Purdue Polytechnic HS celebrates Purdue Day, countdown to first graduation

35 students select Purdue for their next giant leap, more students expected to commit

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caption: Michael Berghoff, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, talks to Trevon Lowman, a PPHS senior, following the senior breakfast. Michael Berghoff, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, talks to Trevon Lowman, a PPHS senior, following the senior breakfast. (Purdue University photo)

Students, families and staff at Purdue Polytechnic High School (PPHS) Schweitzer Center at Englewood are preparing for several celebrations to celebrate the school’s first class of graduating seniors – celebrations four years in the making.

The school, at 3029 E. Washington St. in Indianapolis, celebrated Purdue Day on April 16 with numerous activities for its first class of graduating seniors. One of the activities included a breakfast where Michael Berghoff, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, congratulated the students on their accomplishments. 

caption: Michael Berghoff, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, talks to Trevon Lowman, a PPHS senior, following the senior breakfast. Michael Berghoff, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, talks to Trevon Lowman, a PPHS senior, following the senior breakfast. (Purdue University photo)

The highlight of the day came when 35 students announced they will pursue their postsecondary education plans at Purdue University. PPHS leaders expect that number to climb between now and graduation day on June 11, as 49 students have been admitted to Purdue for the Fall 2021 semester. Twenty-four of the admitted students are underrepresented minority students.

Gary Bertoline, dean of Purdue Polytechnic Institute, talks to PPHS seniors who will be attending Purdue University in the fall. Gary Bertoline, dean of Purdue Polytechnic Institute, talks to PPHS seniors who will be attending Purdue University in the fall. (Purdue University photo)

Before a Zoom call with Gary Bertoline, dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, and Shatoya Ward, principal at PPHS Schweitzer Center, students were gathering in the school’s College and Career Readiness room.

“We are extremely proud of you,” says LaTrice Crawford, PPHS college and career manager. “Fifty-nine days from now (from April 16) you will be graduates.”

LaTrice Crawford, PPHS college and career manager. LaTrice Crawford, PPHS college and career manager. (Purdue University photo)

This group of high school seniors and the school has come a long way since that first day of classes on July 31, 2017, at a temporary location in downtown Indianapolis. The school moved later to the revitalized PR Mallory Building in the Englewood neighborhood along East Washington Street.

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, multi-school 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 one of Purdue’s over 200 majors.

Today, there are three PPHS campuses. In addition to PPHS Schweitzer Center on Indianapolis’ east side, there is the North campus near Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood and PPHS South Bend.

One of those students making a giant leap to Purdue is Kayla Owens. She was the first student registered for PPHS when it announced plans to accept students for the fall 2017 classes.

Kayla Owens during her freshman year at Purdue Polytechnic High School Kayla Owens during her freshman year at Purdue Polytechnic High School (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Owens actually visited Purdue on a sixth-grade field trip which, she says, destined her to become a Boilermaker. And her dreams will come true when she begins as a freshman in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute this fall.

She has been involved in numerous activities at the school – serving as a school ambassador, on student government and the Black student union, recruiting students, talking to area media about the school, earning acceptance in the National Honor Society, and cheerleading.

“In the beginning, it was hard because it was a new school,” Owens says. “But now I look back and can say there are so many benefits to going to a nontraditional school. We learn at our own pace and our days aren’t structured like a typical high school with back-to-back classes. We’re treated like college students.”

Academically, Owens thrived under PPHS’s self-directed learning philosophy, which allowed her to persistently pursue a personalized curriculum that facilitated collaboration and innovative problem solving. With aspirations of earning a degree in computer information technology at Purdue, Owens appreciates the academic rigor she experienced at PPHS, which has helped prepare her to launch her collegiate career.

“It’s very exciting,” Owens says. “I want to leave a legacy and show the world that STEM majors are accessible to everybody. I’m pursuing a field where there aren’t a lot of minority women. And I’m eager to see that change.”

Scott Bess, head of schools for PPHS. Scott Bess, head of schools for PPHS. (Purdue University photo)

Scott Bess, head of PPHS, is excited for the first graduating class and seeing the PPHS model as part of Purdue’s commitment and mission to being Indiana’s land-grant university – working to serve all residents.

“This is being true to that land-grant mission. We had to put our name and reputation on the line. We had to do something bold about it,” he says.

Bess says PPHS’s partnership with IPS in Marion County will grow access to Purdue and address access for underrepresented minority students. From 2016 to 2020, IPS sent 47 underrepresented minorities and 34 white students to Purdue.

“If you want to go into a STEM field, you need to go to Purdue. If you look at the economic drivers in Indiana – it’s technology, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, health care. If we are going to fill that workforce, you have to have talent,” Bess says. “We have to tap into this community that has been way underrepresented in all these fields. Employers are looking to increase diversity. Diversity leads to better outcomes, better products and better solutions. You can’t have diversity if you don’t have a pipeline.”

Students and families who come to PPHS are looking for something different. Some want a more intimate learning environment or for a pathway to Purdue. Others are seeking a second chance at lifelong learning.

Students work on eight to 10 passion projects throughout a year. Previous projects have included designing business plans for hydroponics, addressing climate change and food deserts in Indianapolis, as well as partnerships with area businesses on some of the real-world issues they face in industry.

And Bess has seen many students thrive.

“You have a voice and choice that you don’t see in some other places. It’s important for teenagers to have some control over what they get to do during the day,” Bess says. “They are using their ability and creativity. We’re on this journey together.”


For more information on student registration, donations or business partnerships, and media requests, contact PPHS Network Office at  info@pphs.purdue.edu.

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

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


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