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Posse potential

United by a scholarship and a multicultural mission, 10 Boston students head off to Bowdoin College

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Marie Jo Felix arrived at her first-year students' dorm last weekend and began unpacking the tokens of home: a stuffed Eeyore, pictures of friends, Afrocentric gifts from her sister.

Bowdoin College is only a few hours' drive from Boston. But its base in sleepy Brunswick, Maine, makes it another world altogether. So, too, does its largely white student body, replete with elite prep school grads, standing in sharp contrast to the throngs of urban, minority teens who inhabit South Boston High School.

Marie Jo, though, exudes confidence. After all, she was the one who dared to wear a pink boa to her Bowdoin interview. But her assurance has a source beyond individual boldness. If culture shock does set in - whether because of race, geography, money, social life, or academics - she knows she can always turn to her "posse."

Marie Jo and nine other students have come to Bowdoin through the school's new partnership with The Boston Posse Program, an expansion of the Posse Foundation in New York. Each year, a handful of schools give merit scholarships to these groups of urban students, and they come with a mission - to open up the lines of cross-cultural communication on campus and to help one another succeed.

The members of Bowdoin Posse 1 are a whirl of energy and colors, of Haitian and Colombian and "Bahstan" accents, tattoos and teen fashions, political consciousness and poetry. They count among them a soccer player and a pianist, a Guardian Angel and a dancer.

This is the story of how 10 strangers became a family, drawn together by their own academic aspirations and spirit of service - and by a college's desire to let diversity get both feet in the door.

The backdrop is the increasing concern among selective colleges in the United States that the traditional admissions approach, with its heavy weight on transcripts and standardized-test scores, overlooks too much potential - especially that of underrepresented minorities or low-income students who often attend substandard schools.

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