Posse Foundation Encourages Young Leaders

January 27, 2011 5:43 AM

Michael Celone

Deborah Bial is on a quest with the Posse Foundation that she founded. “We want the leadership of the United States to better represent the demographics of the country,” Bial said on Tuesday (Jan. 25) as she lectured for Tulane’s NewDay Social Entrepreneurship Distinguished Speaker Series.


The founder of the Posse Foundation, Deborah Bial, talks about her program’s efforts to foster successful college experiences for students from less advantaged, urban environments. (Photos by Claire Barry)

Developing broader leadership starts with bringing a college education to underrepresented students with potential for excellence. In the 20 years of Posse’s existence, the program has awarded $334 million in scholarships to those students, and its graduation rate is 90 percent.

Bial, winner of the 2007 MacArthur Fellowship “genius award,” developed the idea for the Posse Foundation after encountering a black student from the Bronx.

“There was one kid who was a great, smart kid who went to Brown University, and 6 months later he had dropped out,” said Bial. “There was no reason he couldn’t do well. And he said, ‘If I had my posse with me I wouldn’t have dropped out.’”

This student’s experiences prompted Bial to create Posse, which identifies students from less advantaged, urban environments who have academic and leadership potential, awarding them merit-based scholarships. Teams, or posses, of 10 or 11 students attend college together to act as a support system and foster academic and personal development.


These Tulane students from the Los Angeles area represent two posses, one of first-year students, the other of sophomores, who act as support groups for each other.

Of her efforts to diversify U.S. leadership for the future, Bial said, “We want the people who sit at the tables where decisions get made to be from big urban centers, to be black and Latino, to be Dominican and Puerto Rican, to be Jewish and Pakistani, to be gay and straight.”

Posse currently is located in seven U.S. cities.  Tulane President Scott Cowen, who attended Bial’s talk, hopes to assist her in establishing the program here.

“It would be my aspiration that New Orleans would become a Posse city,” said Cowen. “We’re working very hard to make that happen.”

The speaker series is hosted by Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives.

Michael Celone is a sophomore student at Tulane majoring in public health.

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