Purdue Polytechnic high school network takes leaps forward, will receive new scholarships

Purdue Polytechnic High School graduates at their 2021 commencement ceremony. This ceremony marked the first time the network graduated students from its PPHS Schweitzer Center at Englewood, North and South Bend campuses. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)

Modeling STEM education for high school

Since the first location opened in 2017, the Purdue Polytechnic High School system (PPHS) has implemented a unique strategy to revise in-state education. The goal was not simply to funnel students to college, but to innovate how STEM is taught, featuring a project-based learning model that immerses students in real-world situations.

The collaborative learning space at PPHS' Englewood campus. (Courtesy: pphs.purdue.edu)

"There is a natural progression toward our university-level curriculum for those high school grads looking to take the next step in this innovative educational journey,” stated Purdue Polytechnic’s dean, Daniel Castro. “That we retain a great number of students from the high schools is a testament to the effectiveness of the continuum."

"Initiative, accountability, self-actualization"

Paul Thomas, a faculty member in computer and information technology (CIT) at Purdue Polytechnic, mentioned Daisha Lasley as a standout PPHS grad and current college student. Lasley benefits from her unique educational background designed to help her in her current major.

"Daisha was consistently engaged, displayed a great aptitude for technical concepts, and exhibited all the attributes of being an incredible team player," Thomas recounted.

Lasley herself stated that a “non-traditional” high school experience prepared her better for the unanticipated challenges she encounters as a first-generation college student.

“Since my freshman year of high school, I've known that cybersecurity was the major I wanted to pursue,” Lasley said. “[From] my experiences at PPHS, I knew I wanted to be a part of an academic department that was collaborative and hands-on.”

Kayla Owens, a computer information and technology student and graduate of the PPHS system. (Photo provided)

Kayla Owens, a PPHS grad who is now also a CIT major at Purdue Polytechnic, sees the experience as transformative both academically and personally. Kayla credits her high school background for laying the foundation for these transformations.

"Purdue Polytechnic has given me initiative, accountability, and the potential for self-actualization," Owens said.

Owens, now the president of Purdue’s Black Student Union chapter, stated that her educational training allowed her to find opportunities that go beyond the classroom.

"Since graduating from high school, I’ve been featured in print ads, national commercials, and even became the first People’s Choice-awarded Miss Lafayette USA," Owens shared.

These accomplishments, she feels, are directly linked to the supportive educational ecosystem she’s belonged to. "The confidence and skills I gained through high school and college have enabled me to seize opportunities that I never thought would be available to me,” she stated.

Likewise, Audrey Williamson, a robotics engineering technology major at Purdue Polytechnic, feels her time at both institutions has prepared her for a rapidly-evolving technological landscape. "Purdue Polytechnic has really developed my problem-solving and critical thinking skills," Williamson said.

New sources of support

In light of these efforts by Purdue Polytechnic and PPHS, Purdue alumni Steve Cosler (operating partner, Water Street Healthcare Partners) and his wife, Lynne, have included Purdue Polytechnic among a litany of philanthropic gifts, most recently in support of intercollegiate athletics at Purdue.

The Coslers have committed financial resources to help bridge the gap for incoming PPHS students. Out of their recent gift to Purdue, $100,000 has been earmarked specifically for scholarships to assist PPHS students in each branch of the high school system.

The scholarships have a particular focus on opening doors for underrepresented minority pupils. "Purdue has given so much to me, both in education and in molding my worldview,” stated Steve Cosler. “It's only fitting that we give back, ensuring that every student, especially those from underrepresented communities, have the resources and support they need to thrive." 

Cosler also emphasized a point of fact; additional scholarship support will be necessary as PPHS continues to expand, which is the long-term plan for the school system stretching into 2024. This is why the Coslers have also committed an additional $20,000 for four year to ensure two full scholarships for the first recipients.

Feedback from current students is beginning to reflect PPHS' original stated goals:

“I left the [founding board] with a question,” stated Scott Bess, PPHS’ executive director. “Are you going to have a STEM high school and put Purdue’s name on it … which would be very successful? Or do you want to [fundamentally] reinvent what high school looks like?”

PPHS continues to seek both a pathway to college-level STEM education for high schoolers, and the option for personal growth seen among members of Purdue’s current student body, such as Lasley, Owens and Williamson.

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