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“I still love the sciences,” Perez says. “However, I've noticed that medical school is precisely not for me, and the natural sciences might not be for me. Chemistry was my least favorite class and my grades show it. Same goes for lab, and I was just thinking about this and I'm not sure I want to spend my next three years doing labs.”
Perez is leaning toward public health and sociology now, hoping to combine science with her love of interacting with people. She credits her posse with helping her keep science in the picture at all. “There have been many times I've wanted to drop chemistry, that would make my life easier, but in the long run I know I would regret that, because I know I want to do something related to science. I feel like my posse is what's keeping me in.”
The mentors—Epstein, Godsoe, Kosinski-Collins, and Gordon-Messer—agree that it's the student's decision whether to stick with the natural sciences. “We won't talk any of them into anything, or out of anything,” says Gordon-Messer. “We'll give them the information they need to make their own choices.”
To give them a taste of science, Epstein places most of the students in active scientists' labs for hands-on lab work their first semester. “There is this illusion out there that science is an isolating vocation,” he says. “That if you go into the sciences you'll never see people. And in fact, a research group in the sciences is a real community. So part of the plan was to get the posse scholars into labs as early as possible and let them get a sense of that.”
Perez, for one, says working in a psychology lab is what spawned her new interest in the social sciences. “This lab is showing me that I want to be out in the world interacting with people rather than just be in a lab where pipettes are my best friends,” she says. “And that there's research where I can be in the sciences and figure out how things work, but still get that interaction with people.”
The 10 members of Brandeis's first science posse were chosen from among roughly 3,000 New York City high school students nominated for Posse scholarships in the fall of 2007—the beginning of their senior year. The first-round interviews were conducted in groups of 100 students. “Instead of it being a pencil and paper test, it's like speed dating,” says Bial. “Kids are going through all these crazy activities—building robots out of Legos, having discussions on genetic testing—and all the time we're looking for leadership and problem-solving skills, for the ability to work well on a team. We're looking for the stand-out kids.”
When the field was narrowed down, a select group of students was asked whether they'd be interested in the science-only posse instead of one of the more traditional liberal arts groups. Eventually, the Posse Foundation submitted the applications of 20 finalists to Brandeis, which selected the final posse of 10.
Already, this process has repeated itself, and the second class of Brandeis science posse scholars has been chosen. Epstein's original plans called for a two-year pilot program, and the success of this year's class gives him high hopes that the program will continue much longer.
“After one semester it has more than fulfilled my hopes and expectations,” he says, “both in terms of how they're doing academically and the contributions they make to the university.”