Smith Increases Educational Access Through STEM Posse Program

Veronica Brown '16Associate Editor

Smith welcomes a group of 11 STEM Posse students this fall as part of an initiative to increase access to STEM education for students of diverse backgrounds. Each year the college will select 10 students interested in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from public high schools in New York City and offer them a full scholarship with mentorship opportunities. MacArthur Fellow Deborah Bial founded the Posse Foundation in 1989 in order to increase educational prospects for high-promise, low-income students. The Posse Foundation has sent 5,500 students to college in its 36 years, distributing over $670 million in scholarships. The foundation began sponsoring specific STEM Posses in 2008 and now has programs to send students to Brandeis, Bryn Mawr, Davidson, Franklin & Marshall, Georgetown, Middlebury, Pomona, Texas A&M and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In order to form Smith’s Posse each year, the Posse Foundation identifies 20 high-promise candidates from New York City public schools. Each student must complete a Smith application and agree to attend Smith if she is selected. A team of employees from Smith and the Posse Foundation then meets with finalists to engage in a series of interactive exercises. Audrey Smith, vice president for enrollment at Smith, explained, “This year, Smith ended up selecting 11 recipients instead of 10, an indication of how talented the finalists were.” Athena Sofides ’19, an intended environmental science and policy major, said, “After I learned about the Posse program at the end of my junior year of high school, I felt that it was a sign that Smith was, for its first year, collaborating with NYC Posse. In between rounds of the intensive interview process, I visited campus and absolutely fell in love.” The students participated in a two-week immersion program over the summer to prepare them for the coming school year. The program consisted of science classes, labs and introductions to the various resources Smith will offer them. Dinah Nahid ’19 said that, during the summer program, “We got to truly bond and appreciate one another’s perspectives on a wide range of subjects.” The STEM Posse program will complement existing AEMES (Achieving Excellence in Math, Engineering and Sciences) programs, such as the AEMES Scholars and Mentoring programs, McKinley Pre-Honors Fellowships, McKinley Honors Fellowship and the Early Research Program. Like students in other AEMES programs, STEM Posse students will receive mentors and have the opportunity to mentor incoming students as upperclassmen. In the spring semester they will begin participating in a variety of research projects according to their individual interests. Wiktoria Leks ’18 said she hopes to major in biology and chemistry and pursue a career in veterinary science, but she acknowledged, “These goals are difficult to achieve on my own,” adding, “Luckily, the Posse is just another support system for me to access and gain valuable advice from.” The Posse Foundation emphasizes the creation of supportive communities, exemplified by the name of the foundation: “Posse extends to these students the opportunity to pursue personal and academic excellence by placing them in supportive, multicultural teams — Posses — of 10 students,” the website said. Selina Husain ’19, a prospective engineering student, said she values the support of her 10 peers: “I am so excited for the day when all 11 of us graduate together four years from now…Knowing that I have these incredible girls with me to get through college...is such an amazing advantage because they are always there when I need them.”