by Eric Stearley
On Friday, Sept. 26, more than 2,100 elementary school students from Wabash and Whitley counties came together on the campus of Manchester University to take the first steps toward college during the second-ever Walk Into My Future event.
Walk Into My Future was created as a way to get students interested in college during their first few years in school. It’s a cornerstone in the Wabash County Promise, an initiative launched in 2013 to build hope in students and increase educational attainment, with the goal of encouraging all students to pursue education after high school. With the success of the Promise last year, Whitley County created its own program this year, and its students joined those from Wabash County in the day of exploration and excitement.
At 9:15 a.m., the first group of Kindergarten through third grade students arrived on campus. They were met with the smiling faces of Manchester University students, more than half of which volunteered to help with the event. Over the next two hours, classes rotated through 14 educational stations led by university students and professors.
In Wine Recital Hall, they heard a special version of Disney’s “Frozen” hit “Do You Want to Build A Snowman” from music students. They learned about spreading germs and washing hands from biology students. Physics students helped the youngsters make colorful designs with a paint pendulum. Psychology students showed off real sheep brains, while environmental sciences students taught the kids about reptiles using living, breathing snakes, turtles and fish. The young visitors got a penny and learned about investing from business students, played a game of career bingo, made “elephant toothpaste” with chemistry majors, and compared the volumes of different three-dimensional shapes with the help of some colored water and students from the math department.
All the excitement makes for a hungry group of students. As the first group finished up their stations, the second group of kids arrived on campus and everyone took a break for a sack lunch on the lawn. With more than 2,000 students chowing down, it was the largest gathering ever on the Manchester University mall.
As lunches were finished, students heard words of encouragement from some key people in making the day a reality. The crowd was welcomed by Wabash County Promise Co-founder Clint Kugler. Students then heard from Manchester University Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Jeffrey Breese, presenting sponsor INGUARD’s CEO Parker Beauchamp, and Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers, who encouraged students while promoting the College Choice 529 savings plan.
The College Choice 529 savings plans help students save for college while providing significant tax benefits to those who invest in the student’s future. Following Lubber’s speech, three lucky students were selected to receive giant checks worth $529 to get their college savings started. Saint Bernard Catholic School’s Lily Flora was the first lucky winner. A Whitley County student, Jaden Bechtold, received the second check, while an obviously stage-frightened Tallulah Gawthrop from Manchester Elementary was selected as the third winner.