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Smith College Joining Posse Foundation STEM Initiative to Support High-Promise Students in Science and Engineering

News of Note

Closeup of a science lab station with equipment

Published January 16, 2014

Smith College, a leader in science and engineering education for women, will expand its commitment to educational access by enrolling and supporting a cohort, or “posse,” of 10 high-promise students a year who seek majors and careers in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The announcement of Smith’s newest commitment to educational access by President Kathleen McCartney will take place at a Jan. 16 summit at the White House focused on access and success for low-income students. McCartney is joining President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other administration officials at the summit, which will bring together college and university presidents, foundations, policymakers and private sector leaders to discuss improving college access for low-income students.

Smith will enroll its first posse in fall 2015, drawn from public high schools in New York City.  The program will run in tandem with Smith’s highly successful AEMES (Achieving Excellence in Mathematics, Engineering and Science) program, founded by faculty members in biology and chemistry. AEMES, like Posse STEM, promotes the success of students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields. While Smith has initially signed a five-year partnership with Posse STEM, the college sees the commitment to underrepresented students in the sciences as long-term.

“As a first-generation college student and a social scientist, I am delighted to join forces with the Posse Foundation’s STEM Initiative and to be part of an innovative program that supports access to higher education for underserved populations,” President McCartney said,

“As the home of the country’s first engineering program for women, and through the existing structure of our AEMES programs, Smith is uniquely positioned to support STEM education and success for our Posse scholars. I look forward to greeting our first group and supporting their success.”

Enrolling 2,600 students from every state and 66 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country. Sixty-four percent of Smith students receive financial aid, an investment totaling $60 million per year. Twenty-two percent of Smith students receive federal Pell grants; 17 percent are the first in their families to go to college; 30 percent of the college’s students major in the sciences and engineering. In addition, the centerpiece of the college’s current $450 million fundraising campaign is a $200 million goal for financial aid.

According to the Posse Foundation, the STEM Initiative is “one of the largest scholarship announcements in the past decade aimed at assisting undergraduate urban students who are focused on science, technology, engineering and math.”

Founded in 1989 by MacArthur Fellow Deborah Bial, the Posse Foundation identifies, recruits and selects student leaders from public high schools to attend, through four-year, full-tuition scholarships, top colleges and universities across the country in 10-person, multicultural groups called “posses.” Since its inception, Posse has sent close to 5,500 students to college through a total of $670 million in scholarships from Posse’s university and college partners.  According to the Posse Foundation, Posse Scholars are persisting and graduating at a rate of 90 percent—a rate that well exceeds the national average and equals or exceeds the average graduation rates at most selective colleges and universities in the United States.

Along with the 10 full scholarships per year, Smith will meet any additional financial need, provide a faculty or staff mentor for each Posse class and offer a summer enrichment program for the Posse students.

Posse founder Bial says, “Posse is committed to identifying talented young leaders from diverse backgrounds who can achieve at the most selective institutions of higher education but who might be missed by traditional admissions practices…The Foundation works in tandem with its partner colleges to build more welcoming campuses so that students from all backgrounds feel integrally connected to the community. Nowhere is this kind of initiative more important than in the STEM fields, given the challenges we face as a country.  We strongly applaud our partner schools for their support of Posse and our Scholars and look forward to working with them.”

The STEM Initiative was launched by the Posse Foundation in 2008 and was highlighted in 2012 by President Obama as being well-aligned to his initiative to train 1 million or more STEM graduates over the next 10 years.

Alongside Smith, Posse’s STEM partner institutions are Brandeis, Bryn Mawr, Davidson, Franklin & Marshall, Georgetown, Middlebury, Pomona, Texas A&M and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.