An unlikely dynasty: 2019 Undergraduate of the Year extends streak for local high school

School of Engineering student Ryan Williams recognized as Undergraduate Student of the Year, continuing three-year winning streak with his high school alma mater.
Written by: Grant Martin
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

RyanWilliamsJoomlaRyan Williams Each year, the Engineering Council of Birmingham recognizes one student as the University of Alabama at Birmingham’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.

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, MPA. “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 as do 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 benefited 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 6 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 who graduate from local high schools like Sumiton Christian School,” said School of Engineering 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.”

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.