Taking the A-Train to A-Town: Posse-tive Changes for Lawrence

Emily Passey

Last September, 10 students from New York City’s five boroughs found themselves at Lawrence University. In December, a posse from Lawrence which included Vice President for Enrollment Steve Syverson, Director of Admissions Ken Anselment, Assocciate Dean of Students for Multicultural Affairs Erik Farley, and Professors Michael Kim and Eileen Hoft-March — future mentor for Posse Two — traveled to New York to choose Posse Two, due to arrive on campus September 2008. If you have not yet noticed, New York City is here to stay.”They’re awesome,” said Posse One member Isake Smith of Posse Two. “They seem very dynamic.”

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Dave Burrows spoke warmly of the second group, and of the entire Posse experience. A native New Yorker himself, Burrows applauds the Posse Foundation’s work to merge urban and non-urban through the medium of the Posse scholars.

In 2006, Lawrence chose New York because “the nature of diversity in New York City is so rich and so interesting.”
“We wanted to increase our general presence in New York City,” said Burrows. The relationship is beneficial for Lawrence because Posse schools are known about amongst high school faculty and other people. The visibility increase for Lawrence is “huge.”

“The Posse Foundation’s vision is to enhance access for urban Americans to the education provided by top colleges, preparing them to take on leadership roles in America’s future,” said Posse One mentor, Associate Professor of Physics Matt Stoneking.

Stoneking believes that Posse benefits non-urban campuses like Lawrence by bringing the “perspectives that are informed by the ethnic, racial, and economic diversity that you see of urban America, but that are not currently well-represented at liberal arts colleges.”

Isake Smith can speak to this notion. “I’ve had to deal with things that other people haven’t. I grew up in Bed-Stuy, which is a bad neighborhood, depending on who you ask. But it’s New York — that’s the way I grew up.”
As Smith put it, “I’ve always had to deal with people who are radically different from me. I speak Spanish and I learned to speak Spanish because I had to.”

The urban experience is vastly different from anything else. Posse helps to translate that to non-urban students, while simultaneously helping urban students experience non-urban life.

“[The Posse Foundation] really wants places where there’s going to be very good education that’s going to be very individualized,” said Burrows, an education directive unlike the anonymity of urban living. Burrows said this is why Lawrence was invited to apply by the Posse Foundation.

“There’s a city, there’s people here from all over everywhere, so that was really exciting,” said Smith of her reaction to Appleton.

“I was told that for a lot of the other schools, the different majors are very separate, but Lawrence has a community where everybody does everything,” said Smith, a psychology major and music minor who thought she would go to school in a cosmopolitan area.

Posse students don’t come to Lawrence unprepared. “They’ve gone through a highly selective process and are among the best students from the high schools they come from,” Stoneking said. “[Posse has] found a way to select the highest potential kids, the ones who are going to succeed.”

Posse’s Dynamic Assessment Process, an intense process quite different from most college admissions, targets students with outgoing personalities who shine in challenging situations and who will become campus, community and even national leaders through their privileged college experience. The DAP looks at each student “as an entire person, not just [how they look] on paper,” as Smith put it.

Posse One members spoke highly and candidly of Posse’s DAP. Jismy Raju remembered her experience with humor: “They told me to ‘go chase a chicken,’ and I was really excited about it, I just went for it.”

“Our admissions staff has a similar philosophy,” said Stoneking of Posse’s DAP. Burrows agreed with Stoneking, saying that Lawrence seeks out students based not on standardized test scores, but on individual personality. According to Burrows, “We don’t want to think of the person as a set of test scores.”

Lawrence’s environment has been comfortable so far for the Posse members, as it is for most freshmen. As Smith put it, “[There are] All of these different cultures coming together dealing with freshman studies papers,” which creates a bond that extends out of the posse circle.

Coming to the Midwest seems not to have been too difficult for the Posse members, in part because they are so used to multiple perspectives. However, Smith pointed out that she lives “in New York and we’re completely bubble-minded.”

For her, she has been challenged to see the culture of the Midwest. Posse is about “dealing with those differences, taking us from our point of view and throwing us into a situation where we have to think about all points of view,” Smith said.

All of the Posse members are thankful for their group experience. For most, it is a blessing to be so close to nine other people from their hometown, especially when that hometown is far away.

Thus far, posse has been a positive experience for all involved, and that means the entire campus. In April, the Posse Plus Retreat at Bj”rklunden will involve up to 100 of Lawrence’s faculty, staff, and students in a weekend-long discussion of social responsibility.

Burrows looks ahead to when there will be 40 Posse scholars on campus, which he thinks will mean 40 students with strong leadership abilities. “Ultimately we do it because it helps Lawrence become a stronger university.