Study abroad opportunity created to celebrate Birmingham’s historic 16th Street Baptist Church

Aberystwyth University in Wales partners with UAB to create an opportunity for students to learn more about the historic partnership and Wales’ culture.
Written by: Karen Templeton
Media contact: Alicia Rohan

Abroad4Suzanne Austin, Ph.D., UAB’s senior vice provost and senior international officer, and Elizabeth Treasure, vice chancellor of Aberystwyth University, sign a partnership between the two universities to provide study abroad opportunities for students.In partnership with Aberystwyth University, students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham can now apply to study abroad at the Welsh university beginning in spring 2021. The longstanding relationship between Birmingham, Alabama, and Wales began in 1963 when the people of Wales banded together to raise money and rebuild the stained-glass window of the 16th Street Baptist Church that was bombed that year.  

Even though Wales is 4,000 miles away, the deep purple and blue hues painted across its hilly landscape are reflected in the historic church found in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. The warm colors are infused into small pieces of glass melded together carefully so that the finished product appears most brilliant when the sun shines through and lights up the 16th Street Baptist Church, a place at which a terrible tragedy occurred in 1963 when four girls were killed in a bombing. The window in the rebuilt church reflects the kindness of a country across the Atlantic Ocean. 

John Petts, an artist in Llansteffan, Wales, wanted to do something to help heal the hearts of the 16th Street Baptist Church congregation. In partnership with The Western Mail, a front-page appeal was made to raise funds for a replacement window for the church. The donations did not come from one or two wealthy families or corporations but from small gifts from the Welsh people, which averaged just 15 U.S. cents. The gifts made it possible for Petts to construct and install a new window.

Much in the way Petts infused the pieces of glass together, the people of Wales each took a small piece of ownership of this tremendous gift to the city of Birmingham. Similarly, it was the “pennies of the people” that established the oldest university in Wales — Aberystwyth University nestled on the country’s west coast. Small donations from across the country brought to life an institution that is now providing teaching and research that is integral to solving some of the world’s toughest issues.  

Thanks to the friendship established between Wales and Birmingham, students at UAB get the chance to experience the Welsh culture and “pennies of the people” generosity.

“As we have toured UAB and Birmingham, we have made note of the differences and similarities UAB students will encounter at our university,” said Elizabeth Treasure, vice chancellor of Aberystwyth University. “The varied topography in Wales such as farmland and coastline offer a different kind of campus to explore and learn within. They will have easy access to everything, and people within the campus and town will be invested in their experience and will take the time to get to know them.”   

Diverse learning opportunities

The university’s disciplines reach beyond campus, giving students diverse opportunities in the surrounding area.

“What I find truly unique is how Aberystwyth links social sciences and the humanities with STEM disciplines,” said Suzanne Austin, UAB’s senior vice provost and senior international officer. “Students can learn about the importance of climate change through glacier mapping and also learn to communicate it through a rigorous creative writing curriculum.”

Each UAB student will have full access to Aberystwyth’s course catalog. To increase student accessibility, UAB Education Abroad has pre-articulated 15 courses to transfer to UAB to assist students with planning their degree completion.  

Housing is provided on campus where students will have opportunities to interact with other students, participate in group projects and explore the area. UAB will provide support to help students apply for scholarships and prepare any necessary visas, and ensure they have an up-to-date passport. 

Welsh government officials have always valued the special relationship their country has with Birmingham, and Education Minister Kirsty Williams’ interest in further developing the relationship through educational opportunities opened the door for UAB students.

“I am delighted that my visit to UAB last September has helped facilitate greater collaboration with Aberystwyth University,” Williams said. “Student exchange provides life-changing experiences for young people, delivers economic benefits and also builds lasting bonds of friendship. I look forward to UAB’s developing further ties with Aberystwyth and other Welsh universities in the future.”

Abroad2Aberystwyth University in Wales is partnering with UAB to create an opportunity for students to learn more about the historic partnership and Wales’ culture.Changing viewpoints to better the world

Both universities have public health, environmental and human rights-focused programs that set the stage for future faculty research collaborations. Faculty and administration from both schools discussed how each of their programs could work in concert to give students elevated experiences through the partnership. While UAB students benefit directly from an international experience at Aberystwyth, the partnership is meaningful to Wales as well.

“Our recently launched international strategy commits the Welsh government to promoting Welsh values and to raising our profile on the international stage. Wales has historic ties with the city that date back to the 1960s, through our association with the 16th Street Baptist Church and the ‘Wales window’ that helped rebuild the church following its bombing during the civil rights movement,” said Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language Eluned Morgan. “It is great to see those ties’ being developed to provide benefits to young people both in Birmingham and here in Wales.”

The first student cohort will study abroad in the spring of 2021, and administrations at both universities will continue to develop a meaningful partnership.

“This is all very exciting for our students,” Austin said. “International studies open so many new doors. UAB students will learn in such unique ways while at Aberystwyth, not just in their areas of study, but in how a unique partnership arising from a difficult time in history can change outlooks and viewpoints in ways that make the world better.”