Published on July 12, 2019 by Emily Knight  

Samford’s honors program hosted its ninth weeklong summer institute for high school students June 23-28.

The Great Ideas Summer Institute (GISI) is annual opportunity for selected high school juniors and seniors to spend a week experiencing life as a University Fellow through classes, campus activities, and community engagement. 

The University Fellows program is Samford’s interdisciplinary academic honors program experience. Admission to the program is highly competitive. The program is open to students from all Samford undergraduate majors, but students must be admitted as high school seniors.

The University Fellows curriculum includes a four-semester seminar in Western history, philosophy, and literature and courses in writing and rhetoric, the history and philosophy of science and the classical and Christian virtues. The program also offers international study in Italy and funding for academic enrichment. 

GISI students exercised their intellectual curiosity in a curriculum modelled after the University Fellows experience. The Western intellectual tradition, extending from Greek and Roman antiquity to the challenge of modernity in the United States, was the focus of faculty-led seminars.

Dr. Bryan Johnson, director of Samford’s University and Micah Fellows Programs, has taught at GISI since the program’s inception. The unique structure of a discussion-style classroom has remained a key feature of the program since the beginning.

“Students have told us over the years that GISI completely changes how they think about the kind of college experience they want,” he said. “Many of them will tell you they have never had a teacher ask their opinion and they’ve never had the opportunity to speak in class.”

In addition to classes, students also engaged in the full experience of college life by staying in residence halls and eating in the dining hall. Trips to local sites, like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Montevallo’s American Village, made the classes’ content come to life. 

Pinecrest Academy student Jimmy Herbert said he enjoyed comparing what they discussed in the classroom to current issues. “I really enjoyed reading Plato and his ideas, and the professors shed light on what his true philosophical beliefs and intentions were,” he said. “It was interesting to see how it lines up with today’s beliefs and government systems as well.”

Current University Fellows serve as the class preceptors, residence hall assistants, and mentors to the participants during their time on campus. The Samford students lead discussion in classes alongside the faculty, and plan extracurricular activities to enjoy during free time.

Senior English major and University Fellow Ethan Sanders said his favorite part of mentoring the GISI students is seeing their eagerness to learn. “I enjoy seeing the students continue discussing material outside of the classroom,” he said. “We challenge them with material they can continue to learn from even after they have left the Institute.”

For Sanders, GISI has provided the chance to revisit familiar class material, but in a different role.

“GISI has given me a great opportunity to see what it is like to lead in the classroom and outside of the classroom,” Sanders said.

In 2016, Forbes ranked GISI among the top summer short-term programs for high school students. Applications for the 2020 Great Ideas Summer Institute will open in January 2020.

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. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 2nd nationally for student engagement and US News & World Report ranks Samford 86th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,729 students from 47 states and 30 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 1st nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.