Mission & Values

In the Spring of 2023, the Honors Faculty Advisory Council, the Honors Student Advisory Council, Honors College staff and the Honors College Director, approved the following mission and vision statements, along with its statement renewing its commitment to anti-racism:

Mission Statement

To build a vibrant and interdisciplinary community of active and engaged learners. We teach and inspire conscientious and inquisitive students, nurturing their quest for knowledge, to create positive change in the world and in their own lives.

Vision Statement

Empowering courageous thinkers and compassionate leaders, and harnessing strong feelings of belonging and commitment to the actualization of student potential.

Cardinal Learning Values

  • A diverse and inclusive community rooted in empathy, mutual respect, and dignity for all people
  • A holistic approach to community well-being
  • Moral courage
  • Passionate inquiry driven by curiosity and the creation of knowledge
  • Intellectual risk taking
  • Compassionate service to our community and the world
  • Personal and community resilience
  • Social Impactfulness

Commitment to Anti-Racism

The UAF Honors College works to build an equitable and affirming learning community for all students. We support students from marginalized identities and work strategically to build an inclusive, socially responsible, and culturally responsive Honors College. This includes, for example:

  • Supporting and amplifying students’ advocacy and scholarship in areas related to social justice –advocating for training and resources to ensure a safe and welcoming academic environment that fosters belonging for all students, especially those with marginalized identities
  • Creating learning opportunities for Honors College staff and students to grow as culturally grounded individuals
  • Actively removing institutionalized barriers perpetuating structural inequities in higher education
  • Additionally, we commit in perpetuity to oppose systemic racism, inequity, and discrimination by consistently monitoring how we define who our high-achieving students are at the University of Alaska Fairbanks


The Honors College is part of the Division of General Studies, in the office of the Vice Provost and Accreditation Liaison Officer, Dr. Alexandra Fitts. The Honors College is served by a Director, Professor Alex Hirsch. We generally employ one or two student assistants during the year as well.

Two advisory councils provide advice and assistance to the program. The Honors Faculty Advisory Council (HFAC) includes faculty representatives from the across the university as well as student representation. This body meets twice each semester and once during the summer to help guide the Honors College. Changes in Honors College policies and procedures are vetted through the HFAC, and HFAC members are invited to teach honors classes, serve as mentors to students, and serve as committee members on Honors Capstone Thesis projects among other things.

The Honors Student Advisory Council (HSAC) is an autonomous group of students elected by their peers each fall. The group is responsible for many of the activities that happen during the year and is responsible for raising funds to support their social activities. In addition, HSAC helps the Director determine other types of outreach, educational, and extracurricular activities. One of its other primary responsibilities is the awarding of the Robert Piacenza Excellence in Teaching Award each year, along with developing and sponsoring the faculty excellence in teaching luncheon. 

The UAF Honors College is a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and the Western Regional Honors Council (WRHC). Each year, selected Honors students are invited to travel to either the NCHC annual conference or the WRHC regional conference to present their research papers.


The UAF Honors Program was created in 1983, as part of the College of Liberal Arts. Suzanne Sommerville, Professor of Music, was the founding Director; she served from 1983-1986. Her direction, enthusiasm, and leadership moved the fledgling program into its first house site at 515 Copper Lane, at the east end of Copper Lane.

Pat Andresen, Professor of Mathematics served as the Honors Program Director from 1986 until 1993. During these formative years, enrollment was limited to one hundred students, and all students in the Honors Program received a full tuition waiver. Although it was a wonderful recruitment tool the financial cost of that benefit could not be sustained during the budget crunch of the mid-1990s.

After Professor Andresen retired, Professor John Whitehead of the History Department became Director of the Honors Program; he served from 1993 until 1999. His tenure was marked by the receipt of substantial 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 $10,000 in scholarships to Honors students is still awarded annually by the Usibelli Foundation.

Professor Roy Bird of the English Department became Director in January 1999 and served until 2008. Under Professor Bird’s leadership, the Honors Program more than tripled its annual enrollment. Professor Bird also oversaw the move of the Honors Program from 515 Copper Lane to its present location at 520 Copper Lane. The second Honors House is more than twice as large as its previous home with 2405 square feet. It was a bittersweet moment for the program when the original Honors House was destroyed in a controlled burn by the University Fire Department during Spring Break 2004. However, the new, larger space at 520 Copper Lane has allowed the program to provide computer labs, a smart classroom, and more social space than the original house.

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 the Vice Provost Dr. Dana Thomas, the University's Accreditation and Liaison Officer, Dean of the Division of General Studies 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 in 2008.

Professor Channon Price of the Physics Department served as Interim Director of the Honors Program from July 2008 to December 2010. Professor Price is still active in the Honors Program, teaching honors physics classes each year.

Professor Gary Laursen, Research Scientist with the Institute of Arctic Biology, followed in 2011 first as Interim Director through 30 June, 2011, and then as Director on July 1 of 2011. He retired in May 2013. Under his guidance, students wrote successful proposals that led to a complete refurbishment of the Honors House during the summer of 2011 with painting inside and out, all new floor covering, new appliances, a new IT system, and landscaping of the entire yard for better snowmelt drainage and beautification.

Professor Barbara Taylor, Associate Professor of Biology and Director of URSA, followed as interim director from May 2014 to June 2014.

Marsha Sousa, Biology Professor and former Dean of Arts and Sciences and Vice Provost at UAS became Director of the program in June of 2014. Her goals for the program are to add value to each student’s education through mentoring, development of interdisciplinary coursework, and enrichment opportunities in leadership, service, research, international study, and shared travel.

Professor Alex Hirsch became Director of the Honors Program in 2018.  He transformed the Honors Program into the UAF Honors College and inaugurated its Climate Scholars Program, presenting a unique undergraduate experience for highly engaged students interested in studying sustainability in the context of climate resilience and rapid environmental change.  His goals have been to create meaningful opportunities for Honors students to engage in load-bearing experiential education.  He also started the Living-Learning Community within the Honors College, a robust residential program that provides Honors students with a rich cohort culture.