When high school senior Vanessa Valdez graduates from college four years from now, she will be the first member of her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. And she’s gotten a boost from Boston University.
For the past three years, Valdez, who attends the Social Justice Academy in Boston, has participated in Upward Bound at BU, a federally funded college preparatory program for potential first-generation college and low-income Boston public high school students. Recently, she received a four-year, full-tuition scholarship through the Posse Foundation.
A national organization that helps urban high school students gain admission to college, the Posse Foundation in January awarded 61 scholarships to Boston-area students — four of whom are in Upward Bound. Valdez was selected from more than 1,100 applicants, along with Abdirahman Abillahi and Sugule Hassan, of Brighton High School, and Gregory Chery, of the Social Justice Academy.
Upward Bound students enter the program in 9th or 10th grade, spend six weeks in an intensive summer residential program at BU, and during the school year attend an after-school program of tutoring and academic courses on the BU campus.
“Without hesitation, these are four future leaders,” says Reggie Jean (CAS’95, SED’05), academic coordinator for Upward Bound. “I’m very proud of what they’ve done here in Boston and of what I know they’ll do at their prospective colleges.”
While Upward Bound students have in the past received Posse Scholarships, this is the first time that more than two were chosen in a single year. “These four have broken a record,” says program director Mike Dennehy.
According to Dennehy, Posse Scholarship recipients are nominated not only for their leadership skills and academic records, but also because they “provide for their peers and know when to ask for help when it’s needed.”
Scholarship recipients are chosen following two sets of interviews with members of the Posse Foundation. A list of finalists is given to the 26 partner universities, and each college selects 10 students who will make up a “posse” for the following year. The idea, Dennehy explains, is that students in each posse will forge friendships and will support one another throughout their college years. Since 1989, the Posse Foundation has placed more than 1,521 students into colleges and universities across the country.
Valdez will attend Centre College in Danville, Ky., which has approximately 1,200 students. She expects the experience will be very different from life in Boston. “It’s a small school in a small southern town,” she says. “I’m a little anxious about that.”
“Centre is really far from home, and it’s the same size as my high school,” adds Chery, who will also attend Centre College. “I always imagined going to a big university in a city.”
While neither is sure what to choose as an undergraduate major — Valdez is considering math and Chery is leaning toward political science — both plan to go on to law school. “I want to go into corporate or real estate law,” Chery says.
Abillahi and Hassan will also attend small schools — Denison College in Granville, Ohio, and Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. — but they won’t be quite as far away from home. “I’ve heard the first year at college is really hard because everyone’s trying to fit in,” says Abillahi, who will major in biochemistry. “I’m just going to hit the books and the weight room really hard. I don’t want to gain the freshman 15.”
In spite of her nervousness, Valdez is excited about the upcoming year. “I’m honored to have received this scholarship,” she says. “All the work I’ve done has paid off, and that’s pretty cool.”
Vicky Waltz can be reached at email@example.com.