Qudus Ayilara (McIntire ’23) came to McIntire from Texas. Like all traditional Posse Scholars at UVA, he’s from Houston. The move two years ago from a big city to a college town produced a bit of culture shock, as “coming to Charlottesville was definitely an adjustment” for the third-year student.
But make no mistake, Ayilara remains excited about the opportunities he’s had, as well as the chance to experience life outside of his comfort zone.
“Surprisingly, that’s what I like the most about being at UVA. I’m encouraged to challenge my own abilities and constantly be in a state of growth academically, professionally, and most importantly, personally,” he says.
Arriving at the point where he could actually face those challenges didn’t come easily. The road to UVA—and McIntire—began when he was accepted into Posse Scholars in high school. According to the organization, its three main goals are to increase the amount of student leaders who better represent U.S. demographics by promoting their recruitment by top universities; to help institutions become more welcoming to people from all backgrounds; and to ensure that Posse Scholars excel academically, graduate, and assume leadership positions in the workforce.
It’s an effective, long-ranging plan that begins with foundational training in the senior year of high school and ends with connecting participants with skill-building workshops, career coaching, desirable internships, graduate and fellowship programs, and the opportunity to continue working with the organization and represent the program as alumni. Posse has seen impressive results: a 90% graduation rate, with 70% of students becoming leaders within college organizations.
Though Ayilara is not the first of the yearly group of 10 Scholars from Houston to attend McIntire, that fact doesn’t make getting chosen for the program, coming to UVA, and being accepted in the competitive B.S. in Commerce Program any less of an achievement.
A Head Start and Then Some
Before ever stepping foot on Grounds, Ayilara took part in the Dynamic Assessment Process, an annual evaluation that the nonprofit Posse foundation uses to identify student potential for successful leadership, collaboration, and motivation. Through nontraditional forums often overlooked by traditional criteria of most university admissions, the three-part Dynamic Assessment Process includes large-group and individual interviews, allowing Posse staff and school administrators to choose about 10 best students who will go on to form the Posse attending each of the 64 partner institutions; Posse has been working with UVA since 2013.
Once students are chosen, pre-collegiate training during their senior year brings them together with other newly selected Scholars and staff for workshops in academic excellence, team building, cross-cultural communication, and using leadership to become an active change agent.
Those weekly meetings and biweekly individual check-ins carry over for the first two years to provide support when they start as undergraduates. Ayilara says those meetings were instrumental in his early success.
“All the time my Posse and I spent together really allowed us to start college on the right foot without having to worry too much about the whole ‘going-to-school-in-another-state-without-knowing anyone’ thing,” he says. “We also heavily interacted with Posses from other years and developed a really tight, lifelong support network.”
Connections stretched beyond his Posse peers, and some early conversations began planting the seeds that would lead to an intention to apply to the Commerce School.
“Prior to even coming to Grounds my first year, I was already in contact with current McIntire students and alumni,” Ayilara says. “It really helped me plan out my path to McIntire and now my journey inside of it. Through all the course planning, difficult assignments, and feeling lost, I always had someone I considered a mentor to talk me through it.”
A Commitment of Support
Between 2018 and 2020, McIntire Professor Andrea Roberts served as a Posse Scholars adviser, meeting with student groups each week and getting together with each of the 10 Scholars for individual sessions every other week. When a colleague mentioned the opening for the advisory position, she was intrigued by the program and decided to get involved after learning about its mission and how she could provide meaningful guidance to those coming from Houston.
Roberts admits that, when she started, she really didn’t know the full extent of what the position would require of her.
Part of those responsibilities she would take on had her serving as an advocate for those who needed particular services to help them succeed with their academics, while other duties involved offering more general support and advice as the students were navigating UVA, Charlottesville, and all that came with a new life as college students attending university far from home.
It was a large time commitment, and though she didn’t have the time to assume the role for a second stint, she maintained close relationships with the Posse she helped.
“I tell people all the time it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done—but it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says.
Her assessment of her time with the group rings true with those she advised.
Jannette Nguyen (McIntire ’20), a FinTech Analyst with Goldman Sachs, says that Roberts was an extremely important figure in her life. “Professor Andrea [Roberts] was the most influential person I met at UVA. She listened to all of my college and personal problems and was like a mother to me,” she says. “I truly believe that she has positively touched every person she has come across due to her kindness, humor, and compassion. There are no words to describe how much she means to me and the members in my Posse.”
An Analyst at Level Equity, Nathanial Sandweiss (McIntire ’20) felt that the group was fortunate to have her input and attention, especially when he sought honest answers about Comm School admissions, curriculum, and other related questions. “When I first came to UVA, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do—like many first- and second-years, I’d say I was ‘pre-Comm’ without really knowing what that meant. Andrea was instrumental in helping me better understand what McIntire was all about.”
He insists that while Roberts would always supply him with the tools and advice he needed, she made it clear that final decisions always rested in the students’ hands. “Getting comfortable with that [idea] was a big part of my journey at McIntire and at UVA. Taking ownership of my decisions has allowed me to celebrate the ones that have worked out and learn from the ones that haven’t, and I know Andrea played a big role in that development,” Sandweiss says.
Roberts’ strong and direct commitment to the Posse program helped keep Alvin Barnes (McIntire ’20), now an Analyst with Accenture, from giving up on his goals. “On countless occasions I would walk into Professor Roberts’ office and say, ‘I’m leaving UVA!’ She would always respond, ‘And do what?’ She would say that because she understood UVA was the best place for me. She knew that if I continued to fight the shortcomings and adversity, I was going to be okay,” Barnes says, appreciative when, during difficult times, she kept reminding him why he came to UVA in the first place: “For a chance at a better life.”
Barnes believes that the Posse experience—coupled with his McIntire education—has built a powerful foundation for his professional life, best encapsulated with three skills he learned that allowed his career to flourish today: analytical thinking, communication, and networking.
That potent combination of working with both Posse and the Comm School gave Nguyen the determination to become a role model for other first-generation students and more. “I have been able to experience so many incredible things because of the confidence that Posse instilled inside of me. I was able to not only work at Goldman Sachs but also to excel within my division, and was even tapped to be on a two-person panel to welcome the 2021 worldwide CIMD Analyst class. I learned how to take charge and to be a leader,” she says.
Current student Ayilara, who was initially drawn to apply to the Comm School because of his strong interest in finance and investing, says that despite no longer pursuing a concentration in the area, he feels equipped to support his other interests with the essential business skills he has learned. He also has plans for passing on the knowledge he acquires McIntire.
“I hope to be able to incorporate what I learn in my own personal portfolio after graduating and to be able to teach others,” he says, noting that the latter goal embodies what the Posse program is about: authenticity and a desire for change.
“Everyone in Posse is so passionate about giving back and embodying the phrase ‘create the world you want to live in.’ We’re the presidents, the RAs, the creatives, the leaders on Grounds. Each and every one of us is a leader, and I think the fact that we all found a way to be one in our own way makes me very proud to be a Posse Scholar.”