July 30, 2021

High schoolers spend summer jump-starting their college careers

Programs attracting Purdue Polytechnic High School students help them earn credit, open doors to the possibilities of a collegiate experience

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Purdue University campus is filled with thousands of students this summer, including groups of rising juniors and seniors from Purdue Polytechnic High Schools as they prepare to turn their small steps into giant leaps.

Watch Building a Pipeline: PPHS Origins Story to learn how and why Purdue Polytechnic High School is revolutionizing education and changing students’ lives.

Adriana Sanchez is definitely shooting for the stars.

Sanchez, a senior from Purdue Polytechnic High School Schweitzer Center at Englewood on Indianapolis’ east side, is taking COM 114 (Fundamentals of Speech Communication) during Purdue’s Summer College Program for High School Students, hoping to find out more about the college experience. She is wanting to come to Purdue in 2022 to get her degree in the sciences and ultimately become an astronaut.

“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time. People go to space all the time. Now that I’m getting older, it’s more achievable than what I thought it would be,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez is one of 32 seniors from PPHS who are participating in Purdue’s summer programs, which include the Summer College Program for High School Students, and the Summer Start and Early Start programs. These programs allow students to arrive early, take summer classes for credit and adjust to campus life. This summer, 499 high school students are participating in all high school summer programs, 790 college students in Early Start and 170 college students in Summer Start.

summer-college2 Adriana Sanchez, Brionna DeWeese, Jimena Avalos-Hernandez and Taylor Love (from left), all seniors from Indianapolis’ Purdue Polytechnic High School Schweitzer Center at Englewood, work on their prosthetic arm during Purdue University’s Summer College for High School Students program in West Lafayette. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe) Download image

The university created the Purdue Polytechnic High Schools (PPHS) to build new K-12 pathways that lead to Purdue, especially for Hoosier students who are underserved by traditional high schools and underrepresented in higher education.

Established in 2017, the growing, multischool PPHS system immerses students and their families in an innovative learning community. PPHS offers tuition-free, authentic, STEM-focused experiences that prepare high school students for a successful future. These experiences include internships, industry projects, dual-credit courses and technical certifications. PPHS also offers its students a unique path to college; graduates who achieve Purdue’s admission requirements are assured admission to many programs at Purdue.

Jaylen DeWald is using this time on campus to get credits, learn more about what Purdue has to offer and what the college experience is like – in four fast-moving weeks.

“Coming here will help me decide what I want to study in the future,” DeWald says.

All the students are teamed up with a mentor who can help them with any questions or issues, ranging from where to eat, to class tips and more.

“I’ve had a really great talk with my mentor,” DeWald says. “I was talking with him about going into exploratory studies. He was talking about what he does in his major – chemical engineering – and giving some ideas.”

Taylor Love, who is taking MGMT 200 (Introductory Accounting), says the time on campus is helping support her goal for a career in management/business and how Purdue’s STEM-focused culture can strengthen that plan.

“When I started at Purdue (Polytechnic HS), I saw all of the cool stuff I could do. We have a lot of coaches who have had careers outside before becoming teachers, so they have worked in the fields. It just became more interesting as I went through the school,” Love says.

Coaches are what Purdue Polytechnic HS staff call teachers as they are doing educational coaching with students.

summer-college3 Purdue Polytechnic High School South Bend students Rafael Calleja-Castillo (right), a senior, and Kyle Bloch, a junior, recently participated in Purdue University’s Summer College for High School Students program. The week-long program is designed to help them explore what Purdue offers for students. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe) Download image

All of the students take one college course in the morning. Following lunch, they attend daily seminars and hands-on activities focusing on different majors offered by Purdue and college and career readiness programs.

Brionna DeWeese looks forward to learning more about animal sciences. A 21st Century Scholar program participant, DeWeese wants to attend Purdue and participate in its Purdue Promise program.

She said it is great meeting new people, being on campus and getting credits for classes. “Being around our friends is also helpful,” she says.

Jimena Avalos-Hernandez has always dreamed of going into health care and working in a hospital environment. Her goal is to complete a double-major in health and human sciences. She wanted to do Early Start to attain that goal.

“This has made me feel more confident,” Avalos-Hernandez says. “This is preparing me for the future.”

The students are taking standard Purdue classes – so these rising high school seniors interact with incoming freshmen and current college students. And they appreciate the friendliness of the Purdue community and how it is helping them navigate campus and discover what contributes to a successful college experience.

“They are all taking the class at the same time as me. We’re all learning the same thing. We’re not on different playing fields,” Love says.

In addition to the PPHS students from Indianapolis’ Schweitzer Center at Englewood and North campuses, two students from PPHS South Bend are attending a weeklong camp designed for high school students. The camp features the various academic programs at Purdue.

Both from the South Bend school, Rafael Calleja-Castillo is a senior and Kyle Bloch is a junior.

Calleja-Castillo wants to study computer science at Purdue.

“It’s taught me about how college really is and what it’s like to be in the classes. I’ve found it interesting,” he says.

He has always found computer science interesting and has had influence from his godmother, who has kindled his interest in robotics and computer science.

“We just keep innovating. We’re going to start needing more people going into that area,” he says.

There have been a variety of activities such as movies, events on campus and more beyond the classroom portion. “They have us constantly moving,” Calleja-Castillo says.

Bloch is using the week on campus to help determine what areas he would like to study during the next few years as he prepares for college. Highlights have been tours of campus labs and seeing people in action with their projects.

“This will help me understand campus life and taking courses,” Bloch says.

Summer Start is a direct-admit program created in 2015 by Purdue University President Mitch Daniels to expand access to a Purdue education, especially among lower-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority students who fell just short in the admissions process but are considered otherwise qualified to succeed at Purdue. More than 71% of students in the 2021 cohort are from Indiana, and one in five are underrepresented minority students. 

Summer Start students are joined on campus by those enrolled in Early Start, a program designed for students admitted for the fall semester who want to get a jump-start on their Purdue education. 

Currently, 28 of the 37 members of the PPHS Schweitzer Center at Englewood Class of 2021 – the school’s first graduating class – are attending Summer Start and Early Start programs on campus.

John Gipson, director of summer session, says summer outreach programs are a great way for students to learn more about Purdue in a hands-on environment.

“From enrolling in four-week courses alongside our current undergraduates to spending a week in an intensive academic experience designed to explore Purdue’s majors, high school students bring a different level of excitement and curiosity to campus,” Gipson says.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 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 https://purdue.edu/.

Writer: Matthew Oates, 765-586-7496 (cell), oatesw@purdue.edu, @mo_oates

Media contact: Amy Patterson-Neubert, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources: John Gipson

Charli Renckly-DeWhitt, cdewhitt@pphs.purdue.edu 

Note to journalists: Images of students are available via Google Drive. Journalists visiting campus should follow visitor health guidelines.

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