- February 24th, 2017
By Sara Wilson
As an incoming freshman, there are so many things to pay attention to: which dining hall is the best, when your classes are, and what to wear to the first home football game. It can feel overwhelming. The Honors College aims to create a comfortable transition into the college experience through opportunities for early involvement and campus engagement. Specifically, the Honors Action programs foster the unique opportunity to become part of the campus community before the fall of Freshman year.
Honors Action programs are designed for incoming freshman to gain a better sense of the university experience before classes officially begin. They’re almost like summer camp with a purpose—participants arrive a week early to school and spend the time devoted to service projects in West Alabama. There are currently four programs in place: Alabama Action, Outdoor Action, Black Belt Action, and Health Action.
“It’s really a way to make students feel at home, make them feel welcome, and integrate them into the Honors College,” Coordinator of Student Engagement Luke McCann said.
He describes the programs as a type of “onboarding process” for the Honors College. When students take part in these experiences before school actually starts, they get a sense of belonging within the college and are more likely to become involved in other ways.
“The goal is to get them [the students] plugged in. We always talk about wanting to give students a small college feel at a major research university,” McCann said. “With Honors Action, you get to watch these students who don’t know each other at all slowly, but surely, become a group. They develop friendships with not only each other, but also with older Honors College students.”
Each program caters to a different interest, though they all feature service elements. Alabama Action is focused on civic engagement within the Tuscaloosa community. The group serves at two local elementary schools in the morning, mainly working on beautification projects. In the afternoon, speakers engage with the group. Past speakers have included Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb.
Alabama Action was the first Honors Action program, and was actually developed from a student idea. What started as a simple service project proposal has grown into a major part of the Honors College experience.
“That’s one of the coolest parts about the Honors College,” McCann said. “A lot of programs actually comes from student ideas.”
Outdoor Action is also focused in the Tuscaloosa area, and is environmentally focused. Students visit and work in places like Lake Lurleen, Moundville Archaeological Park, and Perry Lakes Park.
Cokie Thompson first got involved with Honors Action as a student participant before her freshman year. Even though Outdoor Action wasn’t initially on her radar, it ended up having an immense impact on the senior journalism major’s college experience—so much so that she returned as a student leader for two years and served as a student director this past fall.
“It’s just a really great way to get adjusted and introduced in the Honors College,” Thompson said. “I think it’s a really important engagement tool, because it helps students become more involved.”
Black Belt Action provides students an experience in Alabama’s Black Belt region, named so because of its fertile soil and agricultural history. Through working with the small town of Marion, students explore the systemic issues of rural poverty and work to fulfill certain community needs. Students have the opportunity to continue serving in the region throughout their college experience with the 57 Miles program.
“Black Belt Action is really distinct from other programs in that we take students outside of the Tuscaloosa bubble and show them a perspective of Alabama that some students might not get to experience,” sophomore student leader Millicent Krebs said. “The Black Belt has always been a complex part of Alabama, and Black Belt Action allows incoming freshman to see a glimpse of this complexity.”
Health Action is the newest addition to the Honors Action lot. The program’s mission is to work with local health agencies to address health disparities in the community.
There seems to be an Honors Action program for every interest (and maybe some day there will be), but the central mission of the whole operation is community growth. Not only are students making an impact on the Western Alabama region, they are creating strong relationships with one another. Surely, one of the best ways to grow a friendship is through a common goal.
“At the core of this for me, is that I love seeing communities built,” McCann said. “I love seeing people get to know one another and get connected with one another.”
Interested incoming freshmen can sign up for Honors Action beginning in March.