The University of Alabama in Huntsville (also known as UAHuntsville or UAH) is a state-supported, public, coeducational research university in Huntsville, Alabama, United States. The university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees, and is organized in eight colleges: business administration, education, engineering, honors college, arts, humanities & social sciences, nursing, professional & continuing studies, science and graduate studies.
UAH is one of three members of the University of Alabama System, which includes the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. All three institutions operate independently, with only the president of each university reporting to the Board of Trustees of the system. The university enrollment is approximately 8,500.
The genesis for a publicly funded institution of higher education in Huntsville was years in the making. Beginning in January 1950 as an extension of the University of Alabama and known as the University of Alabama Huntsville Center, classes were first taught at West Huntsville High School.
However, the university’s direction changed in 1961, when Wernher von Braun, a German rocket scientist brought to the United States under Operation Paperclip after working for the Nazi regime, helped create a research institute to provide advanced engineering and science curricula to NASA scientists and engineers. Even though Huntsville had been home to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College since 1875, and Oakwood University since 1896, this was still the era of segregation.
UAH’s first undergraduate degrees were awarded in May 1968 as part of the spring commencement ceremony at The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, (although a “cap and gown” ceremony was held in Huntsville). One year later, the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees voted to make UAH an independent and autonomous campus. Dr. Benjamin Graves, a graduate of the University of Mississippi in 1942, who was president of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi was tapped as UAH’s first president in 1970. He returned to faculty status in 1979 and retired in 1989. The first degree awarded for work completed entirely on the UAH campus was awarded to Julian Palmore in 1964. Mr. Palmore was at the time a United States Navy ensign assigned to NASA’s Research Projects Division. The first official on-campus graduation ceremony at UAH was in June 1970. The first woman to earn a PhD from UAH was Virginia Kobler in 1979, in Industrial Engineering.
UAH’s second president, Dr. John Wright, was Vice Chancellor of the West Virginia University and began his service in 1979. Wright’s term ended in 1988 and Dr. Louis Padulo, former Stanford professor and dean of engineering of Boston University, became UAH’s third president.
Huntsville leader Joseph Moquin took over the UAH presidency on an interim basis in 1990. Dr. Frank Franz, who was then provost at West Virginia University, was chosen as UAH’s fourth president. His wife, Dr. Judy Franz, accompanied him and was granted full professorship in the physics faculty. Her renown in the scientific community was reaffirmed when she was named executive officer of the American Physical Society in 1994. At the beginning of the 2006–2007 academic year, Frank Franz announced his plan to step down as president after that year. On July 1, 2007, Dr. David B. Williams, formerly a professor of materials science and engineering and the vice provost for research at Lehigh University, began serving as UAH’s fifth president. He left in 2011 to join The Ohio State University as dean of engineering. Robert Altenkirch was hired as the university’s sixth president in September 2011. Dr. Altenkirch served as president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology for nine years before joining UAH.