Honorary Degree: Deborah Bial
May 23, 2010
Citation presented by Joyce Bylander, Special Assistant to the President for Institutional and Diversity Initiatives
Conferring of the Degree by William G. Durden '71, President
Recently I read an interview conducted with Dr. Deborah Bial, and it began, “This story is true.” There isn’t a better place to launch the story of this visionary leader and the organization she founded a little more than 20 years ago. Everyone who is involved with The Posse Foundation knows the story. This grand idea started because a young man who, by all measures should have succeeded, dropped out of college after only six months. When asked why by his then mentor, Debbie Bial, he said he would have made it if he’d had his posse with him.
Some of you present today will recall that back in the ’80s a “posse” was a very cool thing. It meant your friends, your peeps and your support system. That simple statement was the catalyst for Debbie to begin The Posse Foundation, a college-access and leadership-scholarship program that has grown from one city with two partners to seven cities and 37 partner colleges and universities.
Since 1989, The Posse Foundation has identified, recruited and trained more than 3,100 students from public high schools all across the country to matriculate at some of the top colleges and universities. Dickinson College is proud to be one of those colleges. Since 2001 Dickinson has accepted 160 Posse Scholars from our two partner cities, New York and Los Angeles. This fall we will welcome 23 new scholars who will make up the cohorts of Posse 10 New York and Posse 6 Los Angeles.
What Posse has done is to systematize the best of what we know about retention in higher education. Posse sends students off to college in cohorts, “posses,” and each posse is assigned a mentor who meets with the group weekly and with scholars individually throughout the first two years of college. These are the critical retention years for all students. Research has shown that the two most necessary ingredients for success in college for all students are finding a group of supportive peers and a caring adult. Debbie Bial understood that. It is the genius of Posse.
Debbie was committed to expanding the pool from which colleges and universities draw students. She understood that too many students in urban public schools don’t have access to the same opportunities as students in often better-resourced private and suburban schools. She knew firsthand that talented young people were missing out on opportunities to excel. More importantly, she believed that this country was missing out on the talent and tenacity that these students would bring to the world. She was right.
Deborah Bial (left) listens as Joyce Bylander reads the honorary-degree citation.
For her visionary leadership she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Award in 2007. In March of this year President Obama made The Posse Foundation one of the ten organizations to which he donated his Nobel Prize money. A little more than a week ago, she and Tynesha Wright, Dickinson class of ’08, were at the White House running a college-access workshop for high-school girls in a mentoring program run by the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
For all the talent she has uncovered and connected to opportunities in the last 20 years, for all the teachers and doctors and lawyers, entrepreneurs, nurses, scientists and citizens that she has helped produce and inspire, Mr. President, I am proud to present to you Dr. Deborah Bial, for the honorary degree of Doctor of Education.
Deborah Bial, upon the recommendation of the Faculty to the Board of Trustees, and by its mandamus, I confer upon you the Degree of Doctor of Education, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges and distinction thereunto appertaining, in token of which I present you with this diploma and cause you to be invested with the hood of Dickinson College appropriate to the degree.