About the Institute
The Blackburn Institute is developing a network of leaders, the Blackburn Fellows, who have a clear understanding of the challenges that face the state of Alabama. The Institute provides the fellows opportunities to explore issues and identify strategic actions that will improve the quality of life for our state and nation.
Location & Funding
Housed within the Division of Student Affairs at The University of Alabama and funded through contributions from private donors, the Blackburn Institute is widely considered to be one of the most dynamic leadership development organizations in the country.
The Blackburn Institute is named in honor of Dr. John L. Blackburn. A nationally renowned leader in higher education, Dr. Blackburn served as dean of students at The University of Alabama and was instrumental in the University’s peaceful integration. In 1995, The University of Alabama’s Division of Student Affairs formed the Institute to foster Dr. Blackburn’s belief that people link strategic actions through the generations for progressive and ethical change.
In the words of Dr. Blackburn, membership in the Institute is not only an honor but a lifetime obligation to becoming a change agent in one’s community. While traditional collegiate leadership experiences center on individual competency-building, the Blackburn Institute has a three-tiered focus that seeks to make a personal and meaningful impact on student fellows, alumni fellows, as well as the citizenship of Alabama as a whole. Each year, approximately 25 student fellows are selected after a faculty nomination process and intensive interviews. The Blackburn Institute is NOT an honor society; though fellows often have remarkable records of academic and service achievement, selection is focused on identifying those students who are most interested and best able to sacrifice individual gain for the sake of community improvement. Upon graduation, University alumni earn the title fellow; the Institute assists fellows by providing continued development, support, as well as networking opportunities in furtherance of their personal success and fulfillment of the Institute’s ideals. Not only do fellows participate in an a range of sponsored activities, but the Institute also helps connect them to opportunities within the state and beyond where their personal talents can best be used to positively impact their community. An advisory board made up of national community leaders provides support, direction, and mentorship for the Blackburn Institute and its fellows. To date, there are 366 Blackburn fellows living in 26 states and five foreign countries attempting to live by the ideals of the Institute on a daily basis.
Four Overarching Values
- Facilitate diversity of opinion by providing opportunities for students to experience all sides of issues impacting their communities as well as creating situations for open dialog focused on fostering the resolution of issues rather than their mere identification.
- A call to action by constantly reminding students that active citizenship necessitates individual as well as collective works to insure improvement and providing opportunities for students to access support for strategic initiatives.
- Network through the generations by providing opportunities for fellows to engage in dialogue and personal contact with advisory board members, alumni, faculty, community leaders, scholars, and political leaders.
- Lifetime commitment by providing a rich collegiate experience so that, upon graduation, alumni fellows are encouraged not only to mentor student fellows but to also uphold the ideals of the Institute in their daily lives.
The Blackburn Institute is not a community service or service learning organization per se – the impact of the Institute is measured by the collective works of its fellows. While the overarching purpose of the Institute is to further develop the leadership abilities of its fellows then both encourage and support their community contributions, the Institute, as a whole, engages in several areas of community service. Using endowed funds from the Institute, fellows are able to sponsor sustainable community service initiatives in Alabama each year. The Institute hosts a number of public lectures and discussion forums each semester to help educate community members about contemporary issues. By means of its annual theme and travel experiences, the Institute also submits research reports on a number of topics to communities across the state.
Important to developing a community of leaders is the opportunity for in-depth exposure to areas around the state, intellectual discussion regarding civic issues, and identification of strategic actions. Examples of key program areas include:
- Burt Jones Travel Experience – Student fellows travel to rural and urban areas in Alabama for an immersion experience to explore differing communities. First-year fellows visit rural communities to discover the challenges facing regions that have limited resources. Second-year fellows travel to urban areas to explore the implications of significant growth and its impact on the future.
- Blackburn Institute Winter Symposium – Considered the heart of the Blackburn experience, this annual, two-day symposium brings student fellows, alumni fellows, advisory board members, as well as respected community and state leaders together to hear speakers, participate in round-table discussions, and determine plans of action.
- Daniel Foundation Community Scholars Program – Provides funding for student fellows to start sustainable community service initiatives in the Tuscaloosa area. Examples of previous projects include the formation of an afterschool reading program for at-risk children, the implementation of the first high school debate team in Tuscaloosa, and an organization uniting interfaith as well as interdenominational ministers in the area to address healthcare concerns.
- D. Ray Pate Networking Reception & Dinner – This annual event formally introduces the latest class of Blackburn fellows to alumni fellows, advisory board members, as well as community leaders and permits extensive networking opportunities.
- Protective Life Government Experience – Fellows travel, participate in forums, and obtain internships aimed at expanding their understanding of policy and government at both the state and national level.
- Faculty Discourse Dinners – Held throughout the year, University faculty members and administrators host student fellows in their homes for dinner and discussion of topics pertinent to the state and nation.
- Alumni Networking Events – Typically hosted throughout the summer, the Institute hosts regular events for alumni fellows to reconnect, discuss community issues, and expand their personal networks. In 2007, alumni networking events were held in Washington, D.C., Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa.
- Alabama 101 – An event for newly selected fellows, this full-day event covers the basics of relevant topics such as education, politics, and economic development to prepare students for their work as fellows.
- Frank A. Nix Lecture – The Nix lecture on ethical leadership offers fellows, the University community, and the general public an opportunity to hear a speaker of national prominence. Past Nix lecturers include Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and General Wesley Clark (US Army, Ret.).
- Gloria and John L. Blackburn Academic Symposium – Designed to bring national attention to an academic unit at The University of Alabama, the academic symposium provides fellows and the public an opportunity for in-depth analysis of an issue with state and national implications.
- State-wide Conferences – The Institute hosts state-wide conferences, bringing in speakers and expert panelists to engage participants on an issue.
- National Issues Forums – Hosted on campus, NIFs bring together fellows and the public to engage in a deliberative dialogue regarding a key issue facing the nation.
Other Areas of Institute Activities
- Leadership Lunches – The Institute brings in prominent leaders to share their insight with student fellows.
- Late Night Discussions – Following a Blackburn program, student fellows gather to candidly discuss their new understanding of issues in a casual setting.
- Alumni Graduation Reception & Lunch - This formal event honors graduating fellows and provides encouragement before they leave the Capstone.
- New Fellows Retreat – this full day event allows new fellows to establish connections and learn specifics about their role as Blackburn fellows.
- Hot Topics Hot Pizza – Held throughout the year, these informal debates allow student fellows to gather and discuss current topics of interest in the news.