UAB Honors College reaches new heights, looks to keep momentum

UAB Honors College enrollment has more than doubled since 2012, and new initiatives and programs continue to garner great feedback from students.

Written by: Tiffany Westry

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shannon blanton 2015Shannon Blanton, Ph.D., Dean of the UAB Honors CollegeThrough personalized academic pathways, experiential learning, and cultivating student leadership and engagement, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Honors College — with students who represent more than 45 majors and all seven undergraduate colleges and schools at UAB — continues to grow its national reputation and enhance UAB’s position as a first-choice institution for highly motivated and academically talented students.

UAB President Ray L. Watts attributes the recent success of the Honors College to a combination of the right students and faculty, as well as UAB’s unique world-class academic and research opportunities, galvanized by the strategic vision of the college’s leadership.

“Our students are among the brightest in the world, and the Honors College is allowing our high-achieving students to make the most of their access to advanced course offerings and faculty who are at the top of their fields,” Watts said. “Through its unique course offerings and our exceptional faculty, the Honors College nurtures these students’ passions and encourages them to go on to become transformational leaders in the local and global community.”

Building on a history of excellence, and to further invest in the college, a nationwide search led to the selection of Shannon Blanton, Ph.D., as the inaugural dean of the UAB Honors College in 2014. Blanton’s goal is to ignite student potential through curricular and co-curricular experiences.

“Our college gives honors students the opportunity to engage in experiential learning that provides tremendous opportunities,” Blanton said. “One of our hallmarks is undergraduate research. Our students, even many of our first-year students, are working in labs and on research projects with faculty. At many universities, that’s an experience that is reserved primarily for seniors and graduate students. High ability students choose UAB in part for the extraordinary access they have to research experiences.”

The Honors College also offers small class sizes, intensive academic advising and endless opportunities for academic enrichment. Honors College students pursue majors in all undergraduate divisions, hold leadership positions across campus, and volunteer and serve in the Birmingham community and around the world. The students receive priority course registration and have access to honors residence hall communities.  

In 2016, the Honors College looks to keep its momentum and deepen student experiences.


Since 2012, the Honors College has seen tremendous growth and has increased from about 750 to 1,260 honors students. In addition to its specialized programs for students with specific academic interests, the college’s personalized path has become popular with new students.

“Our growth has been made possible in part by restructuring,” Blanton said. “We kept the excellence of our specialized programs, but students can now pick and choose honors-designated classes and create their own personalized path.”

This restructuring has allowed the Honors College to expand opportunities to more high-achieving students than ever. The previous structure allowed for approximately 150-200 new students each year; with the addition of the personalized path, the college welcomed more than 394 new students in fall 2015. Of those students, 372 were freshmen and the majority opted to pursue a personalized path.

honors college streamHonors college students prepare for class.

Students constructing a personalized pathway work with an honors advisor to chart their own course of study by taking honors seminars on special topics, enrolling in honors sections of core and elective courses, engaging in experiential learning and participating in enrichment activities.

Enrollment in the college’s specialized programs designed for students with specific academic interests remains strong. The Global and Community Leadership program is a carefully crafted mix of political science, sociology, public health, business and other disciplines that give students an understanding of global and community issues.

The college’s Science and Technology Honors program allows students to explore scientific methodologies and techniques and takes undergraduates from student-learners and skilled technicians to actual scientists through a hands-on research project with faculty that goes from proposal stage to publication.

The college’s University Honors Program is made up of unique interdisciplinary courses in the arts and sciences that replace the core curriculum. The program focuses on critical thinking, the exchange of ideas, and cultivating student research and leadership abilities.


For Honors College students, the sense of community begins before classes are even in session. A new student retreat became part of the college’s student orientation in 2014. Students take part in fun activities on campus and explore the city of Birmingham by visiting culturally and historically significant sites. Students also participate in service projects, giving their time and energy to local schools and nonprofits.

“Based on the feedback we received, we learned that the single most valued thing by our new students in August was the day of service we did as part of their orientation,” Blanton said. “Students began making connections with the community and thinking about how they can impact those around them.”

Last spring, the Honors College created a student ambassador program. The 20 ambassadors assist in the recruitment of prospective students and serve as official hosts for UAB honors events. The college also established an elected student leadership council that advocates for the needs of honors students and fosters a sense of community within the student body.

As residents of UAB’s New Freshman Residence Hall, first-year honors students become a part of the college’s living-learning community. The Honors College staff partners with resident assistants to offer educational and social programs for honors students.

Learning experiences

As a result of its growth, the Honors College has expanded its course offerings by partnering with all undergraduate entities on campus. In addition to core curriculum, this fall the college offered several unique courses, such as “Innovation and Design: How to Turn a Series of Mistakes into a Successful Outcome,” “Diamonds, Drugs and Guns: The Illicit Global Economy” and “The Origins of Epidemics.”

honors college classAshley Floyd Kuntz, Ph.D., instructing honors college students.“In addition to an excellent classroom experience, we believe there should be excellent opportunities that take students beyond the classroom,” Blanton said. “We fulfill this through encouraging student research, study abroad opportunities, and service learning and outreach.”

Partnerships with area schools and organizations like Project Horseshoe Farms, where honors students serve as remote tutors for students in Alabama’s Black Belt, are examples of the kind of service learning opportunities available to students. For students who want to see the world, the Honors College is expanding study abroad opportunities. In the spring of 2015, psychology professor and director of the Science and Technology Honors Program Diane Tucker, Ph.D., and English professor Cynthia Ryan, Ph.D., took a team of 17 students to the Netherlands to see what infrastructure in Amsterdam could teach them about creating a more sustainable Birmingham.

Additionally, the college’s Office of National and International Fellowships and Scholarships serves as a resource for students to explore opportunities for funding research, study away and graduate education. In the past year, 25 UAB students have secured awards in these areas.

“We work with students in a very intentional way to develop them and make them aware of opportunities for fellowships and scholarships,” said Ashley Floyd Kuntz, Ph.D., director of Honors Administration, Strategic Initiatives and Fellowships. “We help them prepare competitive applications for prestigious awards such as Rhodes, Marshall, Truman and Goldwater scholarships.”

Since 2000, UAB students have secured three Rhodes scholarships, four Truman scholarships, 14 UNCF Merck Undergraduate Science scholarships, 20 Goldwater scholarships, 14 Critical Language scholarships and 17 Fulbright scholarships.