October 5, 2021

Opportunities abound, thanks to persistently reimagining the high school experience

New documentary series shares with viewers three students’ experiences at Purdue Polytechnic High School Schweitzer Center at Englewood

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In 2016, Purdue President Mitch Daniels stood on the steps of the PR Mallory Building on Indianapolis’ east side, promising a new pathway to Purdue University for students in Marion County through the establishment of Purdue Polytechnic High School.

“We refuse to surrender to the idea that young people from this neighborhood or anywhere in the Indianapolis public school district cannot prepare adequately and arrive at Purdue fully ready to compete,” Daniels said at the time (video of the journey to commencement).

Daniels’ vision – along with the visionary work of Scott Bess, founding executive director of PPHS, Principal Shatoya Ward and staff – was to build a new K-12 pathway to Purdue, especially for Hoosier students who are underserved by traditional high schools and underrepresented in higher education. PPHS 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.

Purdue is giving others a hall pass to see the transformation behind the doors of PPHS through “PPHS First Class,” a new online documentary series. This three-part series shows viewers what words cannot describe – students' persistence to shape their future and the support from their community, school and coaches (what PPHS calls teachers) who make it all possible.

The enrollment numbers for students coming to Purdue from Indianapolis Public Schools had declined through the years. That has changed. Now, almost 40 members of the PPHS Schweitzer Center at Englewood’s graduating class of 110 students have been admitted to Purdue for fall 2021 — more than double the average of 15 who attended Purdue from Indianapolis Public Schools from 2016-20. PPHS Schweitzer Center at Englewood is an innovation school through a partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools.

“Purdue University is a land-grant school. It was put there – just as this high school was put here – to try to open the doors to education and to a better life … and to provide access to opportunity to people who might not otherwise have it,” Daniels said during the June 2021 inaugural graduation.

“The people I meet who made giant leaps from Purdue almost never came from fortunate or privileged or wealthy circumstances. They came from small towns; they came from farms; and they came from neighborhoods like this. And they went on to do fantastic things. And you’re going to do the same,” Daniels said.

During the three documentary episodes, viewers can follow three members of the school’s inaugural graduating class through the end of their senior years and the first weeks of their time as freshmen at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus.

Prem Hall, Audrey Williamson and Keante Jackson, all of Indianapolis and all now enrolled in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute at the West Lafayette campus, share their experiences of how PPHS and their coaches encouraged them to pursue their dreams of higher education.

Hall uses his creativity and ingenuity to solve mechanical issues – especially in building the school’s electric go-kart, which the team ran at Purdue as part of the evGrand Prix. A visit to the campus allowed him an opportunity to learn about high-speed ev go-karts for professional kart builders.

Williamson has the goal of earning her degree in robotics engineering technology. A member of PPHS’ World's Tournament qualifying team, SuPURDUEper Robotics, she spent a lot of time working to finalize and prep the school’s robot for upcoming contests.

The sky is not the limit for Jackson, who wants to work with airplanes – and who also expanded his leadership capabilities as a captain on the school’s baseball team. The teamwork he learned on the field and around the school helps him navigate aviation classes.

Kelly Hiller, director of creative services for Purdue Marketing and Communications, worked with videographers, photographers, writers and media, content and strategy specialists from Purdue Marketing and Communications, PPHS administrators and Indianapolis-based Bayonet Media to capture and share these stories of persistence, hoping to inspire more students to pursue their dreams of a Purdue education.

“We are excited to share the stories of Prem, Audrey and Keante and how PPHS influenced their goals and dreams,” Hiller said. “The commitment of PPHS coaches and staff, as well as the community and families to the school clearly shines.

“It was exhilarating to be there on-site for numerous school events, learning how PPHS truly has reinvented the high school experience. You could feel anticipation building among the entire senior class throughout the spring semester. While graduation was the main moment, it was just a springboard for many of the students to take their next giant leaps to Purdue.”

Purdue was recently named one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Schools in the nation for the fourth year in a row. One of those innovations was the establishment of PPHS and its work in reaching and inspiring underserved students.

Today, there are three PPHS campuses. In addition to PPHS Schweitzer Center at Englewood, there is the North campus in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood and PPHS South Bend.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last four years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities 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, Media contact: Matthew Oates, 765-586-7496 (cell), oatesw@purdue.edu, @mo_oates

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

Kelly Hiller, khiller@purdue.edu


Note to journalists: Photographs of the three students featured in the Purdue Polytechnic High School documentary series are available via Google Drive. Journalists visiting campus should follow visitor health guidelines.

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