These students bring different perspectives and enrich the classroom. If we are picking the right kids, then there are three sets of people who benefit: the Posse students, their families and the student body.
Peter O'Keeffe '72 has a routine when he calls prospective Bucknell students to offer them a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the University: He thanks them for coming in for an interview but says there's one last question he needs them to answer. "What is the school's mascot?" Then, right or wrong — and there have been misses — he delivers the good news, and the phone crackles with cheers.
These calls, O'Keeffe says, are the greatest perk of his work with the Los Angeles office of the Posse Foundation, a 25-year-old organization that sends cohorts (hence "Posse") of promising high school students from overlooked neighborhoods to select colleges across the country.
A longtime donor to Bucknell, O'Keeffe decided several years ago that he wanted to be more active, and Posse felt like a perfect fit. "I saw it as an opportunity to get involved at a ground level and have interaction with students," he says. "I didn't want to be in my ivory tower just writing checks to the University."
O'Keeffe — who retired from real estate firm Lowe Enterprises in 2013 — does this in two ways: First, he serves on the committee for Bucknell's L.A. Posse initiative, interviewing finalists with a group of Bucknell admissions officers, Posse staff and another Bucknell volunteer, Sylvia Sukop '82, to determine the 10 best candidates. He's also involved in the Posse Plus Retreat, a weekend spent in conversation with Posse students on topics ranging from race and class in American politics to the cultural definition of millennials. "It's an amazing weekend of small- and large-group dialogue," says O'Keeffe. "It's one of the highlights of my year to hear what they have to say."
But the winners here aren't just O'Keeffe and the Posse students, he says. Posse has impact writ large. "These students bring different perspectives and enrich the classroom. If we are picking the right kids, then there are three sets of people who benefit: the Posse students, their families and the student body."
Now in his sixth year of work with L.A. Posse, O'Keeffe saw his first cohort graduate this year. One of them was Hernan Herrera '14, whose pre-collegiate Posse training — an effort to get the students up to speed academically and culturally before they arrive on campus — started shortly after he was hit by a car. His leg shattered, he still managed to show up to every single session in a wheelchair. At graduation this year, Herrera — now a teacher with the Teach for America program in the San Fernando Valley — thanked O'Keeffe, telling him that his life would have been much different without Posse. After all, where Herrera grew up, life after high school offered limited choices. Posse offered him a different path.
Posted January 2015
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