Purdue University President Mitch Daniels paid a visit to South Bend’s Purdue Polytechnic High School Thursday.
South Bend is the newest campus of Purdue Polytechnic High School (PPHS), which aims to give low-income and minority students a hands-on, STEM-based learning option. In addition to regular coursework, students work closely with coaches on “passion projects,” and form partnerships with local businesses and organizations.
The schools are also meant to diversify Purdue’s future student body. Daniels said over the last five years, South Bend Community Schools has sent fewer than 30 students to Purdue on average –– and only seven of those are minority students.
“That’s witness to the fact that we need to take additional steps if we’re going to have the diverse student body that we want to have at our university,” Daniels said.
The first PPHS campus opened on Indianapolis’s east side in 2017, and the second opened in the city’s Broad Ripple neighborhood in 2019.
The South Bend campus was announced in December 2019 and opened last fall. PPHS Executive Director Scott Bess said opening the first campus outside Marion County in the midst of the pandemic wasn’t easy.
“I think I’m most proud of the fact that we actually did what we said we were going to do,” Bess said. “The idea that the students stuck with it through that difficult year, the staff stuck with it –– I think that has to be what I love the most.”
PPHS South Bend is a public charter school, which South Bend Community Schools Superintendent Todd Cummings said is important for the district.
“These are all of our students,” Cummings said. “So few of our students go to Purdue. We want to ensure we’re building relationships so that our minority students have access to Purdue as well.”
PPHS graduated its first class of students last year. Graduates are guaranteed admission to Purdue if they meet the university’s entrance requirements.
Daniels said the three campuses collectively account for about 900 students, and they expect to surpass 1,000 next year. During his visit Thursday, he said he hoped he left students with “a clear sense of Purdue’s interest in them.”
“I can’t tell you how important this overall project is to Purdue,” Daniels said. “We’re an innovative place, we try a lot of new things –– when you do that, they won’t all work. This one has to work.”
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