Faculty

President Garrison reflects on UAB's history and entrepreneurial character

President Garrison in an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 2010:

"UAB’s evolution from strictly an 'urban' or 'commuter' university into a world-renowned research university and medical center is a really remarkable story about entrepreneurialism, resourcefulness and collaboration. These qualities above all, I think, drove UAB’s ascent, and at the same time, the economic and social renaissance of Birmingham from primarily a steel town to a thriving nexus of research and medicine, banking and other service industries.

 

UAB became one of the three autonomous campuses of the University of Alabama System in 1969, but the story begins well before that. The genesis of medical center was in the early 1900s (with the Hillman and Jefferson hospital complex), and the Medical College of Alabama (originally located in Mobile, then moved to Tuscaloosa) was relocated to Birmingham in 1945. Meanwhile in 1936, the University of Alabama had opened a modest 'extension center' in Birmingham, in a two-story clapboard house—the dining room housed the library and bedrooms were converted to classrooms for an inaugural class of 116 students. All this coalesced into an academic medical center that, since mid-20th century, has been attracting some of the finest medical and scientific minds from around the nation and world. What attracts them?

 

Well, the biggest key to understanding UAB’s story, and its success, is this: From the beginning, funding and resources were very tight, and as faculty and students were forced to share lab space, classrooms and equipment, they were also sharing knowledge. The result of that was an incredibly collaborative, interdisciplinary culture that flourishes to this day. As the sciences really started to merge and become less compartmentalized—and NIH and NSF started looking more and more to fund interdisciplinary research—UAB was already doing that kind of research out of necessity. What began as a disadvantage soon became a distinct competitive edge. So collaboration isn’t a mere selling point for UAB; it is in the DNA of this institution. Consequently, UAB is ranked 27th nationally in federal research funding (according to NSF) and consistently in the top 25 in NIH funding, and physician-researchers, scholars and students who truly want to be on the leading-edge continue coming to campus to do just that.

 

That collaborative culture permeates all schools and departments—in the social sciences, arts and humanities as well as science and medicine—and engages students at all levels, starting in their freshman year. Undergraduates are afforded unrivaled opportunities for research, scholarship, and mentoring (through the Honors Academy and innovative courses such as the undergraduate neurosciences program) that they might not otherwise have until their graduate years. These opportunities to study and research alongside internationally-respected faculty have been largely responsible for bourgeoning enrollment, from undergraduates to doctoral students. Indeed, fall 2009 saw UAB’s largest overall enrollment ever at 16,874 and its largest graduate enrollment at 5,193.

 

I would also point out that this collaborative culture doesn’t end at the edge of campus. UAB’s success has involved longtime collaboration and partnership with our community and state, which continue to be overwhelmingly supportive. Even amid an economic downturn, UAB had its biggest fundraising year ever (another record) in 2009. Meanwhile, UAB continues to provide exceptional teaching, research and service, and drive economic growth with an annual impact of $3.6 billion on the state of Alabama."