WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY 2015
Executive Director, Posse
What has inspired your current career path?
In 1989, a NYC student who had dropped out of college, made a poignant comment. He said, “I never would have dropped out of college if I’d had my Posse with me.” It made sense. Why not send a team, or a group (a Posse) of students together to college? That way if someone grew up in a major, urban center but ended up in a rural college town, he’d be less likely to drop out. The idea was simple but it sparked a movement. Today Posse is about developing a new national network of leaders who represent the great diversity of this country. Posse is not just a college success program, it is a social justice initiative focused on developing young people who can represent the voices of all Americans as they succeed in the workforce and make the critical decisions that will affect us all.
What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced?
Starting a non-profit is a risky business. In the beginning Posse borrowed space from the College Board. We had a little office with just one desk and one computer. Our first check came from the Rockefeller Foundation, $5,000. That was exciting. But we didn’t always have funding. If we were going to grow, would we be able to raise enough money to sustain the initiative? High schools would nominate students for the Posse Scholarship by calling the office phone number. I would write down their names on a yellow legal pad. I often worried, would we find enough candidates? Vanderbilt University was our first partner. How would we get more partners? The challenges seemed huge in the early years but we always believed that this could work. Today Posse has more than $80 million in assets. We operate out of ten cities. Our Wall Street headquarters is 14,000 square feet. The 16,000 nominations come in electronically and we have 51 top college and university partners.
What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?
Today, Posse has sent more than 6,000 students to college. They have won an astounding $800 million in merit, leadership scholarships from Posse’s 50+ college and university partners. They are graduating at rates of over 90 percent and they are taking on leadership positions in the workforce. We are about to open in the Bay Area, our 10th city, and by 2020 hope to support 5,000 students in our program annually. It’s been wonderful to watch the successes of the Scholars and exciting to see the program recognized on a national level. In 2010, Posse was selected as one of only ten non-profits with which President Obama shared his Nobel Peace Prize money. That was an incredible honor. We are also very proud of two new programmatic initiatives that have been developed over the past several years: our Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Posses, and our Veterans Posses. Every day I walk into the offices we have on Wall Street and past a row of posters of Posse Scholars on their graduation day. I always feel happy at that moment.
Who have been the most influential mentors in your life?
My parents always believed that my voice and my sister’s voice were important. They asked us what we thought about political or social issues. They wanted to know and understand our opinions and views. We discussed books and art. Their belief that young people had something of value to contribute to the conversation at the dinner table, or to the world in general, influenced me enormously. Valuing, respecting and nurturing young people’s views is at the core of what Posse is all about. And I married my hero, Bob Herbert, who for his entire career has been writing about big social and political issues by telling stories about how they affect the everyday person. He has influenced me enormously.
What would you describe as a turning point in your life?
Maybe some people have specific moments that they can point to when their lives changed. For me, change is gradual. Posse started as a program focused on supporting students so they could succeed in college and then in life. Today, Posse is not just a program. It’s a movement. Its social justice mission has become what drives me, what has meaning for me.
What are your goals for the future?
With 1,000 Posse Scholars graduating and entering the workforce every year, I see the possibilities for this country: a more diverse pool from which to recruit our next CEOs, senators, high school principals, college presidents, entrepreneurs, scientists, and non-profit leaders. It is an exciting vision and its realization will benefit us all. #