November 1, 2022

Talented students pursuing growth, opportunities

Purdue partners with Posse Foundation on scholarship program for northwest, northern Indiana students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – In high school, Nah’Shon Williams wanted to build a better future by pursuing a college degree in construction management. There was just one problem: The financial hurdles of even getting into college stood in the way.

A new Purdue University partnership with a national college outreach and youth leadership development organization has given Williams – and many others – that chance.

Williams and 10 other freshmen from northwest and northern Indiana urban areas began their Purdue journeys this fall through Purdue’s new partnership with the Posse Foundation. These urban areas of the state are ones that Purdue has identified as underrecruited.

williams-nahshon Nah’Shon Williams (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke) Download image

The partnership with the Posse Foundation helps identify and select students from urban areas with academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes and prepares them for admission. Cornell University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University, among others, also have partnerships with the foundation.

Students receive a full-tuition scholarship from Purdue and assistance from a designated campus mentor. They also attend Posse Foundation workshops for training in academic excellence, leadership, cross-cultural communication and team building.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels has asked Purdue’s admissions staff to center their efforts in places where fewer students find their way to Purdue. During the past five years, for example, fewer than 100 minority or low-income students from northwest Indiana have matriculated to Purdue.

The Posse program fills a gap in Purdue’s recruitment efforts, Daniels said.

“This partnership with the Posse Foundation will allow us to welcome more students to our campus community from targeted areas of our state from which we see fewer students and, even more importantly, help ensure those students are successful during their time on campus,” he said. “The Posse Foundation has created a model that aligns with everything we are aiming to achieve at Purdue – expanding college access to students from all walks of life and supporting them.”

Daniels became aware of Posse through his long-standing relationship with former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a member of Posse’s national board of advisors.

torres-sarah Sarah Torres (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke) Download image

Kristina Wong Davis, Purdue vice provost for enrollment management, said the partnership has been successful in its first year, as students are coming from Granger, Hammond, La Porte, Mishawaka, Michigan City, Osceola, Portage and South Bend.

“Purdue outreach representatives have been working with schools, communities and guidance counselors to encourage students to apply for the program,” Wong Davis said. “The feedback from students and applicants was tremendous. We are excited for this partnership with Posse and look to grow the program and provide more students with opportunities for a Purdue education.”

The partnership also reflects the ongoing work of Purdue’s Equity Task Force, which is charged with developing a plan with specific actions to ensure all students have the opportunity to equitably experience all Purdue has to offer.

Building the future

Williams, a freshman from South Bend in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, learned about the Posse scholarship from his high school guidance counselor. He says receiving the scholarship was a game-changer; it eliminates his financial worries about attending Purdue.

 “I was in shock. It gave me a lot of pride about all the work I had done during high school leading up to that moment,” Williams said. “Posse has eliminated all of that worry and made it very easy for me to go into this new era of studying at Purdue.”

His mother encouraged him to take a construction class his sophomore year in high school because he was always creative and liked working with his hands.

Williams was captivated by what he learned, and he signed up for the school’s second-year construction program, in which he and his classmates built a house. He started exploring construction management programs – and Purdue was on his radar.

Williams wants to pursue a master’s degree in urban planning, urban development and community investment.

“Construction management will help me get to that point with the technical knowledge of how things go,” he said.

Williams first wants to explore opportunities across the United States before he finds his way back to South Bend. “I’ll never forget South Bend. I will always want to come back home,” he said.

A thriving environment

Sarah Torres of Portage learned about the Posse Foundation program through her high school guidance counselor. Today she is a highly involved freshman – majoring in biomedical health science with a pre-dentistry concentration in the College of Health and Human Sciences and minoring in dance in the College of Liberal Arts. She is also a member of the Women in Science living community.

After applying and going through the interview process and visiting campus, she knew she found the right place.

“I felt welcomed at Purdue. That’s when I realized that I’m going to thrive here,” Torres said. “I met a Purdue alumna on my first visit to Purdue. She encouraged me, and when she found out I danced, she told me to try it at Purdue along with my biomedical science major.

“My goals have aligned with the research offered at Purdue. Purdue is a top research public institution. I knew it would bring me closer to working with people who are looking at health policies that affect us all.”

Torres has more plans still. She intends to explore various clubs and study abroad opportunities.

“Studying abroad and connecting with others is also going to allow me to grow as a person and completely take me out of my comfort zone. Posse will help in making those connections happen,” she said. “Posse has been the foundation for finding these mentors along my path.”

One of her goals is to get into a leadership position with a student organization, potentially even mentoring students, as she pursues her goal of attending dental school.

“You never know where life is going to take you,” Torres said. “I’m grateful for this opportunity. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.”

Mentoring today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges

Martia Brawner King, director of Student Activities and Organizations at Purdue, serves as the Posse campus mentor and understands the importance of this partnership.

“We know Boilermaker students have the talent, the drive and the know-how to get work done and make the best of their college experience. Partnering with the Posse Foundation opened the door to students who may not have had us on the radar and vice versa,” King said.

On Sunday afternoons, King can be found on campus helping Posse students navigate their first year.

King attended several trainings to acclimate Purdue to the Posse Foundation, especially the importance of mentoring and what success means for new cohorts of students. Mentors come from various disciplines, and the training covered group dynamics, campus resources for students and how to structure a campus program.

Posse students will participate in sessions on strengths assessment, conflict resolution, cultural competency and self-discovery. They will volunteer at the ACE Campus Food Pantry and learn about services provided by the Office of the Dean of Students.

While there is a structure to the program and mentoring, King wants students to build relationships with each other, faculty and other students.

“We talk about everything from homesickness to understanding their newfound independence to the clubs they are checking out,” King said.

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 five 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://stories.purdue.edu.

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

Sources: Kris Wong Davis, kwongdav@purdue.edu

Martia Brawner King, mbrawner@purdue.edu 

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