UAH turns 55: Celebrate The University of Alabama in Huntsville’s past, present and future in 2024

Students posing outside with UAH mascot.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) celebrates its 55th birthday during 2024. UAH became an autonomous university within The University of Alabama System on June 16, 1969.
Michael Mercier | UAH

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) officially became an autonomous university within The University of Alabama System on June 16, 1969 – 55 years ago in 2024. Throughout this year, UAH will highlight historic milestones and achievements as well as celebrate the many people who have contributed to its success as it plans for further growth.

UAH originated as the University of Alabama Huntsville Center, which held its first classes on Jan. 6, 1950, with 137 students in the building that later became Stone Middle School. The center offered 10 freshman-level courses. Morton Hall, the first building on today’s campus, was completed in 1960.

Today, UAH is a Carnegie R1 top-tier research university with eight colleges, more than 100 areas of study and 17 high-tech research centers. The university achieved a record $169.5 million in research and development expenditures in fiscal year 2022, and it has a $615 million annual impact on the state. UAH Athletics has 15 NCAA sports programs with 55 conference championships. Athletics scholarships of $3.2 million are awarded annually.

UAH is home to a diverse student body of 8,743, hailing from 49 states and 59 countries of origin. These students are serious about their studies: Entering freshmen have an average ACT of 26.7 and an average GPA of 3.92.

Famous alumni include Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks (B.A., history, 1974), astronaut Jan Davis (M.S., mechanical engineering, 1983; Ph.D., mechanical engineering, 1985), HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology co-founder Jim Hudson (M.S., biology, 1987), professional basketball player Josh Magette (B.S., finance, 2000) and “Smarter Every Day” YouTube video producer Destin Sandlin (M.S., aerospace engineering, 2011).

Meet our leaders

UAH has had 10 presidents since the first was appointed in 1970. Each one has moved the university forward in his own unique way.

  • Dr. Benjamin Graves – March 16, 1970-Aug. 31, 1978
  • Dr. John C. Wright – Sept. 1, 1978-Aug. 31, 1988
  • Dr. Louis Padulo – Sept. 1, 1988-Aug. 22, 1990
  • Joseph C. Moquin (interim) – Sept. 14, 1990-July 14, 1991
  • Dr. Frank Franz – July 15, 1991-June 30, 2007
  • Dr. David B. Williams – July 1, 2007-March 31, 2011
  • Dr. Malcolm Portera (interim) – April 1, 2011-Oct. 30, 2011
  • Dr. Robert A. Altenkirch – Sept. 21, 2011-June 21, 2019
  • Dr. Darren Dawson – June 21, 2019-Nov. 30, 2021

Dr. Charles L. Karr is UAH’s tenth president. He joined the university on Dec. 1, 2021.

“UAH has made a remarkable impact on our students and the wider community for the past 55 years,” Karr says. “Young people choose our university because they want to be educated by the brightest faculty members. Government and community members engage with UAH as they know there are opportunities available through intensive research and collaborative learning. UAH is committed to higher learning and being a community partner for years to come.”

Get involved in 2024

UAH invites the public to join the year-long 55th-anniversary celebration, especially for the university’s signature events, including ChargerCON in the spring and Homecoming/Family Weekend/Alumni Weekend and Charger Tipoff in the fall.

UAH’s biggest celebrations always happen when its students receive their degrees. In June 1970, UAH held its first commencement ceremonies in Huntsville for a graduating class of 130. Today, the commencement exercises average 1,200 conferred degrees during the spring and the fall ceremonies.

2024’s first commencement ceremonies on May 6 will feature new blue robes and a new mace to mark the anniversary year.

To honor the 55 years in the community, UAH will embark on a fundraising campaign to support the Last-Mile Fund. Established in 2019, this program aims to prevent financial barriers to graduation by providing assistance to upper-level, degree-seeking, undergraduate students who have completed at least 90 credit hours toward their undergraduate degree and whose financial status reflects the greatest need.

UAH offers a university-wide Last-Mile Fund and one specifically for each college. Students work with their college advisors to apply for support. As of Dec. 31, 2023, more than $445,000 has been raised; 109 scholarships have been awarded; 85 students have graduated, and 21 are currently enrolled with plans to graduate soon.

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Kristina Hendrix