Posse Foundation's Debbie Bial to Address DePauw Graduates at May's Commencement
November 14, 2007
November 14, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - Deborah Bial, founder and president of the Posse Foundation, will be the principal speaker at DePauw University's 169th annual commencement. The ceremony will take place Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 1 p.m. on the lawn of historic East College (weather permitting). Bial will also receive the McNaughton Medal for Public Service.
Bial was chosen by a selection committee composed of DePauw seniors and faculty members, which has also called upon President Robert G. Bottoms to extend the remarks he typically makes at graduation ceremonies. Dr. Bottoms, who has led DePauw since 1986, is retiring at the end of the current academic year and will become Chancellor of the University.
"Diversifying the DePauw community so that it is more reflective of the world has been key among President Bottoms' many accomplishments," says R. David Hoover '67, chair of DePauw's Board of Trustees. "His friend Debbie Bial has been a colleague in the national dialogue in advancing diversity as a core value. I am thrilled that the DePauw community is reaching out to both to be part of what will certainly be a very special day."
The Posse Foundation identifies, recruits, and trains student leaders from urban public high schools to form multicultural teams called "posses." Following an intensive eight-month recruitment and pre-college training program the teams enroll at top-tier colleges and universities nationwide to pursue their academics and help promote cross-cultural communication. In addition to New York, where Posse is headquartered, there are sites in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
DePauw has partnered with the Posse Foundation since 1996 and became the first college in the nation to host two Posse groups (from New York and Chicago). In 2004, President Robert G. Bottoms was named a "Posse Star" by the Posse Foundation.
In September, Debbie Bial was awarded a $500,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship. The so-called "genius awards" are given to individuals who demonstrate "extraordinary originality and dedication" in their fields. The foundation described Bial as a person who is "addressing the challenges of college access for underrepresented populations by identifying and fostering latent talent and reframing college admissions into a more inclusive process."
Bial has noted, "Posse is rooted in the belief that a small, but carefully selected, group of young leaders can not only act as a social and academic support system for one another, but can act as a catalyst for positive change on a university campus -- helping to build bridges between communities and encourage dialogue in the classroom and the dormitory."
She devised the posse concept in 1989, when she was supervising youth leadership programs in New York City public high schools, two years after receiving her undergraduate degree at Brandeis University. "I was working with a lot of great young students," Bial recalls. "I knew their potential, but they were dropping out of college. Then one student told me, 'I never would have dropped out if I had had my posse with me,' and I realized that sending a cohort of students to school together made sense."
DePauw and other Posse partner institutions -- which include Bowdoin College, Vanderbilt University, Grinnell College, Boston University and University of Illinois -- have awarded 1,850 Posse students $175 million in full-tuition scholarships. Posse's college-graduation rate is about 90 percent, compared to a 56% national graduation rate at four-year colleges.
"Some measures traditionally used to determine college admissions -- such as college entrance exam scores -- might not necessarily be the best predictors of college success, placing some very talented students at a disadvantage," U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama tells the Chronicle of Higher Education. He adds, "One of this year's MacArthur awardees -- the 'genius' awards -- is an innovator named Deborah Bial. She proposed a model to identify promising students from disadvantaged urban backgrounds, using an alternative set of qualities as predictors of success in college."
In an interview published Monday, Sen. Obama continues, "Candidates for this program are selected using a process based on qualities such as leadership, motivation, teamwork, and ability to effectively communicate. The students that are selected form a 'posse,' and are provided with extra supports, and end up graduating form selective colleges with a very high success rate."
Obama concludes, "This shows the validity of using less-recognized skills as indicators of likely educational success. And this would probably be considered affirmative action, by specifically choosing students from less-advantaged backgrounds. But maybe it just shows that the playing ground, using traditional metrics for college admission, is unacceptably uneven. When properly structured, affirmative action programs can open up opportunities to qualified minorities -- and can do so without diminishing opportunities for white students."
The 2008 commencement committee is composed of students Cassie Abraham, Jackie Betsch, Wagner Bichotte, Rachel Clapper, Brandon Delesline, Andrew Ibendahl, Kristen Kriegshauser, Shay Laws, Hannah Marston, Dan Moon, Ross O'Connor, Eileen Park, Brandon Pope, Lara Powers, Katie Roth, John Schomburg, Sarah Summers, Phil Taylor; faculty members David Alvarez, Kevin Kinney, Barbara Whitehead, and administrator Cara Setchell.
In May 2000, Debbie Bial received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from DePauw:Back