Published on March 27, 2023 by Diamond Nunnally  
Great Ideas Institute
Samford History students Mikiah Dumas (left) and Jessica Smith (right) reading a book in the Special Collections unit of University Library.

After a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Samford University's Great Ideas Summer Institute (GISI) is back June 20-22. This three-day academic experience that was started in 2011 has brought hundreds of high school students from across the country to Birmingham, Alabama, to enjoy the energy of a college classroom, develop friendships and engage in ideas that form the essence of American citizenship. 

"I am excited to see the Great Ideas Summer Institute up and running again," GISI Director and History Professor William Jason Wallace said. "Students benefit from this program, and it is a terrific draw for gifted high schoolers who might not have Samford on their radar."

This year's theme is "The Idea of Citizenship in the American Republic." Students will discuss the Greek origins of Western politics, Roman understandings of citizenship, the case for the American Revolution, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates, and the creation of the United States Constitution. Students will also look at conceptions of citizenship and republicanism articulated through the works of Abraham Lincoln, the 19th Amendment and Justice Thurgood Marshall. 

"The curriculum is designed to introduce critical reflection on the history and meaning of citizenship in a constitutional republic, including what it means to be a responsible steward of freedom," Wallace said. "I think parents and students understand the value of this reflection, and they desire the moral conversation that emerges from reading great thinkers’ historical contexts." 

Not to mention this experience prepares students for college. They'll develop the skills necessary to succeed in college-level courses, such as critical thinking, effective communication and independent learning.

"Most high schools teach using traditional textbooks and lectures to explain critical historical events," Wallace said. "At GISI, students will read and discuss original texts with a community of intellectually curious students and professors who will challenge them to think about the material on a deeper level, including the historical and philosophical contexts."

Classes consist of three daily sessions — two in the morning and one in the afternoon. They are discussion-based classes and are led entirely by Samford's distinguished faculty.

"They will have one-on-one conversations with university professors and be offered guidance about college, programs of study and careers," Wallace said. "In addition, they will encounter a mature conversation about American citizenship and the history of constitutional republics while also making friends with others who share their interests and concerns." 

Students attend classes from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Student representatives from Samford's Stockham Scholars, John Howard Scholars and the University Fellows honors program will assist students during their stay.  

"Students who like history and ideas, want to talk about politics, or care about the meaning of the United States and the future of this country will love our summer program," Wallace said.

Rising juniors and seniors are eligible to apply. There are no academic requirements, but the institute has limited spaces and cannot accept all applicants.  

Due to numerous construction projects, Samford is not allowing overnight guests this summer. Participants must find housing off-campus.


Event Details

Email Wallace at if you have any questions.

If you are interested in applying for this experience, register here

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.