March 22, 2021

Lewis & Clark Welcomes First Class of Posse Scholars

In 2010, President Barack Obama donated a portion of his $1.4 million Nobel Prize award to the Posse Foundation, one of 10 organizations he chose to recognize. Lewis & Clark is partnering with the Posse Foundation to provide mentoring and full-tuition scholarships to exceptional students from diverse backgrounds. The inaugural cohort—10 students from the Washington, D.C., area—will arrive on campus this fall.

In September, Lewis & Clark will become one of the 63 colleges and universities to provide full-tuition Posse Scholarships to a cohort of 10 students each year. For more than 30 years, the Posse Foundation has supported students from diverse backgrounds who show extraordinary leadership potential, providing mentorship and resources in order to prepare them for lifelong success.

The mission of the program is academic inclusivity and representation. Traditional criteria in most admissions processes can overlook talented students by narrow measures of aptitude. Posse works with a network of public high schools and community-based organizations in 10 cities, relying on a unique recruitment strategy to identify the strongest candidates.

The method has come with striking results. Posse scholars graduate at a rate of 90 percent, and nearly half go on to pursue graduate degrees. In 2010, President Barack Obama donated a portion of his $1.4 million Nobel Prize award to the Posse Foundation, one of 10 organizations he chose to recognize.

“We are thrilled to partner with Lewis & Clark College,” said Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial in a release. “In these challenging times, this collaboration is a great reason to celebrate. Posse shares the college’s commitment to promoting equity and expanding opportunity for young people from diverse backgrounds. We very much look forward to working with President Wiewel and his team.”

This fall, 10 students from the Washington, D.C., area will begin their time as Lewis & Clark undergraduates and Posse scholars. While it will be the first time the students meet in person, the group has already formed a tight bond with weekly virtual meetings to prepare for the transition.

“Even just in the first couple of pre-collegiate training sessions, working with the other nine scholars has shown that the people who I’m going to Lewis & Clark with are really keen on making a difference, and that’s been amazing,” said George Steene, an incoming scholar from Lake Braddock Secondary School.

Through high school, Steene developed an interest in environmental sustainability, which peaked after his county discontinued their curbside glass collection for recycling. For the last year, he has run a drop-off site from his home to improve recycling accessibility, a project that he promoted by publishing bilingual flyers around the area.

At Lewis & Clark, he wants to build on the Spanish he learned in high school. He’s looking forward to courses through the Hispanic Studies Program, in addition to classes in the Department of Political Science and Environmental Studies Program.

Erin Fails, an incoming scholar from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, echoed this sentiment. In high school, she founded a Black Student Union and spent time advocating for educational justice as part of Youth for Equity.

“The Posse Foundation emphasized untraditional leadership and the ability to make an impact on your campus,” she said. “Posse is about giving students who have the drive to cause change the tools to do so, and that’s what I see myself as.”

Eric Staab, Lewis & Clark’s vice president of admissions and financial aid, noted that this emphasis on change-making lends itself to a natural relationship between Lewis & Clark and the Posse Foundation.

“Lewis & Clark is a fabulous community of students eager to make a difference in the world,” he said. “What I love about the Posse program is its commitment to not only give traditionally underrepresented students access to college, but to provide them with the support mechanisms they need to succeed. Posse is truly a leadership development program.” Recognizing this, Trustee Patrick Nielson BA ’71 and his wife, Dorris Nielson, have pledged $250,000 to provide funding for the partnership’s operational costs.

For each of the students, moving to the Pacific Northwest will provide a unique avenue for growth, and many were attracted to the college from their earliest impression.

“When I looked up Lewis & Clark and saw the forest around it, I was like this is so cool,” said Sania Starnes, an incoming scholar from John R. Lewis High School. “I’ve never been to Oregon before, and I love the outdoors. It seemed like a really cool opportunity to be able to leave my area and explore something new.”


Posse Foundation Partnership