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February 2011 | Return to issue home
College of Education Welcomes First Posse Scholar
Dudney Sylla, M.Ed. student in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies area, is the UW College of Education’s first Posse Foundation scholar to enroll as a student. The Posse Foundation competitively recruits and trains public high school students for four-year colleges. They offer rigorous supports for personal growth and leadership training and partner with top colleges and universities, which award students full-tuition scholarships
As Sylla explains, "Being a Posse scholar is about developing your skills and supporting others in your own posse. It’s believing that students have the ability to accomplish whatever they want. Posse brings together dynamic people with great skills and encourages them to share what makes each one unique."
Sylla was selected as a Posse scholar while attending an all-boys Jesuit high school. He was picked from among 400 students competing for interview slots. Ironically, he almost walked away from the first process because he "didn’t feel like [he] was going to make it among so many people."
Bowdoin College accepted Sylla and there he majored in sociology and Africana studies. In his extracurricular activities, he worked as a residential adviser and was an anchor on Bowdoin Memo, a TV show about current events on campus. Sylla was a leader in a student group called The Undiscussed. They organized small-group discussions for Bowdoin students to speak with one another about difficult issues, such as race relations and economic background, and to collaborate on solutions for the Bowdoin community to consider.
While working as a dishwasher at the Bowdoin dining hall, Sylla expanded his appreciation for others. As he states, "It was one time during the week when I could take a break and meet a lot of interesting people who were behind the scenes. We know about the professors and the directors but we don’t necessarily appreciate what other people bring, like dining staff, household staff, janitors. We take for granted their work to help us all do the jobs the best that we can."
Sylla is patient and humble, but he claims that his real superpower is compassion. From working as a camp counselor at a leadership camp to serving as a peer counselor adviser at Upham’s Corner House Center, Sylla’s had plenty of experience with fostering understanding of others and modeling that compassion.
"I’m someone who tries to create a world where we care and respect one another," Sylla explains. "A lot of times people hear compassion and think it’s lovey-dovey. I mean a general respect for other human beings. We are all partners in this world and we want to work together to make this world better for everyone. I try to embody that in my actions."
As a student from an underprivileged background, Sylla knows firsthand that character and leadership education, along with a good academic background, can make a huge difference. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sylla was raised in inner city Boston in a Haitian-American community. He credits his family and a long line of mentors with his own accomplishments.
"No one gets anywhere without support," Sylla says. "My family and teachers invested in my education. I recall specific teachers, like my third-grade teacher, who helped me get here. The Bowdoin Posse, Fiver Children’s Foundation, UW and many other groups contributed to my growth. Various groups I’ve been a part of contributed to that. When I say that I’m successful, it’s really the people that challenged and mentored me who were successful. I just happen to be the person sitting in this seat."
Sylla wants to focus on higher education. He is working with adviser Joe Lott on his academic progress. At the moment, Sylla’s interests include college access and he aims to work with teenagers or young adults.
When asked why he chose the UW College of Education for his graduate studies, Sylla lists the environment and the people as his primary motivators.
"The image that I had of grad school is that it’s very individualistic," Sylla explains. "You come here, discover what’s best for you, and drive through. I felt that when I came to the College of Education people asked me to step up but there were also lots of people invested in me…So far the classes force me to think about what I care about, where I stand on issues, why I believe what I do, what assumptions I have about the world. When you care about something, it’s hard to defend it because lots of people have different ideas of how the world should be.’
"My professors push me," he says with a smile. "That’s why they have the Ph.D., I suppose."
February 2011 | Return to issue home