TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A newly created center within The University of Alabama Honors College will promote active learning experiences and research opportunities for UA students thanks to a generous gift from UA alumnus James “Jim” Kennemer.
The James C. Kennemer Center for Innovation and Social Impact was created following a $2 million gift from Kennemer and offers UA a unique, highly visible platform that builds a capacity for critical thinking, encourages ethical and innovative approaches to social impact, and prepares students to be active and engaged citizens and to succeed in any career path. The center provides support for the Bama Innovation Gateway program including the BIG Ideas contest, and funding for undergraduate research, speakers, forums and outreach programs, and other initiatives.
“The Kennemer Center, made possible by Jim and Nancy Kennemer’s continuing generosity and support, is another remarkable step forward in our mission to transform lives,” said UA President Stuart R. Bell. “By focusing on experiences that will make a positive impact on our world through innovation, student engagement and social influence, the new center will foster advanced experiential learning and positive social change.”
Kennemer, who was a member of the charter class of the Computer-Based Honors Program, now known as the Randall Research Scholars, said the inspiration for creating this center stemmed from the success of the BIG Ideas contest, which held its first competition in 2022. The contest challenges students to come up with creative solutions to social challenges.
“BIG Ideas is designed to be an entry-level contest, with no experience required,” Kennemer said. “We tell the students, ‘All you need to get started is an idea.’ Mentors, advisors and workshops assist them from their problem statement through researching and framing their solution.”
“Our goal is to produce students who are better able to recognize social challenges, and to provide them with the skills needed to research and develop solutions that have real social impact,” he said. “Those skills and their experience will benefit them in their classroom challenges and projects, in other campus contests, and then in the real world where ideas are what drive people in their professional careers.”
Kennemer said the excitement from students, speakers, advisors and mentors of the BIG Ideas program has been tremendous.
“This generation of students latches on to ideas, and putting emphasis on the social impact is something they really relate to,” Kennemer said. “If their project has profit potential, that’s great, but our judging criteria is social impact.”
“The Honors College is honored to be the home of the James C. Kennemer Center for Innovation and Social Impact,” said Luoheng Han, interim dean of the Honors College. “After the tremendous success of BIG Ideas contests two years in a row, our students love to see a center that can implement the BIG Ideas contests annually. To the Honors College, this is a dream come true. The center will have an immeasurable impact on our students, the University and our community now and for years to come. We greatly appreciate Mr. Kennemer for his generosity and giving back to the Honors College.”
Kennemer said a motivator for his gift to the University is the large impact UA has had on his life.
“Everything I’ve done — whether it’s my family, my career and accomplishments there, my closest friends — every important aspect leads straight back to my involvement in the Computer-Based Honors Program or the University itself,” he said.
“The University is the perfect place to do something that has the potential to make a real difference with a significant number of students every year,” he said. “We’re already doing that in the BIG Ideas program, and the center will provide the resources for more outreach and additional initiatives. It will also provide connections to and cooperation with other organizations and entities, including state, regional and federal efforts with an interest in innovation and social impact.”
“Each year, we will be helping develop these students into becoming lifelong difference-makers themselves. Think of the difference that can make. That to me is just great.”
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.