Awi Cing has big goals for her future. As the oldest of four children and the daughter of Burmese immigrants, she hopes to be the first person in her family to attend college.

“I want to make my parents proud,” said Cing, who is 16 and an incoming junior at Perry Meridian High School. “If I went to school and got a higher education, and I got a good-paying job, I could help them with their bills and things.”

Cing’s well on her way toward a college education. This summer, she’s taking Spanish and geography courses at Ivy Tech to get college credit. 

She’s also one of about 80 students from Perry Township Schools attending University of Indianapolis’ Summer Success camp. The weeklong camp, funded with a grant from the Lilly Endowment, brings low-income and prospective first-generation college students to UIndy’s southside campus to learn about a broad range of college majors and careers. 

Rebecca Franks, the camp director, said the program exists in part to help boost Indiana’s dismal college going rate. In 2022, just 53% of Indiana high school seniors went to college. That matched a generational low, which is a source of frustration for education leaders and policymakers.

“Not only do we want to increase that number, we also want to make sure that students that historically have had less access to college or intentionally been left out of higher education are having those opportunities and chances to come and explore and see if it’s right for them,” Franks said. 

UIndy exposes students to classes and jobs 

The key to summer learning — at least according to UIndy — is to make it as fun as possible. 

Rebecca Franks is the director of the weeklong camp, which teaches attendees about a broad range of college majors and careers. Credit: Jennifer Wilson Bibbs for Mirror Indy

In the morning, camp attendees take classes taught by UIndy professors but with a twist. Business class includes a rowdy inflation-themed version of “The Price is Right,” a game show where contestants guess the price of products. In engineering, students code and program their own tiny robots. And the biology professor passed out millipedes for students to examine and observe. 

In the afternoon, students go on field trips to a variety of local businesses, including the Madam Walker Legacy Center, Citizens Energy and Franciscan Health. UIndy hopes the combination of class and career exposure helps students realize that there’s many possibilities for their futures.

“We just want to make sure that they come and that they know what it’s like and see if it is right for them, and if it is right for them, what kinds of areas might they be most interested in?” Franks said. “This gives them a leg up to break those barriers of college feeling overwhelming, feeling inaccessible.”

Because the camp is largely for students from low-income families, there’s the possibility that they may have had to work during the week of the camp. To supplement the potential income loss, campers are paid $200 if they finish the five-day camp. 

“It knocks down one thing of, ‘Oh, I had to ask off work, which means I’m not getting paid this week. Is that really feasible for us as a family and as a group?’” said Franks.

Southport sophomore wants to build a business

Anizha Washington’s older brother is a sophomore at UIndy studying engineering. As one of the first people in their family to go to college, he broke barriers in their family.

But while Washington, an incoming junior at Southport High School, is proud of her older brother, she wants to chart her own path. She’s interested in studying business and wants to be an entrepreneur. 

Anizha Washington is a 16-year-old incoming junior at Southport High School. Credit: Jennifer Wilson Bibbs for Mirror Indy

“I want to build something on my own,” said Washington, 16. “I want to say that I did something for myself and built something up from the ground by myself.”

This is Washington’s second year in the summer success camp, and she’s excited to meet some new people. She likes being able to learn new things in a college environment while still having fun. 

“I’m happy to say that I’ve done it before, even though I’m not in college,” Washington said.  “It’s a good experience to know what I’m coming to face.”

Cing, who’s also attending camp for the second time, said learning about college and careers is helping her shape her future and gain independence. She has her own room in the UIndy dorms for once — at home, she shares with her siblings. She likes hanging out with the other students from Perry Township Schools.

Most of all, she’s excited to learn about more possible paths for her future in college and beyond.

“I want to see what’s out there,” she said.

Claire Rafford covers higher ed for Mirror Indy in partnership with Open Campus.