Celebrate National TRIO Day by learning more about Horizons, Purdue’s TRIO program

Last updated: February 18th, 2022

When Brittany Allensworth came to Purdue as a student in 2008, she didn’t initially feel as though she belonged.

She arrived at Purdue from a predominantly black public high school in Indianapolis, the first in her family to attend college. She remembers sitting in her first math class at Purdue, situated between two students who were discussing the advanced courses they would be taking that semester. That’s when the imposter syndrome started to creep in.

Interim Director of Horizons, Brittany Allensworth, speaks at Purdue commencement celebrations (2012)

“When I first arrived on campus, I felt like an outsider,” Allensworth says. “Not only was it difficult for me to find community, but I was challenged academically in a way that I had not been challenged previously. I began to doubt myself. Most of my time was spent studying, yet I still ended the first semester not too far from academic probation. I felt defeated and contemplated whether or not this path was right for me.”

Allensworth’s academic advisor asked whether she had heard of Horizons, Purdue’s federally funded TRIO program, which provides services and support for low-income and first-generation college students, as well as students with documented disabilities. Allensworth walked over to the Horizons office that day. The office immediately felt like a home away from home, she says, and the staff and students there soon felt like family.

“I felt as though I could bring my whole self to the Horizons space,” Allensworth recalls. “I had finally found a place that was safe.”

Today, Allensworth serves as the Interim Director of Horizons Student Support Services, which is part of Purdue’s Student Success Programs department. To celebrate National TRIO Day (Feb. 28), Allensworth reflected on the various ways Horizons has influenced her path and goals for the program:

What elements of the Horizons program contributed to your sense of belonging as a student?

Allensworth: It wasn’t just the academic resources and support—it was the culture and community within the office. I felt supported holistically. They understood that before I was a student, I was a person who had real life experiences that impacted the ways in which I would and could show up as a student. I didn’t have to put on a mask or façade; if I wasn’t doing well, I felt comfortable sharing what I was struggling with. In addition to the support, they never wavered in challenging me to rise above the limitations that others placed on me, as well as those I placed on myself. After joining Horizons, I evolved from being isolated and almost on academic probation during my first semester, to being a community builder and leader on campus who ended the next semester with Semester Honors.

What are some of your most memorable experiences as a Horizons student?

Allensworth: Although Horizons’ Global Leadership study abroad program had not yet been established when I was a student, the Horizons staff did push me to apply for study abroad. I got accepted to go to Sydney, Australia, to study and intern abroad and planned to do so with a friend who ultimately was unable to go. At the time, the thought of travelling to an unfamiliar place without a familiar face was scary. The neighborhood I grew up in wasn’t the safest, and as a result my mother kept my sisters and I sheltered. I didn’t have an opportunity to travel much, and if it weren’t for the encouragement provided by Horizons, I probably would have let that opportunity pass me by. The Horizons staff helped me get my passport, plane ticket, and gave me instructions on how to navigate the airport since I had never flown on a plane before. I was in Sydney for two and a half months that summer, and it fundamentally changed me as a person. I see myself and the world to be so much more than I did previously. I did not take a step outside of my comfort zone; it was a long jump. On the other side of fear, I was met with growth and opportunity.

My Horizons mentor, Ryan Favors, nominated me to give the commencement speech at Purdue’s summer 2012 graduation ceremony and I was ultimately selected. I hesitated initially, but Ryan told me at the time, “If you don’t do this for yourself, just consider doing it for the people who helped you get to this point.” He told me, “I absolutely see the promise in you; you are the ideal Horizons student, and I want to celebrate you and everything you have overcome to get to this point.” I later learned there was a Navy Seal who was also nominated to give the speech, but I was selected. That blew my mind, and made it undeniably clear to me that if the appropriate resources and supports are in place for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, they can succeed. Identifying and removing barriers to the retention, persistence, and timely graduation of underrepresented students is now work that I am most passionate about.

Why did you decide to join the Horizons program as a professional staff member?

Allensworth: After graduating from Purdue in 2012, I worked in corporate America for two years in human resources and talent acquisition. I reached out to my mentor, Ryan, and told him I was feeling unfulfilled in the work I was doing, and he helped remind me of the enthusiasm I had when interacting with and supporting students and suggested I explore the field of student affairs and higher education. Ryan provided support throughout my grad school search, wrote my letter of recommendation, and I started graduate school at Indiana State University soon after. I knew that if I were to work at any institution in the Midwest, it would be Purdue. I decided to reintroduce myself to this campus as a graduate student and paraprofessional while completing my practicum in Supplemental Instruction, which is housed in Purdue’s Academic Success Center. After graduating, I started working with the MAAPS (Monitoring Advising Analytics to Promote Success) initiative using proactive advising and predictive analytics to increase retention and graduation rates for low income and first-generation college students. I later transitioned to student support services in the Office of the Dean of students. I enjoyed serving all student populations in that capacity, but when the position for Assistant Director of Horizons opened, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. I hoped for the opportunity to serve students through the program that gave so much to me, so I applied, and the rest is history.

You currently serve as interim director of Horizons. What are some goals you have for the program this year?

Allensworth: Much of our programming and academic services target students within their first two years. Herein lies an opportunity to engage students beyond the second year. We are making a conscious effort to understand the unique interests and needs of our upperclassmen students with an intention to provide targeted programming to address them.

Horizons has supported students on the campus of Purdue University for over 40 years. Another area of opportunity is within alumni relations. We are striving to cultivate an engaged and supportive network of alumni with the hopes of creating mentoring and career opportunities for our students.

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

Source: Brittany Allensworth, Interim Director of Horizons ballensw@purdue.edu

Last updated: Feb. 18, 2022

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