STEM-Focused Posse Announced

By Ellie Reinhardt

In September 2015, the College will welcome 10 new Posse students from Los Angeles who have shown an interest in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. The Posse Foundation announced its decision in Jan. 2014 to double the number of Posse partner schools focused in the STEM fields. These new Posse students will be added to a class of 20 Posse students from the College’s existing partnerships with the New York and Chicago Posse programs.

This addition stems from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to improve the training and education of STEM students across the country. The College was one of five new colleges and universities selected to join an existing five schools partnered with STEM Posses. Over the next five years, these ten schools will provide 500 urban students of different backgrounds with four years worth of full scholarships. The funding will total $70 million and come from a variety of institutions.

“I’m really honored as a Posse alum and as Dean of the College that we were picked by the Posse Foundation,” said Dean of the College Shirley Collado. “They have over forty colleges that they could have picked and they looked to Middlebury as a place where Posse scholars are thriving and as a place that was demonstrating deep commitment to wanting to improve what we’re doing in the sciences and for STEM students.”

The Posse foundation recruits students who exhibit excellent leadership and academic promise from nine urban locations across to the country and matches them with top tier institutions, to provide an otherwise unattainable academic experience for students.

“[The Posse students] have leadership qualities that they bring to a campus; they bring a diverse background because they come from many walks of life; they bring a commitment to education, social justice, and they bring an eagerness to work with people,” said Professor Hector Vila, mentor for the New York 12 Posse.

According to Collado, a STEM Posse was proposed when the Chicago Posse was added in 2011.  This allowed for discussion in the science program about the need for diversity and where improvements can be made and the initiative to diversify the sciences has been well received at the College.

“Nationally, underrepresented students tend to major in disciplines outside of the sciences,” said Director of the Sciences, Bob Cluss. “Ideally, our majors in the sciences should reflect our society at large which will make our learning environment richer because everyone’s perspective will be adequately represented.”

New York Posse 11 Mentor and Professor of Chemistry Roger Sandwick believes that, “to add 10 students in [the sciences] of different backgrounds will add to the culture and can only help. It will start to encourage the current students of color to take the chance and be in there.”

Middlebury has been working to strengthen the Science program for a while according to Cluss. This has included a National Science Foundation grant dating back to the 1990s that brought high school students to campus for science programming and to engage in research with our faculty. Another grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute later in the 1990s supported a program that is similar to that of Posse.

The new LA STEM Posse will help to both diversify the science program and to provide feedback on the structure of the science curriculum.

“We’re very enthusiastic about what we’ll learn, what we’ll do, and how we’ll support [the STEM Posse scholars],” said Collado. “They will also play a major role in helping us make sure that we strengthen the STEM program and that things go well
Many of our faculty are eager to allow this to be a vehicle for them to also do what they need to do to make sure that our classrooms are inclusive and are allowing all of our students to do well.”

“The [new Posse students] will be arriving at a time when change is taking place,” said Cluss. “We are already using or planning new pedagogical approaches and re-evaluating the way that gateway courses are taught in the sciences.”

Along with its role in helping the science program, the new Posse will add to what the existing New York and Chicago Posses are doing to enhance the college community.

Posse student Biniyam Estifanos ’14 commented that, “the Posse program has been effective on campus in a mission to bring diversity to this campus, but I think it still lacks diversity, whether that be racial diversity, ethnic diversity, any type of diversity
I think Middlebury could do better with the amount of potential that we have and I think that this third Posse coming is a huge step towards achieving this diversity goal.”

According to Collado, the Posse program is neither a minority-based program nor a need-based program and so it brings diversity to a campus in the broadest sense of its definition.

“All of these students are part of this community that we are trying to diversify and figure out even if it sometimes feels messy and uncomfortable,” she said.

This new Posse will also bring demographic changes to the campus. Collado explained that Middlebury was allowed to choose the new Posse from a range of locations and decided on LA because of the opportunities that will arise from ties to the West Coast.

According to Dean of Admissions Greg Buckles the Posse program in Chicago has already proven effective in increasing the exposure of students involved in urban and outreach programs to the College.

In the class of 2017, about 19 percent of applications were from the West Coast and about 11 percent were from California. Of those from the West Coast 32 percent enrolled and of those from California, 30 percent enrolled.

“We feel like we already have a good foundation [in California] so we thought we could better leverage what presence we already have there with this STEM Posse,” Buckles said.

Buckles claims the new Posse in LA is a “tremendous win for us” because, “We anticipate that it will help for probably all measures; for creating access for traditionally underrepresented students, for helping us in LA and the greater LA area in general, and then certainly for generating interest in STEM related fields.”

Out of the twelve schools that are partners with the LA Posse, the College will be the only STEM Posse and so according to Sandwick, the College will most likely receive the strongest science students from this area.

“Posse is providing a way for us to communicate to a larger public school system that Middlebury is a place where you can thrive in the humanities, in the social sciences, in the actual sciences and be a STEM student,” Collado said. “And I think that many students out in the world don’t know that and public school students in urban schools don’t know that.”

“I think that the Posse Foundation is redefining merit and how we think about academic excellence at this country at the most elite institutions,” Collado said. “I think that Middlebury is better and stronger because it decided to look at leadership as something that is valued.”

Said Estifanos, “I’m excited to see a third Posse coming. I think the worries that some people have about the third Posse are very similar to those we had when Chicago came. They might be seen as a third wheel but it’s my hope that there’s this open arm that’s extended from the current Posses on campus to just welcome them.”