The concept of developing an honors program was initiated in 1967 by Dr. James P. Brawley, retired president of Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), with a grant from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. This grant was used to support the recruitment of outstanding faculty to teach advanced courses in literature and philosophy to challenge gifted students. The success of the venture lead Dr. Vivian Henderson, President of Clark College, to explore the merit of establishing an Honors Program at Clark College in 1973.
Clark College administrators approached Dr. Joselyn Jackson, an English professor, to structure the honors program. She, along with several other professors, conducted a nine-month research investigation of existing honors programs at various colleges and universities, and developed the structure for Clark College’s program. The plan for an honors program was presented to and approved by the various institutional governing bodies. In the fall of 1974, 22 first-year students entered an honors program that was designed to attract and academically support students who demonstrated superior intellect, motivation, and open mindedness. Dr. Jackson served as the director of the honors program from 1974 through 1985.
Dr. Isabella T. Jenkins, a professor of early childhood education, became the second director of the honors program at Clark College in 1985. During the more than twenty-years of leadership under Dr. Jenkins, the program expanded curricular and co-curricular offerings; advanced student research and interdisciplinary creativity; increased graduation rates and post-graduation placement rates; and established a cadre of honors faculty. More than 500 undergraduate students completed the honors program under Dr. Jenkins, and her impact on honors education has been lasting.
In 2013, Dr. Christopher Bass, a professor of psychology, became the third program director. Dr. Bass strengthened the community of high achieving students by emphasizing African-American history, communal responsibility, and intellectual service to aid in the uplift of others. A major initiative by Dr. Bass was to rename the program the Isabella T. Jenkins Honors Program in recognition of the decades-long commitment of Dr. Jenkins to the program. The name was proposed and approved by the Clark Atlanta University Board of Trustees.
Dr. Teri Platt, a professor of political science, became the program director in 2015. Dr. Platt has emphasized academic and personal success through research, innovation, advocacy, and engagement. In the fall of 2015, the Division of Academic Affairs expanded the program to include undergraduate students in over seven scholar groups. In recognition of the changes, the program has restructured into the University Honors and Scholars Program to continue to support high academic achievement through honors-level courses and provide scholar support services. In the summer of 2019, the program resumed using the name Isabella T. Jenkins Honors Program and renewed its commitment to honors education and high scholastic achievements.
In the winter of 2018, the Isabella T. Jenkins Honors Program relocated to the Trevor Arnett Building in the old Atlanta University library space. The newly renovated area is named the Isabella T. Jenkins Honors Center, and houses a communal gathering place, two classrooms with integrated technology, a 14 terminal computer laboratory, a 14 carrel study room, 3 offices, a kitchenette, and a small conference room. In addition to the expansion, new co-curricular experiences were provided for students.
The program has always served as an intellectual community for undergraduate students, and memberships has ranged from 80 to 400 students. The program remains committed to providing to intentional support services that enhance opportunities for success for all high achieving students at the institution.