History and Mission


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.

Mission Statement

In the summer of 2014, the Honors College Director and the Honors Faculty Advisory Council approved the following mission statement:

“The UAF Honors College provides opportunities for students to pursue excellence in academic and personal development. We foster critical and independent thinking and help students become informed, responsible, and active citizens.”

We take our mission seriously and work with each student to create an education and extracurricular plan that helps students achieve their academic goals, develop their strengths, and address their short-comings so that by the time they graduate, they will be highly qualified for careers or graduate and professional schools.

We want to help you identify which extracurricular activities will best fit your interests and needs. We will help you find internships and research opportunities. We’ll put you in touch with service organizations where you can do more than just lend a hand, you can get involved in the inner workings of the organization. We’ll help you select international experiences that will meet your academic goals, improve your language skills, and broaden your horizons. In other words, we want to provide high quality mentoring for each of you so that you can have a rich experience at UAF but also find the balance that lets you keep your grades up while you explore the world. You tell us what you need, and together we will make it happen.

In the Honors College you will find a community of people like you – people who are curious about lots of things, talented in many ways, full of new ideas, energetic, entrepreneurial, and like to have fun. The social networks you develop in the Honors College will become friendships that last a lifetime. The Honors House gives you a place to develop this community, and it can serve as a home away from home. Right in the heart of campus, the Honors House is a comfortable place to gather with friends, study, cook, and even do laundry.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

We want you to not just feel welcome at UAF — we want you to feel you belong here. We are committed to fostering a community in which everyone feels a genuine sense of acceptance. The UAF Honors College acknowledges historical boundaries and blind spots in making our community of scholars more inclusive for all students. 

The Honors College takes an active approach to ensure that the College closely mirrors the University of Alaska Fairbanks' commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The phrase inclusive excellence is a great way to describe the value we hold true. A philosophy of inclusive excellence means that we think about issues of equity and inclusion in everything that we do. Whatever stake or role you have in the Honors College, we invite you to join us in our commitment to and role-modeling of inclusive excellence.

We are committed to diversity in our student population as shown by:
    • Increasing access to the Honors College for students traditionally underrepresented
    • Providing equitable access to a wide range of opportunities, including scholarship programs such as U-RISE Alaska, Nanook Brotherhood 
    • Ensuring that all students experience authentic development in their college career
    • Working directly with high school pathway programs to create relationships for the recruitment of highly qualified students early


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. Assisting the Director is Student Services Manager Christina Johnson. 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 (HFPAC) 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 spring. 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.

Student Learning Outcomes

The Honors College will hold itself accountable for documenting and assessing student learning outcomes in the following broad areas: critical thinking, breadth of academic experiences, and independent scholarship.

Critical Thinking

Honors graduates will be able to:

  • Identify and question assumptions
  • Identify common errors of logic and argumentation
  • Develop alternative arguments
  • Formulate substantive questions
  • Articulate multiple perspectives
  • Extrapolate consequences


Honors graduates will be able to:

  • Make connections across broad areas of cultural and intellectual import
  • Demonstrate the ability to approach a problem from multiple epistemologies
  • Recognize themes and contexts
  • Situate ideas and works into a theme or larger context

Independent Scholarship

Honors graduates will be able to:

  • Define a well-formulated question or objective
  • Formulate discipline-relevant goals
  • Carry out implementation
  • Assess, reflect on, and revise the work
  • Situate a project in a discipline and identify and engage a faculty mentor