September 9, 2020

Purdue draws record number of high achievers from historically underserved populations through new Emerging Leaders Science Scholars program

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Emma Davis looks at her schedule – filled with classes, lectures, events and activities – and charts her course for the day.

Her ultimate goal, though, is to help others chart their course by developing computer software that can explore the farthest reaches of the solar system and distant galaxies.

Davis is one of 88 students participating in a newly created program to bring the best and the brightest to Purdue University’s College of Science.

The program – Emerging Leaders Science Scholars – accepted its first cohort of students this summer and fall, and is already proving to be an immensely successful pilot on behalf of all of Purdue. Most of the program’s students are on campus taking in-person and hybrid classes, while other students are participating in online learning.

Davis, a freshman from Muncie in the College of Science double-majoring in computer science and Spanish, is grateful for the program. “I was amazed by all of the opportunities that come with the program. More doors have been opened to me,” she said.

Patrick Wolfe, dean of the College of Science, explained the impetus behind the new program.

emerging-classroom Participants in the Emerging Leaders Science Scholars program during an orientation presentation. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)


“We saw a clear opportunity to offer an extremely attractive experience to high-achieving students from populations historically underserved by Purdue,” he said. “Working with colleagues in our provost’s office, we analyzed past data and admissions outcomes, and redoubled both our efforts and our financial investment to create not just a focused set of scholarships, but in addition a much more holistic scholars program.”

To launch the pilot program,  the College of Science collaborated closely with John Gates, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, and Kristina Wong Davis, vice provost for enrollment management.

 “For Purdue to live its land-grant mission, we need to engage and serve and provide access to a student population of various backgrounds,” Gates said. “The Emerging Leaders Science Scholars looks to grow access for underrepresented students in the science fields across campus.

 “Our initial goal was 50 students. But thanks to the teamwork and vision of all, we were able to accept nearly double that amount. Students and their families were grateful for the opportunities that students can achieve through this program.”

Wong Davis said, “It is not often that we are able to exceed expectations to such a great extent.  We are exceptionally pleased and excited to offer this opportunity to these deserving students.”

The program includes financial support for a guaranteed study abroad opportunity, summer experiences such as internships or summer courses, acceptance in a learning community and being paired with a faculty mentor. Scholars are majoring in programs across the College of Science — data science and computer science; the mathematical and actuarial sciences; the biological sciences; chemistry; physics and astronomy; and earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences. Over half of the inaugural class is female, a quarter are first-generation college students, and over one-third hail from Indiana.

Davis, herself, has a clear goal to embrace all of the opportunities in pursuit of her ultimate goal of working for NASA or another space exploration company.

“I want to develop software for them. That would be a dream,” she said.

And breaking into what has historically been an overwhelmingly male-dominated field of computer science is not a big deal for her as she took a course in high school and loved it.

“I wanted to find a major that was both creative and technical, and computer science was that for me,” she said.

Another aspect of the program is developing friendships – both with her peer mentor and the other students in her classes and peer group.

Davis’ peer mentor has been fielding her questions and providing advice and experiences of coursework and life on campus.

“It’s nice to see and to have that experience and meet a wide array of people,” she said.

Growing from a strong foundation

The Emerging Leaders Science Scholars pilot program stems from an existing campuswide Emerging Leaders scholarship program. Henry Williams, a clinical assistant professor in Krannert School of Management and provost fellow for the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, is the director of Emerging Leaders programs across campus.

“The landscape is changing, and we need to recruit, retain and make sure all students succeed during their college careers,” Williams said. “I see this as something necessary for us to keep growing.”

To do that, Williams, Gates, Wolfe and others throughout Purdue will follow up with students and will be available to address issues, looking for ways to strengthen their academic outcomes and resources.

“We were losing high-achieving students because we didn’t have funding to bring them to Purdue,” Williams said. “We believe this program can be just as successful as some of the other scholarship programs that Purdue offers.”

Taylor Baker, a freshman from Indianapolis in the College of Science, was one student who had other offers but decided to stay in state.

Baker is majoring in applied physics and is exploring careers in math and engineering, as well as leadership and management roles in those fields. She credits her high school physics teacher for making the subject fun.

“I want to get involved, grow as a leader and take that into the workforce,” Baker said. “My family was excited. They knew that a study abroad opportunity was important to me. They are happy I get to do that.”

It took about a week to get acclimated to campus and the rhythm of classes, Baker said. She took three courses over the summer – honors research, psychology, and a philosophy and law course, and taking time to meet others in the program and the college.

“I’m really looking forward to the semester and meeting more people,” Baker said. “This program is awesome. I’ve created a bond with so many people so quickly. We’re a close-knit community.”

To Williams, that close-knit community, mentors and study abroad opportunities will be a draw for many students.

“They will all live together, study together and go through various cultural events together.” he said.

Most students took nine credit hours during Early Start, and all students have to take a research-based course and work with a mentor on a research project.

“We are preparing them to be scholars,” Williams said. “We’re not just going to offer scholarships to the students. We’re going to make sure they have a road to success.”

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 6 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

Writer, Media contact: Matthew Oates, 765-586-7496 (cell),, @mo_oates

Sources: Patrick Wolfe, 

John Gates,

Kristina Wong Davis, 765-494-9116,

Kate Walker, 765-494-9925,

Emma Davis

Taylor Baker

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Note to Journalists: Photos of Emerging Leaders Science Scholars, Davis, Baker, Wolfe, Gates and Williams are available for media use via Google Drive. For phone or web-based conference interviews of program participants and administrators, please contact Matthew Oates.

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