Honor Role: Cultivating Achievement in Alpha Lamda Delta
By Lisa C. Bailey and Jason Donaldson
The UAB chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta (ALD) includes some of the university’s highest achievers—students must maintain a 3.6 or higher GPA and rank in the top 20 percent of their class during their first year of college to join the national honor society. But it seems they are among America’s best and brightest as well. Kevin Jerrolds, M.Ed., the group’s staff advisor, says that the UAB chapter has the best track record in the country for winning ALD undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships.
In the past several years, the UAB chapter has produced 13 graduate fellowship winners and six undergraduate scholarship winners. These awards include the top graduate fellowship of $7,500 in 2007 and in 2009, additional graduate fellowships totaling $41,000, and undergraduate scholarships topping $6,000 altogether.
What’s the secret to these achievements? “I attribute this success to the students themselves,” Jerrolds says. “We have an exceptional group of very deserving students who are a privilege to work with and watch grow.”
Bringing Out the Best
Kevin Jerrolds, an academic curriculum counselor in the Division of General Studies, knows a thing or two about bringing out the best in students. He began working with ALD as an advisor in 2006; not long afterward, he received an Executive Director Advisor Award for 2006-2007. “The ALD national executive director chooses advisors from all across the country for this honor,” he says. “I was surprised to hear that I had won since there is no formal nomination process.”
Jerrolds advises the chapter with the help of fellow faculty/staff advisor Joe March, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry. They collaborate with several other individuals across campus to work closely with the students and assist them in gaining scholarships and recognition for their talents.
While Jerrolds wants ALD students to earn rewards for what they accomplish, he feels that it is more important for the UAB chapter to provide meaningful opportunities to its members. “My greatest reward in working with this group is my day-to-day interaction with the students,” he says. “Watching them grow in their leadership and teamwork abilities is always a treat for an educator or counselor.”
Laugh and Learn
For Jennifer Ghandhi, a senior majoring in economics with a concentration in philosophy and political economy—and the current president of UAB's chapter of ALD—the friendships she’s made with students and professors are what she values most. “Though the organization has an academic focus and we work hard, we’ve also had a lot of fun times,” she says. As an example, Ghandhi describes a lighthearted annual debate centered on a hypothetical raft of castaways at sea. “Professors from various disciplines must persuade the audience that their fields are the most useful and that they should be allowed to stay on the raft. Last year’s audience experienced everything from poetry to theater props before deciding which faculty member would survive.”
Ghandhi also has enjoyed opportunities to learn through travel. “Through my participation in ALD,” she says, “I’ve been fortunate to attend two national conferences. In 2008, I was invited to Anaheim, California, to present a scrapbook documenting the events of our award-winning chapter. Along with meeting students from other colleges across the country, I was able to learn what types of projects other schools have undertaken—which ones worked and which ones didn’t. It was an eye-opening experience.”
Leap into Leadership
After being inducted into ALD, Anand Iyer didn’t waste any time before running for chapter secretary. “This was very important, because it was my first leap into the college leadership world and gave me the confidence to pursue higher leadership positions within ALD and elsewhere on campus,” he says.
As a University Honors Program student, Iyer embraced a liberal arts mindset, focusing not only on his biology major but also on his continuing study of classical piano. Through ALD he was able to share his appreciation for the liberal arts with other freshmen, first as secretary and later as chapter president. As president he strove to be a leader to freshman students and worked to give back to the UAB community. “ALD is unique because students are really in a great position to easily shape its direction,” he says.
ALD offered Iyer a major opportunity in the Mariah Leonard Graduate Fellowship, the $7,500 award topping the list of 23 graduate fellowships that ALD presents each year. This accolade recognizes students who serve their respective chapters, and Iyer was honored to learn that his commitment had been nationally recognized. Currently president of the third-year medical class (class of 2011) at the UAB School of Medicine, Iyer says that the ALD fellowship helped pay for his first year of medical tuition.
“I see ALD as more than just an honor society,” Iyer says. “To me, it is an avenue for freshmen to discover the opportunities that UAB offers across the board.”
Entering professional school was a life-changing event for Suzanne McCluskey, now a second-year medical student at UAB, but ALD helped smooth the transition. “As an ALD member during my undergraduate years, I learned the importance of getting involved in the community, learning to work with peers outside the classroom, and enriching my professional development by seeking knowledge about common interests,” she says.
Through projects such as Equal Access Birmingham, in which she served as co-president, McCluskey has put her beliefs into practice. The UAB medical-student organization provides health care and education to Birmingham’s underserved populations. “My classmates and I hold health-care screenings in various locations around town, provide access to information about health-care options, and staff the M-Power Ministries Clinic one night per week,” she says. And last summer, McCluskey worked at Emory University in an immunology lab, under the guidance of former UAB researcher Max Cooper, M.D., to complete a project she began in her senior year at UAB.
“The ALD fellowship award that I received in 2008 reinforced my belief that this organization is concerned with lifetime scholarship,” McCluskey says. “Though known as a freshman honor society, ALD displays much foresight in its constant efforts to reward students with a bright future later in their undergraduate careers and beyond into professional school.”
Hearts and Minds
“The best aspect of being ALD chapter president last year,” says senior Ayushe Sharma, “was meeting people from many different backgrounds and fields of study. It opened my mind and heart in a way that I never thought possible.” Sharma developed many leadership skills as a member of ALD; she also served as a student advisor and vice president of initiation.
While she was fulfilling her duties as chapter president, Sharma started working on her undergraduate thesis for the Psychology Honors Program. Her study, “Determining Grey Matter Changes Produced by CI Therapy in Children with Congenital Hemiparesis,” was supported by mentor Edward Taub, Ph.D., director of the Taub Therapy Clinic in the UAB Center for Psychiatric Medicine.
ALD was the first student organization Sharma became involved with at UAB—and she is glad she did. She won three scholarships from the organization, including the JoAnne Trow National Alpha Lambda Delta Undergraduate Scholarship, an annual award given to 25 ALD members for exemplifying remarkable academic and leadership potential, and attended the 2007 National ALD Leadership Conference. In addition, Sharma says, “ALD holds a variety of meetings to educate first-year students about the opportunities available on campus. As a result, I became familiar with Study Away and was able to study in England at Oxford University during the summer of 2008 and, following my graduation in May with a B.S. in honors psychology and a B.A. in philosophy, I will study abroad with ‘UAB on the Camino’ in Spain. Without my involvement in ALD, none of this would have been possible.”