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Standing Out Blending In

A pioneer group of college scholarship students reflect on adjustment and success during their first year away

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In so many ways, their ride on the first-semester-of-college roller coaster was just like everyone else's: The struggles to understand "professor speak." The sweet taste of freedom mixed with a bitter tinge at the thought of missing the Sunday family dinner back home. The negotiations with roommates. The all-nighters.

But the 10 students in Bowdoin College's first "posse" scholarship group last fall were taking the dips and twists together - and that meant the difference between settling for an F and finishing the paper, the difference between flipping out and starting a constructive dialogue when someone on campus made an ignorant remark.

The first goal was to get adjusted to an environment that, for most of them, stood in stark contrast to their high schools in Boston. But they had another layer of responsibility to think about: How would they fulfill the leadership mission that came in tandem with their four years of free tuition?

After all, this multicultural group, selected from among several hundred nominees, had been meeting weekly for months, and they were well aware of the ways schools like Vanderbilt and DePauw had been changed by hosting posse scholars. These groups are formed not only to support one another's academic endeavors, but also to act as strong threads in a school's efforts to weave a more-diverse campus.

Some of the students' leadership roles at Bowdoin were immediately obvious. A few weeks into the semester, posse member Lenz Balan beat out six other candidates for first-year class president. Lauren Flinn joined the rugby team and now sets up all its games as "match secretary." But more subtle things - the everyday interactions with friends and professors - are starting to add up to a noticeable difference. As a result of the posse's presence, and other new recruitment approaches and scholarships at Bowdoin, students and faculty alike say education is enhanced and the campus is more vibrant - "louder," as one professor puts it with a smile of approval.

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