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Cody Paniagua meets his Posse, receives full ride to Wisconsin

“Do you have a good winter hat?” the woman on the phone asked him. He responded yes, but before it could really sink in, she told him he would be attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall with a full ride from the Posse Foundation. Senior Cody Paniagua was with his friends when he found out, who immediately started celebrating, knocking chairs over and picking him up. His mom began to cry.

The Posse Foundation was created in 1989 with the focus of identifying students with strong academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college admissions, and providing them the resources and support they need to be extremely successful. The idea is to build teams of 10 students – Posses – at each partner university to motivate each other.

Paniagua found out about Posse from his physics teacher last year, and was nominated by a guidance counselor. “It’s free college, so why not try,” he said.

Once applications are selected, the accepted students move on to a series of interviews. “The first was more seeing how you interact with people and seeing cooperational skills,” Paniagua explained. One of the first tasks was to recreate a lego structure with a group of unfamiliar people, but only one person can see it at a time, and there are strict time constraints. The applicants also had to participate in skits. “It was a lot of communication, organizing on the spot, and seeing people skills.”

The next two interviews are more formal, face-to-face sessions, both of which caused Paniagua’s confidence to waver.

“At the third interview, it just seemed like there was a lot of good competition. There was one part where they asked, ‘raise your hand if you ever did dual enrollment,’ and everyone raised their hand but me. Then they asked, ‘raise your hand if you ever started a club,’ and everyone raised their hand but me,” he said. “It was like, all those people are doing big things.”

Clearly, Paniagua’s worries were not of much consequence. He’s looking forward to starting school in the fall, especially with the support system to keep him focused. Paniagua is currently on the Wilson Robotics team and intends to major in nuclear engineering. Posse students are checked on periodically, and there’s also a Posse office at Madison. “Everyone there is there for a reason, and they want to do well and succeed, so surrounding yourself with those people and having that support behind you is a good thing.”

Though he’s thoroughly excited now, it did take a while for it to set in for Paniagua. “It didn’t sink in for me all the way. I had to call them the next day and be like, ‘I actually won, right?’” •