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“Boot camp opens up your eyes,” says Nana Owusu-Sarpong, a pre-med biology major in the posse. “I think without boot camp, college would have just hit me on the head.”
Yvonne Perez, another member of the posse, agrees. “When we had to write our first lab report in boot camp, I was clueless, I was like ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?’ And now I feel like that's my greatest strength—lab reports.” And if grades and rave reports from faculty members are anything to go by, the posse had a successful first semester.
“They're outstanding students,” says Kim Godsoe, dean of academic services at Brandeis. The students all know how to use support resources, she notes, and they all know when to come to her for advice and help.
But the students have a different, at times less positive, take on that first semester—college is an adjustment for any freshman and they are no exception. There's no doubt though, in their minds, that their posse helped them through.
Obasuyi, who hopes to major in neuroscience and minor in philosophy, found his first semester at college especially challenging. “Stuff like managing free time and socializing took their toll,” he says. But having his posse there added some security. “Most of the time I was really frustrated, but they were always there. When I see them working, their success is my inspiration, so I keep working. I know that they're having the same experience I'm having. It makes me feel not alone.”
Hameedi, now a pre-med student interested in health policy and hospital administration who dreams of becoming U.S. Surgeon General, says the posse provided support to students outside the group, too. “One of my friends would always come to us for help,” he says. “She automatically saw us as a resource, even though she didn't even know our grades, she just saw our motivation and would come to us.”
One night a week, the posse gathers for two hours with their group mentor, Susannah Gordon-Messer, a fourth-year biophysics graduate student. They have academic workshops, talk about their classes, or discuss problems they're all having. Sometimes, says Gordon-Messer, “they just sit there and vent, or discuss whatever social drama has gone on in the past week.”
Gordon-Messer is their confidante, the one who knows the nitty-gritty of what is going on in their lives both in and out of the classroom. “I play every role from mom to therapist to academic mentor,” she says.
Gordon-Messer also sees the pressure the group is under in the role as the first pilot science posse. “Everyone wants to meet them, and take them out to lunch, and hear about their lives,” she says. “They feel so much on display, it makes them think they have to be perfect. But they're human, and they are 18 year olds who are off on their own and they deserve to be college freshmen.”
In the first semester, some students began doubting their choice of major, pondering careers other than medicine and research. Perez, a graduate of the Bard High School Early College—a selective public school in Manhattan—began college with dreams of medical school. She's not so sure now.