Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Blackburn Institute dedicated to Alabama

For years, University of Alabama students came to expect a question from long-time UA administrator John L. Blackburn: What have you done today to make the state of Alabama better? He quickly became known for stopping students on the Quad to ask them about their daily contribution to the state.

He is often credited with peacefully integrating the University during the 1960s, but when the University wanted to honor Blackburn for his service to the University in 1993, Blackburn wasn’t comfortable having a room named after him. After days of thinking, he came up with the idea of an organization that would cultivate the future ethical leaders for Alabama and the nation.

The Blackburn Institute was created in the hope that students would remain in Alabama for some of their lives after graduation to give back to the community. Marlan Golden, a senior majoring in history and Spanish, said he is open to looking at a variety of different opportunities, but ultimately he wants to end up back in the state.

“The idea that you will come back and help out your state is part of the whole idea of Blackburn,” Golden said. “They are investing their time and resources in students on campus, hoping students will give back to state, whether for a career, policy or government.”

Golden said the organization is a training program to learn about communities across Alabama and the issues they are facing. He said Blackburn wants students to learn about communities outside of what they’ve experienced in their undergraduate career.

In order to be part of Blackburn, students have to be nominated for the organization. The selection process takes place during the spring semester and consists of three stages: nomination, application and interview. Dr. Philip Westbrook, director of Blackburn, said Blackburn accepts a new class of students every year through a rigorous process.

“Over the next few weeks we will have open nominations, and we will be looking for people who have a passion about the state of Alabama and issues regarding public policy issues, education, criminal justice and workforce development,” Westbrook said. “We are looking for a diverse group of people who represent various majors, areas and [are] diverse in terms of perspective.”

Westbrook said Blackburn accepts out-of-state students, but the vast majority are in-state because the organization is focused on Alabama. The expectation is that there will be a long-term commitment to Alabama.

“Blackburn encourages anyone who has any interest in learning more about the state and giving back [to] consider being a part of Blackburn,” Golden said. “You just have to have willingness.”

Throughout this month, deans, directors, faculty members and student affairs staff members of the University can nominate students who demonstrate interest and leadership relating to public policy, indicate strong interest in exploring issues facing the state of Alabama and have made significant campus contributions. Potential members must show progressive leadership, demonstrate a clear concept of local, state or national issues and have at least one full year remaining as a student of some type at The University of Alabama.

Each year, 25-30 students are selected as new Blackburn students. New students are expected to serve as full participants in the curriculum, including attending the D. Ray Pate Dinner, monthly discourses, travel experiences, an annual symposium and the Frank A. Nix Lecture.

Velmatsu Lewis, a Blackburn Institute student, said she plans to stay in Alabama after graduation because it is her true home. She said she is proud of everything Blackburn stands for and has accomplished on campus and in the state of Alabama.

“What makes me most proud are the efforts of the Institute to make its student fellows aware of the problems that face the state,” Lewis said. “We not only are engaged in this way, but we try to find ways to solve those problems so that we can make Alabama a better state.

“During my time in the Institute, I have learned so much more about Alabama and the challenges it faces. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet such amazing people on campus and throughout the state who are invested in the future of Alabama and work unselfishly every day to make Alabama a better state for everyone.”

Those seeking to submit nominations may use the “2014 Blackburn Institute Nomination” link on the home page of The deadline for submission is Jan. 30.

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