Explore UAB

Amelia and Rocky Barnes.Willie and Cynthia Ballard

When you meet Willie and Cynthia Ballard, one of the first facts you’ll learn about them is that they are the proud—emphasis on proud—parents of eight children, six of whom are still living. Also on the shortlist of need-to-know facts about them is that they are strong believers in the correlation between higher education and an individual’s improved quality of life, an improved quality of life they staunchly desired for each of their children.

But, as any parent will tell you, formal education, especially with the high cost of college, is not an easily achievable task without support.

Despite a successful career at Southern Company and Alabama Power as an engineer—a career that spanned 40 years—Willie said that the thought of sending all his children to college presented quite a challenge to he and his wife, Cynthia, who was a stay-at-home mom for years and volunteered and worked as a substitute teacher for Birmingham City Schools.

“As we concentrated on nurturing an environment for learning at home with a foundational Bible teaching, we were so overwhelmed by how God touched the hearts of others who recognized our children’s academic achievement in the classroom and provided opportunities for scholarships to enable them to go to college,” Willie said.

Cynthia remembered the joy of her younger twins—attending Ramsay High School at the time—when they were accepted and invited to a UAB-sponsored STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) summer program.

“It was a blessing to see them participate in a program made possible by UAB to enhance their out of the classroom experience over the summer with professors who devoted their time and energy in a unique learning experience,” she said. “I still remember those programs, and them smiling and talking about different activities and projects they were participating in.”

This ultimately led to the twins, inspired by their older sibling who graduated in engineering, to also pursue a career in the field.

The Ballards’ two oldest sons attended UAB, one on a scholarship. Both sons finished at UAB, and each obtained a job in their chosen field. All of the Ballards’ children are graduates of Birmingham City Schools and went on to obtain higher education degrees from local colleges. The family said they recognize the value UAB brings them and the city of Birmingham.

So, when it came to giving back, Cynthia said the question on the Ballard family’s mind was “Why not UAB?”

Willie, a retired engineer, said he was particularly impressed by the diversity efforts of the UAB School of Engineering’s Dean Jeffrey Holmes, M.D., Ph.D. (Though he went to another university, Willie took evening graduate school engineering courses at UAB and a refresher course that helped him obtain his license as a registered professional engineer.)

All of the pieces added up, and the picture became clear: The entire Ballard family would come together to create a $50,000 scholarship to support underrepresented students in engineering. It is named the Willie and Cynthia Ballard Endowed Scholarship in Engineering but represents the entire family.

“Our family is very close, and we got together and wanted to do something because the Lord has been so good in blessing our family,” Willie said. “We wanted to do something to encourage other families in similar situations as we were, who want to see their children go to college and achieve their dream.”

The gift will be used to provide support to underrepresented students, and, in turn, supports the School of Engineering’s goal of promoting a diverse student body—which is key to its educational mission. Preference will be given to students from Birmingham.

“Because of our love for this city and for what UAB has meant to us, we wanted to do something special,” Willie said. “At UAB, we really felt like we could touch and fulfill the vision we had as far as being able to reach underrepresented kids who have a desire to go into engineering. We were really touched by UAB’s efforts and wanted to be a part of it.”

The Ballards made the gift in December 2021, which will award a scholarship to two engineering students annually, awarded every fall. The family also made an additional gift of $2,000 to jumpstart the scholarship program so that the first two students will be awarded in fall 2022.

“Diversity is one of UAB’s greatest strengths, and it is also one of the most important ways UAB Engineering is changing our profession,” Holmes said. “I am so grateful for the Ballards’ leadership in helping ensure that students who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to pursue engineering will now be able to realize their potential and launch their careers at UAB.”

Willie said he knows because of the generosity of others that his children were able to apply for scholarships and go to college.

“This just confirms to me that if you have a passion in your heart to achieve your God-given dream, God will touch the hearts of people to provide resources and opportunities to make a way to fulfill the dream He has given you,” he said.

Cynthia, empowered by her belief that “it’s always more blessed to give than to receive,” said she hopes one day other families will be able to follow the Ballards’ example and that their gift will inspire others to give back as well.

Willie said it is his family’s desire to not just be blessed, but to be a blessing.

“We wanted to do our part,” he said. “[God] was so gracious in blessing us. We want to be able to give back, and our hope is, one day, [the recipients] will be able to look back and see the importance of perpetuating it and giving back themselves.”


Give Online

Make a gift online, give through payroll deduction, or contact us to discuss the impact your gift could have on UAB.


Give By Phone

(205) 934-7242


Give By Mail

UAB Gift Records
AB 1230, 1720 2nd Avenue South
Birmingham, AL 35294-0112
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.