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Group photo of TRIO Upward Bound Summer Program

PFW’s TRIO Upward Bound program gives first-gen high school students a taste of college life

By Blake Sebring

June 27, 2023

The TRIO Upward Bound program’s primary goal is to allow first-generation high school students to experience a college atmosphere, encouraging them to plan for their future. That’s why nearly 200 high school students taking part in TRIO programs at seven Indiana Universities were on the Purdue University Fort Wayne campus last week as part of a six-week summer program.

Funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant that caps the university's program at 116 high school students, PFW's Upward Bound team and 30 of its summer participants hosted an annual Olympiad last week, which included volleyball, basketball, dodgeball, relay races, debate, math, and a quiz bowl. 

“We want to give them the full college experience, taking classes and staying in [Student] Housing for two weeks,” said Sunila Chowdhry, director of PFW’s program. “They are great kids. They are very passionate about learning and moving forward in life. They are the first in their families to go to college. For those of us who work in the program, our favorite event is going to graduations and seeing them meet that milestone and go into college.”

Students who participate in the year-round PFW program have a 100% graduation rate from high school.

“It’s an amazing program, especially when you hear all their success stories,” Chowdhry said. “We tell them it’s all about you, but you have to meet us halfway to make it happen.”

The entire PFW Upward Bound experience is free, with summers filled with field trips, volunteer projects, and exposure to new opportunities. The current group has already visited a terrarium at Cedar Creek Candles, Paint & Brush, the Volunteer Center, and Community Harvest Food Bank. They’ve also learned some jazz dancing at Pulse Dance and Performance Center and kickboxing from 9Round Kickboxing Fitness. They'll travel to Nashville, Tennessee, to close out the summer. Even meal choices allow them to try new tastes.

Chowdhry and staff members Sable Eldgridge, B.A. ’22, assistant director; Jaz’Mine Morris, B.S. ’22, academic specialist; Sara Underwood, B.A. ’14, academic specialist; and Gemssy Munoz, B.A. ’22, administrative assistant, are always looking for new community partnerships.

“It has to be educational, fun, and safe for the students,” Chowdhry said. “If they have a positive experience, they’ll go out and tell their friends.”

The summer program starts with team building and forming new friendships, including meeting new acquaintances as roommates in Student Housing. Participants also take classes about topics such as social media and leadership seminars, and each academic class learns things to expect during their upcoming high school year. This year, they’ll also listen to guest speakers such as Ryan McCombs, director of the Disability Access Center, Tracey Hanton, associate director for the Career Development Center, and Juliana Bengs, support specialist from the Office of Financial Aid.