The SPAN Division celebrates 40 years of student success


For 40 years, the SPAN Division has supported the success of young, academically-accelerated scholars.  

In 1984, Miriam Langsam created the program with the goal of providing opportunities for gifted and talented high school students on a college campus. More than 20 students enrolled in the first cohort.

As director of the Honors Program for 15 years and associate dean for student affairs in the School of Liberal Arts for 17 years, Langsam had strong partnerships that led early SPAN participants to enroll mostly in classes within the School of Liberal Arts.

Today, Langsam’s legacy is continued by J.R. Russell who has served as director of the SPAN program since 1996.

“Our program is one of the largest and oldest in the nation," Russell said. "It’s because our campus has always embraced this idea. IUPUI is a very wonderfully diverse urban campus, so we’re open to a lot of different age groups coming in and taking classes."

As SPAN’s director, Russell has worked to expand enrollment opportunities for SPAN students across all schools and departments on campus. From the original cohort of 20 students, the program has grown to enroll over 300 students each academic year. Russell attributes the successful expansion to the internal strength of the program. 

“SPAN has wraparound support services," Russell said. "So, in many ways, we’re like a micro university inside a larger campus. From recruitment, to admission, to new student orientation, to academic advising: it’s all done in-house.”

These services aren’t only available to high school students. The youngest student admitted to the program was a 7-year-old.  

“And that’s where IUPUI really steps up to the plate. We break down those barriers. We look at a student’s academic age, not their chronological age,” Russell said. 

Program expansion increases access to college courses

SPAN has multiple programs that display their commitment to breaking down barriers and supporting students.  

Developed in the early 2000s, the CyberTEENs Program works to allow access for technologically gifted students unable to qualify for entry to the SPAN Division due to other aspects of their academic capabilities.  

The Take6 Scholarship Program breaks down financial barriers for students. Russell explained that for most SPAN students, the biggest hurdle to their participation in the program is financial capability, as SPAN students pay regular tuition fees.  

Take6 allows students who are going into their senior year of high school to take up to six college credit hours tuition and fee free. The program targets under resourced students, including those from programs such as 21st Century Scholars and TRIO Upward Bound.  

“This is a way we can provide opportunities for students who otherwise would never be able to afford to come,” Russell said.  

Indianapolis community served through SPAN

SPAN has also made efforts to connect with the wider Indianapolis community and further promote student success. In 2007, IUPUI and Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) created a memorandum of understanding to provide early college enrollment opportunities to IPS students.  

The IUPUI–IPS–SPAN scholarship came from this connection and provides around $250,000 in scholarships each year. Roughly 40–50 students from IPS participate in SPAN each semester.

“The longevity of the program is due to the importance and emphasis placed on relationships with those schools," Russell said. "But also, the data is the proof in the pudding in terms of creating leverage so we can say that our partnership is important. Our partnership with IPS is one of the oldest, longest running consecutive partnerships of this type in the nation.”

Participants continue success as IUPUI students

Through various opportunities and support systems provided by the program, SPAN students who come to IUPUI for college are often among the top academic performers. The first student to be directly admitted to the IU School of Nursing after high school was a SPAN student. Since then, two more SPAN students have followed the same path.

Around 33 percent of SPAN students remain at IUPUI to receive their degrees. This statistic increases to around 65 percent for scholarship recipients in the program. These students are offered between $4.3–5 million to continue their education at IUPUI.

In the future, Russell hopes that SPAN can continue to forge their relationship with local schools and students through on-site delivery of information.

“We want to further build our brand of IU in Indianapolis," he said. "And one way in which we can do that is through community engagement through our staff and faculty going out into the high schools and being ambassadors for their specific departments."

For more information, contact the Division of Undergraduate Education Office of Communications at