Federal TRIO Program Renews Grant for Purdue’s Horizons Student Support Services Another Five Years

It was nearly the end of July 2020, and Baraka Corley was still waiting to hear the outcome of his grant proposal to renew federal funding for Purdue’s Horizon’s program.

He had submitted the grant proposal nearly six months earlier. The grant cycle for the federal TRIO program occurs every five years, and decisions typically come in April. However, the 2020 grant announcements were delayed, for unstated but obvious reasons. With financial uncertainty mounting at local and national levels – not to mention countless other troubles related to the COVID-19 pandemic – Corley was starting to feel uneasy.

Horizons director Baraka Corley

After all, the stakes were high. Five full-time jobs depended on the grant’s renewal, including his own. But most of all, Corley worried about the 340 students associated with his program. He kept his worries to himself, but silently wondered where students would find support if their “home away from home” at Purdue ceased to be.

“It was a lot of pressure,” says Corley, who has been director of Horizons since 2017. “At the very beginning of the grant writing process, I could see it in my team’s body language that they weren’t sure how this would all turn out. I was confident we would be renewed, but the longer we didn’t hear anything, I think we all started preparing for other possibilities.”

On Aug. 7, Corley was in his office working on “programmatic contingency plans” if the grant fell through. It felt like he was preparing to write his program’s obituary, he said. And then, in that very moment, he received a call from the grant consultant. It was good news. Corley checked the government website to see for himself, and it was true. The U.S. Department of Education had renewed Horizons’ $2.1 million TRIO grant another five years.

New Horizons

Upon learning that the grant had been renewed, Corley and his team breathed a collective sigh of relief, but the celebration was short-lived. There were other pressing issues to attend to, and student well-being was Corley’s top concern.

“We worried about emotional and mental health concerns arising from students having less contact with people,” Corley said. “We were hearing students concerns about societal events and the impacts of entering an election season, as well as the general fear and anxiety affecting people across the globe.”

To support students through these tumultuous times, Horizons will do what it has been doing for the past 40 years on Purdue’s campus.

Students use the Horizons space for studying, tutoring, socializing, and more.

“Through our program, students are introduced to university resources, connected with a network of faculty and administrators, provided access to dedicated peer mentors and committed program professionals,” Corley said. “Students receive services designed to develop the necessary skills and strategies to succeed in college, but more importantly, they connect with the program in such a way that they refer to it as ‘a home away from home.’”

At the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, the program saw 99% of its participants maintain good academic standing and 68% graduate within six years. Within the 2015-2019 grant cycle, the program has collaborated with Purdue University’s Study Abroad office to provide global educational opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups. Students have studied in South Africa, Greece, Spain, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Peru. The program has also developed a faculty mentor/mentee program that pairs first-year Horizons students with a faculty or staff member in their preferred area of study. More than 120 Purdue faculty and staff have volunteered for this program to guide and support Horizons students.

Abigail Jachim, a junior in Purdue’s School of Materials Engineering, says she has benefited from the Horizons program’s free tutoring services, academic counseling from the program’s STEM specialist, and the office’s welcoming environment.

“I work at the front desk of the Horizons office, so I constantly see students coming and going,” Jachim said. “Someone was in a staff member’s office for nearly an hour yesterday just talking to her and having conversations about school and life; I feel like the staff are always here to just listen and check in on you, which is really nice.”

Jachim, a first-generation college student, said staff in the Horizons program helped her navigate several hurdles throughout her college experience.

“Navigating college can be really scary, especially coming in your freshman year as a first-generation student, where your family can’t really help you. I mean, obviously they want to help you, but it’s difficult to navigate something so new,” she said. “It sounds cliché, and it’s even written on our office white board, but for me, Horizons truly is a home away from home. I feel so comfortable here. I feel welcome.”

Student support during this challenging time is probably more important than ever before. The support and services that Horizons has provided for more than 40 years are critical for student success and we could not be more pleased to know they will continue to be able to help our students reach their educational goals.

- Jay Akridge, Provost for Academic Affairs & Diversity

About TRIO

Horizons (a unit of Student Success Programs) is Purdue's TRIO program. The Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO) are Federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs.

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, Student Success Programs, andrea@purdue.edu

Last updated: Sept. 11, 2020

Media contact: Baraka Corley, Director of Horizons, bbcorley@purdue.edu

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