Working in positions ranging from high school social studies teacher to principal, Macarena Guerrero has served as an educator for more than a decade. In her latest role as Purdue Polytechnic High School (PPHS) relationship manager, Guerrero is enhancing students’ learning environments in a new way — by connecting them with individuals and opportunities at Purdue University.
Guerrero collaborates with Purdue faculty and staff and PPHS staff and coaches (what PPHS calls its teachers) to develop partnerships that provide PPHS students with experiences like projects, labs and field trips to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. She encourages all types of collaborations that meet students’ needs and strengthen the pathway to Purdue.
“It looks very different depending on the project and depending on the faculty,” Guerrero says. “There’s no one model of collaboration, and there’s no one approach to it. We listen to the students’ needs, we ask, ‘How can we support students?’ and then we work to find someone at Purdue who can help maximize their potential. We partner with faculty and staff in different colleges to ensure PPHS students are exposed to the wide range of academic opportunities that Purdue offers.”
One opportunity arose when Neil Knobloch and Hui-Hui Wang, professors in the Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication, attended a PPHS partnership development meeting hosted by the College of Agriculture and Purdue Polytechnic Institute. After listening to PPHS coaches’ needs, Wang and Knobloch suggested PPHS take part in a project funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. PPHS North, PPHS Schweitzer Center at Englewood and five other Indiana high schools chose to participate in the project, which introduces students to challenges in hydroponics, food science and agricultural robotics.
At PPHS North, coaches Dustin Homan and Vonnah Fox took part by co-teaching a new agriculture class and partnering with Jovial Family Farms founder Bobbie Jellison to help students learn more about urban agriculture and how it can mitigate local issues like food insecurity. Students built their own units to grow fresh produce at the farm, receiving occasional feedback on how to make them more sustainable. The class also took a field trip to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, where students toured multiple College of Agriculture buildings and learned about insects, Indiana hardwood species, gardening, sensory analysis and the university’s agBOT — an autonomous machine that can identify plants, kill weeds and fertilize crops.
Hands-on activities inside and outside the classroom have helped students like Phillip Hulsey develop real-world, complex problem-solving skills and learn more about careers in agriculture.
“I have learned a lot about agriculture and the world that we live in,” Hulsey says. “I think this class is very beneficial to me and the students I have taken it with, and I hope that it will continue to grow and give opportunities to other students like it has done to me.”
PPHS North is aiming to increase the partnership’s longevity by creating a new urban agriculture curriculum, which will include opportunities for students to complete summer internships at Purdue.
Throughout the collaboration, Knobloch and Wang have formed a close relationship with Homan and Fox by guiding them through the learning modules, answering questions and visiting PPHS North to check on the students’ progress. They hope they can continue to work with the class even after the grant ends.
“It is a model school and an innovative school, and so they do project-based learning; they do learner-centered teaching, and they do real-world challenges for students,” Knobloch says. “It has been awesome to work with the teachers and have this very open-to-innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Guerrero says these types of relationships help set students up for success during and after high school.
“I’ve been able to see the impact that faculty and staff have on PPHS students and how that impact is fundamental to the success of the student,” Guerrero says. “Faculty and staff involvement is crucial to the success of PPHS students at Purdue, and, furthermore, to the success of underrepresented minority students and first-generation students.”
As the number of PPHS graduates who continue their higher education at Purdue continues to expand, so does Guerrero’s role. Along with supporting PPHS students, Guerrero is focused on ensuring that PPHS graduates have the tools they need to thrive on Purdue’s campus. She says faculty and staff can take simple steps to help.
“It can range from being encouraging and making students feel like they belong to being that one go-to person on campus,” Guerrero says. “I cannot stress enough the importance of the relationship between PPHS students and staff and faculty and the support staff and faculty can provide them.”
When it comes to assisting PPHS, Guerrero says the opportunities are endless. Partnerships can take the shape of programs, summer experiences, visits to campus, professional development opportunities for coaches and more. The benefits of these collaborations are felt far beyond the students, graduates and coaches involved.
“PPHS is making Purdue a much richer institution,” Guerrero says. “The partnership between the two, and the pathway we have created, is contributing to fulfill Purdue’s land-grant mission. PPHS students have such diverse backgrounds and unique stories. They make Purdue more diverse and more representative of society.”
Faculty and staff can contact Guerrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-496-1463 to become involved with PPHS.
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