Composed of a wide array of students with various personal backgrounds, academic passions, skill sets, and professional aspirations, The University of Alabama’s Honors College congregates some of the most diverse students at the university. To accommodate these diverse interests, the Honors College offers a large list of classes that cover various topics that would not be covered in conventional degree-required classes. Many of these classes sound interesting on paper, but the faculty who lead these classes are truly responsible for bringing them to life. The professors’ broad range of expertise allows them to provide each class with an element of novelty. Among the Honors College faculty are Dr. Paul Phelps, Dr. Lane McLelland, and Gayle Howell, all of which transcends the ordinary title of “professor.”
Paul Phelps teaches two literature-focused classes for the Honors College: Shakespeare’s Plays (UH 300) and Classics and Western Culture (UH 201). Both classes revolve around reading historically-significant texts with incredible scrutiny and deliberation. Dr. Phelps describes his classes as “odd and difficult and requires [students] to think in ways that they either don’t want to or don’t realize is possible.” Dr. Phelps’s Classics and Western Culture class covers a wide array of historically impactful texts ranging from Homer’s Odyssey to select books of The Bible. Dr. Phelps delineates his meticulous selection of texts – or, as he more wittingly calls them, “works of art” – from other books through one distinct criterion: the texts discussed in his course are responsible for creating cultures, whereas other books are merely reflective culture. To understand this distinction, Dr. Phelps asks his students to read from an existential perspective rather than a humanistic perspective; that is, students should approach these texts by examining how they shaped the world. This form of reading is difficult, so Dr. Phelps asks for a tremendous amount of effort and concentration from his students, but the result is a class
that instills a more comprehensive and holistic way of thinking. “International experience is intercultural experience. It has to encourage a kind of humility with your own modes of thinking.” Dr. Phelps is very fixated on understanding the outlooks of cultures from all over the world and throughout history. Dr. Phelps is therefore very keen on travelling. Dr. Phelps received his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Oxford and now leads the UA in Oxford program. Dr. Phelps has a unique respect and appreciation of many different cultures, and this appreciation is evident in his class. In general, Dr. Phelps encourages students to be cognizant of others’ experiences and practice humility when examining our own experiences.
Dr. Lane McLelland
Dr. Lane McLelland is the head of The University of Alabama’s Crossroad Community Center. Crossroads helps provide a safe place for students who identify with under-represented communities to interact and share their experiences with each other. Crossroads also provides several resources on diversity and inclusivity via various intercultural engagement activities. In her own words, Dr. McLelland described Crossroads as “the civic engagement office on campus… civic engagement in the sense of community dynamics, problem solving, community building.” Dr. Lane McLelland works very hard to make sure that students of any group have a place to be heard and express their frustrations. Crossroads also strives to instill awareness of others’ differences and struggles across all walks of life. Dr. McLelland takes great pride in being able to work closely with the students and relishes in the “opportunity to continue to grow with the students. I’m learning from them every day.” Dr. McLelland helped establish a class called Sustained Dialogue (UH 120) here at the university. The objective of the course is to teach students how to discuss difficult topics with each other with a respectable and empathetic approach. The large class breaks into smaller groups of about 8-10 students per group. These smaller groups then meet each week to discuss how various aspects of their identity such as race and gender affect their daily lives. All discussions are overseen by student “moderators.” These moderators are students who have enrolled in the class at a higher level and have taken extra training to learn how to handle these precarious conversations. The entire class is governed by the overarching idea of intersectionality, the idea that social characterizations such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status amalgamate into a personal identity and ultimately shape how society views an individual. Lane has begun teaching the class again and is very optimistic about its potential going into the future.
Gayle Howell is the Manager of the Career Center Satellite for the College of Engineering. Mrs. Howell works very closely with engineering students to ensure that they are prepared for a career in engineering and also does a large amount of work coordinating the University of Alabama Career Fair. “My biggest role is preparing the students… whether it be workshops or one-on-one meetings, resume reviews… telling students what to expect if they’ve never been before.” With regards to the Career Fair, Howell is very deliberate in putting aside time to ensure students convey themselves to companies in the most composed and civilized manner possible. The Career Fair hosts companies looking to employ students under all areas of engineering and technology. The University of Alabama’s College of Engineering currently hosts more than 6,100 students, and Mrs. Howell is tasked with meeting with any of these students who desire to embellish their resume and strengthen their interviewing skills. In addition to her roles at the Career Center, Mrs. Howell also teaches a Personal and Professional Development course (UH 120). The course is designed to help students prepare themselves in various facets of professionalism such as polishing resumes, preparing for interviews, and improving presentation skills. Mrs. Howell also requires that each student in the class attends the University of Alabama Career Fair. Students are strongly encouraged to talk to companies and practice their interviewing skills. At the end of the class, each student has polished their ability to perform in a professional setting.