2019 Undergraduate of the Year Extends Streak for Local High School

RyanWilliams finalRyan Williams 2019

BME emma latham2Emma Latham 2018

brandon carter2017Brandon Carter 2017

Each year, the Engineering Council of Birmingham recognizes one student as UAB’s Undergraduate Student of the Year. When the committee picked materials engineering student Ryan Williams as this year’s winner, it inadvertently made history by picking a graduate of Sumiton Christian School for the third-straight year.

Sumiton Christian is a small private school in nearby Walker County that graduates approximately 40 students per year. From those ranks came Brandon Carter (2017), Emma Latham (2018), and Williams.

Winners are selected each year by a committee of faculty and staff from a pool of nominees submitted by the five undergraduate engineering departments. “The committee may consider a wide variety of criteria, but every year the competition among our top students is very strong,” explained 2019 Committee Chair Kristy Barlow, M.P.A. “Names are blacked out on the nomination forms, so the committee must select on merits alone. When Ryan was chosen, no one realized there was a connection to previous winners until it was pointed out to us prior to this year’s ECOB Banquet.”

While the selection of three graduates from the same high school is an extraordinary coincidence, it is not necessarily a surprise to everyone. “To me, it’s a validation of how exceptional those three students are,” said Sumiton Christian School Principal Cheryl Capps. “Those are three very smart students who I always expected to achieve at a high level, and we are very proud of what they have accomplished.”

Capps says that while Sumiton Christian does not have an engineering academy like some larger schools, it does provide a strong background in science and math training, including an honors diploma track that goes through calculus, and in some years includes physics as well. “We have benefitted over the years from some great faculty members,” she said. “All of our teachers and students work very hard.”

That hard work has paid off. Last year’s graduating class, for example, sent 94 percent of its graduates to college, with the other six percent joining the military or police academies. The students received $1.5 million in scholarships, for an average of $43,000 per scholarship.

“While some might think this is a unique coincidence, I see it as indicative of the strong quality of students that graduate from local high schools like Sumiton Christian School,” said SOE Dean Iwan Alexander. “The exceptional background they receive in science and math gives them every advantage to succeed in college. The three students who have received this award are outstanding representatives of Sumiton Christian School and UAB.”