What do you get when you combine a feministic bohemian with a dream, a 100-plus year old Presbyterian church, and a university without an honors program? You get the most ground-breaking concept of an honors program ever conceived.
Ada Long, Ph.D. founded the UAB Honors Program in 1983 after being approached by the administration just a year earlier. They had given Ada the freedom to create the Honors Program from the ground up, with no rules or regulations to follow (barring standard educational requirements).
So with no rules to control her (Control, Ada, HA!), she decided to disregard most all of the "standard" rules of honors programs around the country. This honors program's admission requirements would not be totally based on academics, but rather on what each one has to offer to the Program as a whole. Students would be required to interview with students and faculty currently in the program. Through this interview and interaction prior and post interview, a group of current students and faculty (known as the Honors Council) determine which students are accepted into the program. Today, the program accepts ~50 students each fall semester, having only about 200 students total at any one time. Another requirement of the Honors Program is that everyone is called by their first name. One time I was telling this to a prospective student saying, "
Make sure you don't call Ada "Dr. Long."" Ada only caught the "Dr. Long" part. She turned around and stared daggers at me, until I explained myself.
Students in the program are as diverse a group one may find. However, this group of students is the closest-knit group of friends I've ever known. In each class, you will find students at all ends of the racial, ethnic, and economic spectrum, each with their own respective view on subjects. Another diversity found in the program is age. A woman in her seventies was in the inaugural class. But never have I seen a greater sense of family in a group of students, especially at a time where peer pressures can be so overwhelming. It seems to be one of those unspoken rules that you help/care/look out for others you know in the Program, past and present. No matter what the task, I know that if another HPer can help me out, they will at a moments notice. I used to say that it's very similar to a Fraternity/Sorority, minus the dues and the hazing.
Ada and her band of students and faculty then took over an abandoned old church as their home and turned it into the symbol of the Program. Formerly the Second Presbyterian Church, it had once been the site at which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech during the Civil Rights Movement. The church had since been purchased by the university and used as a ballet studio, student government office, and several other groups as well. Everyone began doing minor repairs to the church, and began referring to it as the Honors House. Once the repairs where completed, the UAB Honors House opened its door for the first time, inviting students to a unique education that would forever change their lives. In the spring of 2002, a $2 million renovation transformed a makeshift academic hideaway into the gorgeous symbol of the University it is today.
But what makes the UAB Honors Program so unique is its true interdisciplinary approach to academics. All college students are required to take classes such as English 101, Western Civilizations, etc. All college students, except those in the UAB Honors Program that is. The coursework for the Program actually replaces the University core curriculum with an "Honors" Core curriculum. Still sounds like other honors programs? Here's the difference. Honors students are required to take 2-nine hour fall interdisciplinary courses and 5-three hour honors seminars.
The fall interdisciplinary courses combine cooperative, inquiry-based learning with a plethora of views on various subjects discussed. Each interdisciplinary course is team teaching in the main sanctuary by 6 professors. Three of the professors are permanent staff of the Program, having their main offices just downstairs. The other three professors are guest professors from other parts of the University (and often times the greater Birmingham Area). Each professor teaches from the view of his/her own discipline. While that professor is teaching, everyone in the Sanctuary becomes a student, faculty included. Everyone is encouraged to ask questions and generally participate in the class. In addition, each fall course has a general theme which never repeats. I have had the privilege to participate in the courses "Origins" and "Sightings: What we see and Why we see it". In each course, we looked at each subject from hundreds of different views. For example, in "Sightings", we could be dissecting cow eyes in the morning sessions, and looking at slides of Andy Warhol's art in the afternoon session.
In addition to the interdisciplinary courses, students in the Program must complete 5-three hour Honors seminars
. These seminars are as diverse as the students that take them. For example, one course I have taken was called, "Astrochemistry
". In this course we studied the formation of the universe, from the Big Bang
to the formation of interplanetary systems
. Another seminar I have heard many good things about was called "The Literature and Cinema of Revenge". This seminar is exactly what it sounds like, reading and watching books and movies and finding the revenge in them. Cool, eh? One other thing I should mention, none of these courses are ever repeated. So it you miss out the first time, that’s it!
However, in the summer of 2004, a major change happened. Ada Long, founder of the Program, and Dail Mullins, Associate Director for about as long as Ada's been with the program, retired. We like to think of it as gaining a vacation spot at the beach, but we all know it's more than that. They both will be dearly missed. I am fortunate enough to be in the last class that was taught both semesters by Ada and Dail. Taking the helm of the program will be Mike Sloane and assisting his efforts is Linda Frost.
Excerpt from the Birmingham News:
At the Honors House, afternoon light streams through the colorful stained glass windows. Throughout the day, the floors and walls are painted in constantly changing, multi-colored hues. As she turns a thriving program in an ideal home over to a trusted successor, she pronounces her two-decade experiment a success. "I think I've done it," Long says.