Snider High School student Dejour Johnson stepped outside a Purdue University Fort Wayne classroom Tuesday, admitting he couldn't understand much of the lecture.
“All I heard was electrons,” the 16-year-old said.
The afternoon lesson in the Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science Building was immaterial compared to the reason Johnson and 26 other teens were on campus.
They were participating in the Purdue University Fort Wayne College Experience, a three-day, two-night opportunity designed to help them take what might be their first steps toward higher education.
Supported by a $35,000 grant from the Foellinger Foundation, the program is a collaboration between the university and Bloom Project. The nonprofit helps minority boys ages 12 to 18 in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis with career and college readiness.
“To see 27 young men of color on a college campus is a positive,” said Arnetta Scruggs of Bloom Project.
Hispanic and Black students are less likely to attend college within a year of leaving high school than their white peers. The college-going rate in 2019 – the most recent year for which data is available – was 49% among Hispanic students, 51% among Black students and 61% among white students, according to an equity report this month from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The statewide rate was 59%.
MarTeze Hammonds, chief diversity officer at Purdue Fort Wayne, understands the affect programs like the College Experience can have. He participated in similar opportunities, which led him to enroll and graduate from his hometown university in Murray, Kentucky.
“I grew up just like some of these students,” Hammonds said.
The program included tours, class time, social activities and a campus fair, and the teens stayed in campus housing. A university news release said participants ranged in age from 14 to 17.
The academic immersion topics – business and science, technology, engineering and math – were chosen based on students' interests, Hammonds said.
Johnson, who is interested in veterinary medicine and engineering, appreciated the opportunity to learn what life is like on a college campus. He called it “just a really good experience.”
The program ends today with an awards ceremony and presentations.
Hammonds said he hopes the teens return home with this takeaway: “They see that they can go to college.”
He and Scruggs said they welcome any support for the continued partnership between Purdue Fort Wayne and Bloom Project.
This week's program together “won't be the last,” Scruggs said.