The UAF Honors Program was launched in 1983 with Professor Suzanne Sommerville, our founding Director and who represented the Music Department. She served from 1983-1986. Her direction, enthusiasm, and leadership moved a fledgling program into it's first house site at 515 Copper Lane, at the east end of Copper Lane. The program was administratively part of the College of Liberal Arts at that time.
The Honors Program blossomed even further under the directorship of Professor Pat Andresen of the Math Department from 1986-1993. During these formative years, enrollment was limited to one hundred students. All students in the Honors Program received a tuition waiver. While a wonderful recruitment tool, especially for students from outside Alaska, unfortunately after the budget crunch of the mid 1990s, that benefit ended.
After Professor Andresen retired in 1993 and was awarded the title of Director Emeritus, Professor John Whitehead of the History Department became the third Director of the Honors Program and served from 1993-1999. His tenure in office was marked by the receipt of several impressive contributions from the Usibelli Foundation. While some of that money was used to establish endowed scholarships, most went to "Usibelli Tuition Grants." These tuition grants no longer exist, but ten $1,000 scholarships are still awarded annually.
Upon Professor Whitehead's retirement, Professor Roy Bird of the English Department became Director in January 1999 and served until 2008. At that time, the Honors Program was accepting about 25 students per year. Professor Bird was the longest serving Director, serving the program for more than nine years. He presided over major growth within the Honors Program, more than tripling enrollment by 2003. With the establishment of the Alaska Scholars Program, the Honors Program became committed to supporting the efforts of the University of Alaska by keeping our best, brightest and most talented, now the UA Scholars, Alaskan students in state.
Professor Bird also oversaw the move of the home of the Honors Program from 515 to 520 Copper Lane, its present site. The second Honors House is more than twice as large as its previous home site with 2405 sq. ft. It was a bittersweet moment for the program when the second Honors House was destroyed in a controlled burn by the University Fire Department during Spring Break 2004. The new, more comfortable space helped with recruitment efforts. Several TAB grants enabled the program to install a number of computers, a computer projection system, and a wireless LAN. Today this older system has been replaced and upgraded. The Honors House is now a "smart" classroom with distance delivery capabilities. This move was led by a student centric initiative and grant.
In 2007, Professor Bird led the program through the transition from being part of the College of Liberal Arts to being placed under the University's Chief Academic Officer, Provost Susan Henrichs and administered by then Vice Provost Dr. Dana Thomas, now the University of Alaska Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Statistics. This transition resulted from a review of the program by former Provost Paul Reichardt and paved the way for further programmatic growth, especially for the Honors curriculum. Professor Bird retired and became the second Director Emeritus of the Honors Program in 2008.
Professor Channon Price of the Physics Department served as Interim Director of the Honors Program from July 2008 to December 2010.
Professor Gary Laursen, Senior research scientist with the Institute of Arctic Biology, followed and took up the helm in 2011 first as Interim Director through 30 June, 2011, and becoming Director on July 1 of 2011. He retired from the Honors Program May 2013. Dr. Laursen’s student-centric passion fueled proposal writing that led to a complete refurbishment of Honors House during the summer of 2011 with painting inside and out, all new floor covering (while fixing those tell-tale floor squeaks), all new appliances, a new IT system to better serve everyone in this age of technological expansion, and landscaping of the entire yard for better snowmelt drainage and beautification.
Currently, Dr. Barbara Taylor is serving as Interim Director. She is an Associate Professor of Neurophysiology as well as the Director for the office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity. As student numbers rise toward the 300-350 mark, major retension is the focus of further developing and implementing new curricula. The program and staff continue to assist students and faculty in the art of sequestering needed funds to explore new horizons.