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UAB’s 50 years of dreams and discoveries

Alicia Rohan
UAB News

In 1969, the University of Alabama at Birmingham was born — an independent institution rooted in the Magic City, created from the union of a university extension center and a pioneering academic medical center. Since then, UAB has saved lives, solved problems, expanded knowledge and opened doors. UAB will celebrate its 50th anniversary throughout 2019 with 50 years of dreams and discoveries.

“We look forward to celebrating with our community and state the illustrious past, present and future of UAB,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “Our history and ascent to global renown is a remarkable story of collaboration and innovation, setting and exceeding ambitious goals, and pushing frontiers across all disciplines. It is that enduring spirit of daring and determination, and longtime partnership with our community and board, that have driven on our success over five decades and now propel us toward an even bolder future.”

Pieces of the Past

Treasures from UAB Archives tell the story of the university’s transformation on the Artifacts page of the 50th Anniversary website. The website features items from UAB’s past, including artifacts from the institution’s buildings and physical growth, athletic accomplishments, campus life, and health and medicine history. The interactive archive showcases these artifacts that have helped shape the last 50 years at UAB.

“These objects from our institutional past represent a small portion of the material culture of UAB; but it is these everyday objects that often make history come alive to those who remember that automobile parking tag, beverage cooler, lapel pin or bumper sticker,” said Tim Pennycuff, associate professor and university archivist at UAB. “Those who participated in an athletic event wearing that jersey, have that bobblehead doll, had that postcard on their refrigerator, and those still using that member-premium coffee mug will connect to the history of this university, feeling a part of our anniversary celebration.”

An explorable timeline featuring key moments and milestones from UAB’s history is also available on the website.

Celebrating 50

Throughout 2019, there will be events and happenings around campus and Birmingham. UAB has commissioned a 7-foot-tall custom, 3D prop that will be on display across campus starting off at the Administration Building, 701 20th St. South, and moving to various locations and events across campus.

Watts encourages UAB family and friends to perform 50 acts of service in 2019. The challenge will kick off Monday, Jan. 21, with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. A list of service opportunities can be found at uab.edu/50/service.

Key events include:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m.
  • Spring Commencement on Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27; Summer Commencement on Friday, Aug. 9, and Saturday, Aug. 10; and Fall Commencement on Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14
  • UAB Giving Day will kick off 50 hours of philanthropy at 10 p.m. on April 16 through midnight on April 18
  • Blazer Welcome will kick off the Fall 2019 semester and help students connect to campus and all it has to offer

For a current listing of events, visit www.uab.edu/50/events.

Forging the future

UAB has always shaped the future through new ideas and initiatives in the classroom, laboratory, studio and clinic. The coming decade presents opportunities and challenges, laid out in the university’s strategic plan.

UAB has established goals and metrics for each of its four mission pillars: education; research, innovation and economic development; community engagement; and patient care.

“UAB has always thrived on visionary strategic planning that leads to continued growth and success,” Watts said. “Last year brought record-breaking achievements on a number of fronts — a third straight year of record enrollment, record research funding and exceeding the goal of UAB’s largest-ever fundraising campaign — and we have strong momentum as we begin our 50th anniversary year. The campus- and communitywide planning, investment and execution of our strategic plan, Forging the Future, ensures continued strides in each of our mission pillars that will bring improved education, better health and quality of life, and robust economic development for years to come.”

Included in the strategic plan are key initiatives to support these pillars, including the Signature Core Curriculum.

University Boulevard landscape looking east.

The Signature Core Curriculum is being developed by a team seeking input from across campus and will replace the existing UAB Core Curriculum — the shared body of courses that all undergraduates take, usually in their first two years. A core curriculum provides the skills and knowledge that students need to succeed in any discipline, and it is the foundation for their futures as lifelong learners, critical thinkers and productive members of their communities.

UAB’s Grand Challenge is another key initiative of UAB’s strategic plan. A grand challenge is an ambitious but achievable goal that harnesses science, technology, policy and innovation to solve an important local, state, national or global problem, and that has the potential to capture the public’s imagination. Solving this large, multifaceted problem requires a combination of technologies, treatments, approaches and/or policies and can involve scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, city and state officials, foundations, outreach organizations, and others.

UAB’s Grand Challenge has moved from grant proposals to developing full proposals due Jan. 31. In May, the winning proposal will be announced and will receive funding and resources to complete UAB’s Grand Challenge to positively impact a great number of people.

Share your UAB memories

Students, alumni, employees, patients, Blazer fans and friends are part of UAB’s story. Each person impacted by UAB has the opportunity to share their decades of funny, moving, surprising and life-changing memories in the UAB recording booth or emailed to memories@uab.edu. The recording booth is located on the first floor of the Hill Student Center. Select memories will be animated and posted on the UAB 50th Anniversary website.

Did you cross the stage with the original group of UAB graduates? Receive a lifesaving surgery at UAB Hospital? Cheer on the Blazers to a Bartow-era basketball victory? Form a lasting friendship over lunch at the Hill Student Center food court? Every person whose life has intersected with UAB has a story to tell. Share yours in our recording booth or by emailing memories@uab.edu.

Supporters of UAB are encouraged to celebrate UAB’s 50th anniversary on social media by sharing photos and stories using #UAB50.

For more information on UAB’s 50th anniversary, visit www.uab.edu/50.


An official mark and other brand and communication materials have been created to help UAB units celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary throughout 2019. Using the mark and other materials correctly will present a consistent, shared look and feel. It also will increase awareness of UAB’s history of innovation and achievement among students, employees, donors, partners, advocates and the public. Download the mark at uab.edu/50/toolkit.