Dr. Stephen A. Watts Endowed Support Fund in the Department of Biology

stephen_watts_web"We have to train the next generation of scientists to move beyond our current abilities and aspirations." 

As an undergraduate, working in a research laboratory solidified Dr. Stephen Watts’ desire to develop a career in science. Having joined the faculty at UAB in 1987, Watts was determined to provide similar opportunities and was quickly impressed with the interests of undergraduate students in developing and participating in research projects. “At a research university like UAB, students could participate in research at all levels, from simply volunteering in a lab to working towards the completion of an honor’s project.”  It was soon recognized that the outstanding quality of many of these student projects was equivalent to those obtaining an advanced graduate degree. Unfortunately students completed these projects with little accolade, other than the appreciation of their mentor for a job well done. Their future in science was often in question.

In 2000 Watts proposed the Fifth Year Master of Science program for exceptional students in sciences. With assistance from the Provost’s office, the Graduate School, and the Education Foundation, an advanced degree program was initiated that allowed students to be dually enrolled in the BS and MS program after completing 60 undergraduate credits. These students were engaged in research as juniors (sometimes beginning as freshman), and many completed their undergraduate degree in the fourth year and the MS in the “fifth” year of their program. These students were now well positioned to move into advanced graduate degree programs, professional schools, or into the technical work force. This early intervention and development, allowing us to identify and support the next generation of advanced scholars, was unique among universities.

Training the next generation of “super” scientists will be an essential component in maintaining our national leadership in the advancement of science, medicine, and technology. Support for training these students is extremely limited, particularly in the current economic climate. Often these students engage in projects that are novel or high risk, not fundable through traditional mechanisms. Others who have worked with Dr. Watts share in this sentiment. Initiated with a generous donation from Dr. Daniel Bishop, DDS, MS, PhD (a UAB alumnus) and Dr. Karla Bishop, DDS, MS, a research endowment fund was created. Through this fund, we plan to support activities related to student advancement in science, including stipends, research support, travel support to science conferences, professional development, and advanced mentorship training. Now, more than ever, our national challenges and opportunities require the identification and development of individuals who can excel in skills necessary for advancing society. Please join us in adding value to the next generation.