Riding to the Rescue

How the Posse Foundation helps students get into and thrive in college

By Nicole Gildea

Just relax. Yuying Guo tells herself as she steps into the interview room. Her stomach is full of nerves but she takes a deep breath and puts a smile on her face. This is not the time to be nervous. She has to give it everything. Her eyes scan the room and she notices about 24 other students. They all made it to the final interview but only 10 will be selected. Less than half of them. Guo hopes more than anything she will be selected because then she will win the ultimate prize—a full-tuition scholarship to college.

The interview lasts nearly four hours. It is a group interview where candidates answer questions about themselves and participate in interactive workshops. The selection committee already received her grades and test scores. Now they are evaluating her on her ability to communicate well, to work in a team, and to demonstrate leadership.

Guo leaves the building by the end of the night and steps into the December air. She feels a sense of relief knowing that she finished the third and final interview. She feels proud of herself for making it this far. Now all she has to do is wait for the decisions to be made.

Tiny flakes of snow flutter onto her jacket as she walks down the streets of Boston. She ducks into the subway and rides the train back home. She arrives home around 9:00 p.m. and settles into her bedroom. It is a school night. Homework will be due tomorrow. However, Guo is too distracted by the recent interview to do any homework.

Suddenly the phone rings. That’s weird. She thinks. Why is someone calling me this late? She answers the phone. A moment later a huge smile spreads across her face. It is the Posse Foundation on the other line. They are calling to tell her that she has been admitted into Bryn Mawr College on a full-ride.


Posse students at in Bryn Mawr lab

Founded in 1989, the Posse Foundation is a national organization devoted to college access and youth development. Each year it identifies public high school students from the same urban communities who have demonstrated strong academic and leadership talent. The founder of the organization is Deborah Bial, an alumna of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. According to the organization’s website, Bial got the idea to create the foundation when she heard a student say, “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.”

The Posse Foundation places students in diverse groups of 10, known as Posses, in prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States. The idea is that by being in a Posse, students will receive the support of the fellow students their Posse to help them graduate. Continue reading

Standing Learning on its Head

It’s called Flip learning and two Bryn Mawr profs are using it in class


By Nicole Gildea   

While most breakthroughs in science were discovered in the lab, one recent breakthrough has its origins in an unlikely place, the classroom.

Many science teachers across America are revolutionizing the way they teach by using a new educational model called flipped learning. In a flipped classroom, the lecture part of class becomes homework while the homework part becomes classwork. This happens when teachers make their students learn course material first outside of class. Then in place of a traditional lecture, class time is devoted to written work and to problem solving.

Two physics professors at Bryn Mawr College have adopted this model. One is Kate Daniel.

“I firmly believe in learning by doing,” she said.

Kate Daniel

Professor Kate Daniel

Students in her statistical mechanics and thermodynamics class are assigned reading for homework to introduce them to new topics. They collaborate in class to discuss these topics and to solve problems from the textbook. Daniel says this is when real learning occurs.

Carl Weiman, the 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, helped popularize the idea of the flipped model after making an appearance on NPR this year.

“You give people lectures, and some students go away and learn the stuff,” he said. “But it wasn’t that they learned it from lecture — they learned it from homework, from assignments. When we measure how little people learn from an actual lecture, it’s just really small.”

More teachers are beginning to flip their classrooms because it helps their students learn better. Scott Freeman, a lecturer at the University of Washington, flipped his introductory biology class to help improve a 17 percent failure rate, The Seattle Times reported in 2012. The course’s failure rate dropped to 4 percent, and the number of students earning A’s increased from 14 percent to 24 percent.

Professor Elizabeth McCormack first introduced flipped learning to Bryn Mawr in 2012 after wanting more time to work on group problem solving with her students.

“One of the challenges of teaching physics is you’re often teaching concepts in physics to students at the same time you’re using a mathematical language,” she said. “It’s difficult to learn two things at once.”

She flipped her electromagnetism class as a result. Here is an overview of how it ran: Students were introduced to concepts outside of class through weekly reading and podcast assignments. They spent class time mastering the mathematical skills related to those concepts by solving problems.

Not all her students were thrilled at first with this new method. Some even came to her office hours asking for extra lectures because they felt they were not learning in class. Continue reading