FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) – In 2011, East Allen Community Schools announced what would be placed in the former Paul Harding High School: East Allen University.
The early college high school partnered with Vincennes University, offering students an Indiana Core 40 diploma, and the chance to earn their associate’s degree.
The First Class
Principal Doug Hicks helped launch the school, modeling it after Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.
“It was kind of a leap of faith with those first few students to be honest with you,” he told us.
Hicks went to every school in the district, hoping to find a freshman class willing to take a chance at EAU.
“We call ourselves the experiment kids because everything we did was something new,” McKenzie Suggs explained, “It was a challenge for sure. Lots of work – not that I was used to.”
Hicks convinced Suggs and her family, EAU would give her a jump-start in life, offering a low-cost solution, to next step education.
“I give a lot of kudos I guess to those first few groups, because without them,” Hicks says, “we wouldn’t be here today.”
East Allen University started classes in August of 2012 with one freshman class, adding another each year after.
Suggs admits, there were times she questioned if EAU’s heavy course load was for her.
“It was a lot of trial and error… My parents were huge in supporting me through this”, Suggs says, “I know that I wanted to leave. That was one of the many struggles I had – I was ready to go to a regular high school and have a normal course load but they wouldn’t let me give up and I’m so thankful for that.”
Suggs graduated EAU with an associate’s degree from Vincennes University.
She earned her bachelor’s degree at Indiana Tech in three semesters.
She pursued an education in Business, but her career path shifted.
“I took an HR course and I fell in love with it.”
Suggs started an internship at Micropulse in Columbia City.
It quickly turned into her full-time job after graduation.
“It feels surreal. It all went by so fast. When I graduated Indiana Tech I was 19 and when I started here I was 19,” Suggs told us, “It’s just crazy to think at 19 I already finished college and am in a career and doing what I love to do.”
According to East Allen University’s current “School Improvement Plan”, 100% of the first freshman class graduated, with 85% of those students earning over 60 credits from Vincennes.
In 2018, 52 out of 66 seniors also earned a degree, many of them going on to further their education.
A Dream Opportunity
“The reason my parents came here was to get a better education,” student Key Lar Paw says.
The senior will be in the school’s fourth graduation class.
Hicks says she’ll have earned well over 60 college credits when she’s done.
Paw’s father crossed the globe in hopes of giving his daughter’s a dream opportunity in the U.S.
“I moved to a refugee camp in Thailand from Burma, because of wars, bad education, and a corrupt political system,” Win Kyaing says to a translator in his native language, “We later left for America because of civil wars in Thailand.”
Paw is on track to be the first person in her family, to graduate with an American education.
She’s not stopping there, Paw plans to attend IU-Bloomington, majoring in biology.
“I’m very proud of her,” Kyaing says.
Staff at East Allen University are open about the challenges the school presents.
Nobody promises an easy four years through the “College Pipeline”.
“Not only did I have the opportunity to come to the United States,” Paw says, “I also got the opportunity to come to EAU so I’m very grateful for that and I don’t want to just throw it away.”
Principal Hicks tells ABC21 there were mistakes made along the way, but he’s confident in the program’s response.
Now, he doesn’t spend as much time convincing students to walk through the doors of EAU.
“They are a very, very – what I call a very hungry customer. They really value education. And students at EAU that value education seem to do very well.”