WESTVILLE — In the mid-1960s, then-President Lyndon Johnson signed the Equal Opportunities Act of 1964 and the Higher Education Act of 1965 to close the achievement gap as part of his administration’s “War on Poverty.”

Almost 55 years later, that legacy continues with the TRIO/Educational Talent Search Program, located on the campus of Purdue University Northwest. It serves 679 students in La Porte, Porter and Starke counties; and also assists adults looking to enter post-secondary programs.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the program is “intended to provide students from Northwest Indiana with access to high quality pre-college experiences and beyond,” according to Maceo Rainey, director of the program on PNW’s Westville campus.

The origins and foundations of TRIO Programs, as an item within the federal budget, can be traced to the domestic policy of LBJ, he said. “Out of those landmark educational policies, three TRIO Programs were created – Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, and Student Support Services.”

The Talent Search Program is “continuing the legacy and vision of LBJ by preparing and guiding the region’s middle and high school students through the college application process,” accomplished through an array of services.

Those include preparing for the ACT/SAT exam, developing academic resumes, researching scholarship opportunities, completing Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms, academic tutoring, summer camp/Camp Leo, college tours, cultural activities and pre-college workshops and seminars, according to Rainey.

“In the competitive world of college admissions, providing low-income and potential first-generation college students with ACT and SAT test-taking strategies and fee waivers are critical services that TRIO/Educational Talent Search provides for students,” he said.

“Answering a few questions correctly on the SAT/ACT can result in hundreds and thousands of scholarship and financial aid dollars that a student may be eligible to qualify for.”

Without help, he said, “The college application and financial aid process can be a tedious and mind-numbing experience for low-income and potential first-generation college students within the NWI region,” Rainey said.

“... the TRIO/Educational Talent Search at Purdue University Northwest has an array of dedicated staff members with a proven track record of excellence when it comes to providing high quality pre-college experiences.”

College vists are, of course, a popular part of the program, he said, and over Spring Break this year, a group of 31 Michigan City High School students got to take a whirlwind tour of several Midwest campuses, Rainey said.

Michigan City area students had the opportunity to visit the following colleges during their Spring Break in April to viist the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Washington University in St. Louis, Kent State, Bowling Green State, The University of Toledo and The Ohio State University, he said.

“Students took part in several pre-college activities on the college tours, including meeting with college admissions officers; visiting university amenities such as dorm rooms, libraries, cafeteria, study halls, student unions, and school bookstores; visiting with university personnel from various departments; visiting Financial Aid offices and speaking with financial aid officers; talking with active college students from La Porte County; and meeting with TRIO support staff on campuses.”

Along the way, they got to visit cultural and iconic spots such as the St. Louis Arch and the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

“The St. Louis Arch provided the students with exposure to one of America’s most iconic pieces of architecture and engineering, great for students interested in majoring in any STEM-related careers,” Rainey said.

“The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame provided students with opportunities to learn about sound engineering, music production and programming across any genre of music for any student interested in pursuing music and sound engineering as a career.”

All of the students who attended the Spring Break College & Cultural Tour were MCHS students enrolled in the TRIO/Educational Talent Search Program at PNW-Westville.

“The combined college and cultural tour has a monetary value of nearly $3,000 per student,” he said, “but the TRIO/Educational Talent Search Program at PNW-Westville pays for 100 percent of the costs for all students who are enrolled – zero costs to students and families.”

By law, two-thirds of all Talent Search participants must be low-income (according to federal guidelines) and first generation (neither parent has a four-year degree). The remaining participants are considered discretionary and do not have to meet the restrictive criteria.

Individuals from sixth grade to adult are encouraged to apply for program services by contacting Rainey at raineym@pnw.edu or (219) 785-5312.

— From staff reports

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