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UA students help out in Marion

For three weeks, the brightest minds at the University of Alabama will work to improve the Black Belt and, more specifically, Marion.

Fifty students from the university have taken part in the Honors College’s University Fellows Experience. The program began May 10 and will end May 28.

“The first week was spent traveling around the Black Belt, including Selma last Wednesday,” said University Fellows student communications coordinator Alan Blinder. “The two weeks after that are spent working on numerous projects.”

Only students with a score of 32 on the ACT or a 1400 on the SAT, and a 3.8 GPA were allowed to apply for the Black Belt Experience.

“We want to take these extraordinary students and prepare them for leadership while they earn a degree,” said Dr. Jacqueline Morgan, the associate dean of the Honors College and the director of the University Fellows Experience. “These students come for all disciplines, but their similarity is their passion to be leaders.”

For the second year, the students will work on several different projects in the Marion community, such as creating a database of the local cemeteries, putting on a weeklong reading program at the Marion library, helping local business update plans for the changing economy, and updating the ‘dial and discover’ tour which allows visitors to Marion to type in a number and hear recorded messages about the places they visit.

“We started this so we could make a relationship with the community,” said Morgan. “The Black Belt Experience was created so we could show them (students) how to be involved with an area that has great strengths but also weaknesses.”

Morgan said that Marion’s location provided a logical site.

“Being so close to the university, Marion and Perry County seemed like the perfect place for us to continue to invest.”

According to Blinder, the students will stay at Judson College while they work with the community.

“We are working down here doing projects with the community,” said Blinder. “We are not trying to come in on a white horse and do these projects ourselves.”

Although the program has worked hard to build a relationship in Marion and Perry County with the university, Morgan doesn’t want to see it end there.

“Our ultimate goal is to expand beyond Marion,” said Morgan. “We want for our kids to be able to expand.”