Earlier this year, the UAB School of Engineering lost a key connection to its past when Joseph Appleton, Ph.D., passed away in January. Appleton served as the founding dean of the school from 1970-1977.

In the weeks immediately following his death, family members, colleagues and friends honored his memory by contributing to the Joseph Appleton Endowed Scholarship in Engineering. The fund, which was initially established by a gift of $25,000 from the UAB President’s Office, quickly grew as more and more people contributed to Appleton’s legacy. Today, the fund stands at more than $70,000.

appleton obit“Because UAB is such a young university, one of its strengths over the past several decades has been the close, personal connections with the university founders,” said Timothy M. Wick, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Engineering. “It is their vision we continue to build upon.”

The initial funding from the President’s Office was more than just a tribute to a founding dean. It was a personal matter between a former student and his mentor. UAB President Ray Watts, M.D., was an undergraduate engineering student at UAB from 1972-1976, and he says students of that era knew Appleton as much more than just a school administrator.

“He helped recruit me into engineering when I first visited UAB as a high school student,” Watts said. “Everyone at UAB had a positive, can-do attitude, and Dr. Appleton was an important part of that. He guided me and mentored me throughout my four years and was always very supportive.”

Once the endowment from the President’s Office established the scholarship, it quickly became apparent that Watts’ relationship with the former dean was not an unusual one. Gifts from other alumni, as well as current and former faculty members, nearly doubled the amount of the endowment, and a large gift from Appleton’s family pushed it to its current value.

“Dr. Appleton was a mentor, supporter and friend to his students,” said Raymond Thompson, Ph.D., SOE class of 1974 and current president of Vista Engineering. “He was a pillar of UAB’s emergence into a comprehensive university in the 1970s, and he remains an icon of our university.”

Appleton’s career in Birmingham started in 1963, when he left a career in industry to serve as director of a new undergraduate engineering program as part of the University of Alabama’s Birmingham campus. UAB became an independent university in 1969, and two years later the School of Engineering was established with Appleton as the founding dean.

“The number of people who have contributed to this scholarship shows that Dr. Appleton is much more than a name in our history,” said Robert Blakely, director of development for the School of Engineering. “These gifts ensure that Dr. Appleton’s legacy will be one that continues to benefit UAB engineering students for generations to come.”

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UAB President Ray Watts remembers Appleton as a mentor and friend

In Memoriam: Joseph Appleton (1927-2019)

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