Brandeis supports White House education initiative

Photo/Mike Lovett

Irv Epstein

President Obama launched a national campaign to make a college education more accessible — and achievable — for low-income students at a White House summit on higher education Jan. 16.

Leaders from more than 140 colleges and universities, businesses and organizations attended a meeting at which Obama urged them to adopt best practices to increase the enrollment of low-income students and graduation rates. He also asked the leaders to commit to:

  • Connecting more low-income students to the college that is the right fit.
  • Increasing the pool of students preparing for college through early interventions.
  • Leveling the playing field in college advising and college-entrance test preparation.
  • Strengthening remediation to help academically under-prepared students complete college.

In support of the White House initiative, and in partnership with the Posse Foundation, Brandeis and nine other colleges and universities pledged to provide $70 million in merit-based scholarships over the next five years to 500 undergraduate urban students focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The Brandeis connection to the Posse program precedes the development of the STEM Posse program. Brandeis alumna Deborah Bial ’87 created the Posse Foundation in 1989 after witnessing the challenges inner-city students faced in accessing and graduating from college. Bial believed that a small, diverse group of talented students — a posse — selected for academic and leadership potential could serve as a catalyst for increased individual and community development.

The Posse Foundation, in collaboration with Irv Epstein, the Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry, created the first Science Posse program in the nation at Brandeis in 2006. Brandeis’ Science Posse has served as a national model and continues to be adopted by universities around the country.

“A critical problem facing this country is that a large majority of economically disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students who enter college interested in pursuing STEM careers leave science by the end of sophomore year,” explains Epstein, who is also the senior advisor to the provost for research. “By adopting the group learning, peer support and mentoring techniques pioneered by the Posse Foundation, we have been able to achieve remarkable success in enabling students to complete STEM degrees.”

Schools participating in the Posse Foundation’s STEM Posse program recruit 10 scholars from their surrounding community every year and provide a four-year, full-tuition merit-based scholarship for each student. Each STEM Posse program offers several months of pre-college training as well as a two-week summer immersion program that exposes students to college-level work before they matriculate. Posse students are then matched with STEM graduate student or postdoctoral as well as faculty mentors for their entire undergraduate career.

Brandeis’ commitment to recruiting underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students and in enabling them to succeed is longstanding and extends beyond the Posse program. In 1968, it created what is now known as the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (TYP), which is focused on helping students who have shown academic promise, tenacity, leadership, and resilience in their life experiences, but have had limitations to their pre-college academic opportunities.

Categories: Science and Technology

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