gretchen Fougere on 05.10.2012 at 10:18 am

    Congratulations to you all and thanks for sharing your story of persistence, resilence and success!

  • AP on 05.10.2012 at 10:33 am

    This is a great program, however, it seems culture and geography were huge hurdles for these students. There are a ton of excellent schools in the South, some that outrank BU (Duke, UVA, UNC-Chapel Hill, etc.) Why did the program not place the Georgia students there, and a place group of students from Philadelphia, the Bronx, or Worcester at BU?

    • Stephanie on 05.10.2012 at 10:59 am

      Every Posse site (9 cities in total) has a selection of partner schools. Students from Atlanta have the option to go to the College of Wooster, Bard College, Brandeis University, Boston University or Syracuse. Scholars also choose the schools they would prefer to attend.

      I cannot speak for all Posse members, but going somewhere comfortable sounds like an easy way out. Posse scholars are ambitious students charged be leaders on their college campus. Any student from the south can identify the differences in culture and level of education between the north and the south. That should not discourage anyone from expanding geographically or academically. Any student will face challenges in their collegiate career. These two hurdles are among many and are applicable for any student, not just Posse scholars.

      I am proud to call myself a part of the Posse community and knowing Posse 1 personally, you all deserve the best. You all have grown so much and it has been a pleasure to witness how you all have developed into young professionals. I wish you the best!

      Posse Love,
      Stephanie
      BU Posse 2

      • AP on 05.10.2012 at 12:46 pm

        Thank you Stephanie! I did not know that. I didn’t want to go to college near home for the same reason. While I was at BU myself, though, I knew a lot of Midwestern kids who ended up transferring due to the culture shock, and ended up at lower-ranked schools as a result.

  • Abram on 05.10.2012 at 10:54 am

    Proud of y’all. Go Yessica !!

  • Jenny G on 05.10.2012 at 11:09 am

    Congratulations! I’ve been lucky enough to know some of the great people in this program and am thrilled that it exists at our school. Thank you for sharing your stories!

  • R. Joshua Reynolds on 05.10.2012 at 11:18 am

    I’m friends with some of Posse 1. Great young men and women they are. Bright futures they have. Congratulations are in order!

  • Reggie Jean on 05.10.2012 at 11:48 am

    Jeff Allen is a great part of the BU Community. Good job the Posse 1.

  • Jessica T. on 05.10.2012 at 12:00 pm

    This is beautiful. I remember when all you guys came in. It’s been a long road but you made it. I’m so very proud of you all. Congrats loves!!!

  • John Hall on 05.10.2012 at 12:28 pm

    What an inspiring story and video. Congratulations to all the Posse Scholars at BU, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. It’s such a great program, and it’s clear that Jeff Allen deserves the kudos for his passionate efforts to guide them.

  • Michael on 05.10.2012 at 2:18 pm

    Man, I’m from Atlanta and I think it’s kind of weird that this program just cherry picks people from “under-developed” neighborhoods under the assumption that they’re more incapable of handling the college experience than any other person.

    Yes, the north is different from the south, but in the grand scheme of things the difference is miniscule.

    If Posse scholars are driven ambitious students, why can’t they just be “students”? Why do we need to adorn them with all this extra fluff when they allegedly have the drive to accomplish all of their goals already?

    • Iesha on 05.10.2012 at 3:51 pm

      I’m also from Atlanta (although not a Posse Scholar). They get no more “fluff” than anyone in the Honors College or any other program. With all of the scholarship options BU offers (including several full-tuition programs if your parent is a firefighter in Boston or if you went to a Catholic high school in the Boston Archdiocese), I think it’s weird you want to go after this particular program…The south, as you know, is ridiculously underrepresented at schools across the nation–moreso than other regional groups (the fourth largest group of students at BU is from CA).
      The Posse Scholars have to undergo leadership training and attend leadership conferences–much like the Gates Millennium Scholars. They give back to the community. They’re students, just like anyone else. Just because a foundation pays their tuition doesn’t make them any different.

    • Matt Campbell on 05.11.2012 at 10:28 am

      Not all Posse scholars are “cherry picked” from “under-developed” neighborhoods. There is an extensive process of group interviews, one-on-one interviews, grade analysis, and of course our accomplishments in high school that Posse reviews before selecting these amazing individuals. Posse receives several hundred applications to find 10 scholars from all over Atlanta. Buckhead to Bankhead to Alpharetta to Norcross. It does not matter what neighborhood you’re from.

      Not once in the process do they look up your zip code. So this “cherry picking” idea from “under-developed” neighborhoods is a misnomer. We were selected because we believe, as well as Posse believes, we can make a positive influence on the BU community. And that we do.

      Matt Campbell
      BU Rugby President
      RA
      BU Posse 2

      • AP on 05.11.2012 at 3:42 pm

        A lot of the information BU provided about the Posse Scholar program through alumni communications, etc., when it was founded said that it was for at-risk urban teens who were likely to drop out without a cohort of peers from their hometown to support them.

        I’m glad the Posse Scholars have set higher expectations for themselves than whoever the person who wrote the alumni magazine in 2008 when they were freshmen. PR stunts never have the best interest of their subjects in mind.

  • Primetime on 05.10.2012 at 2:38 pm

    I met some of these guys when I first came to BU and they are the kindest and most humble people you can ever meet. Congrats to all!

  • Alexis Redman on 05.10.2012 at 4:46 pm

    Congrats to you all!!! You guys should be so proud of yourselves. I’m glad that I got to know some of you during my 2 years at BU. You all are an inspiration. Good luck to you in the future!!

  • Nina M. on 05.10.2012 at 5:46 pm

    Congrats to Posse One! Great Job and Good Luck!

  • Val Hamblin on 05.10.2012 at 9:46 pm

    A heart-warming and inspiring story–it’s good to know that lack of funds and lack of confidence are no bar to a great education, when Posse is there to motivate and encourage. All of the students featured displayed focus, ambition and drive. An example to everyone.

  • DeMarius McClusky on 05.11.2012 at 3:42 pm

    I love this program and I am proud of all of the Posse program participants. Keep up the good work.

  • Aine Sheehan on 05.14.2012 at 12:17 am

    Congratulations Boston University Posse 1!! I hope you find amazing opportunities in your future endeavors. Before you know it, there wil be a BU posse 20

    Posse luv <3

    Aine Sheehan
    Bryn Mawr Posse 11

  • Scarlett on 05.15.2012 at 4:20 pm

    I am so proud of all of you!!! Congratulations to all. You guys did it! Can’t wait to be in your shoes soon.

    Posse love to all of you,

    Scarlett Montenegro
    Mount Holyoke College Posse 1 :)

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