UAB President Ray Watts, M.D., was an undergraduate engineering student at UAB from 1972-1976. During those years, the School of Engineering was led by the founding dean, Joseph Appleton, Ph.D. During a recent interview, Watts reminisced about Appleton's influence on him as a young student, recalling a man who was very engaged with the students in the school.


joe appletonUAB Engineering: You were an undergraduate student at UAB when Dr. Appleton was dean. From a student’s perspective, what was he like as an administrator?

Watts: He was very open and inviting, even before I was a UAB student. He helped recruit me into engineering when I was visiting colleges. Everybody I met at UAB had a positive, can-do attitude, and he was an important part of that. He guided me and mentored me throughout my four years (1972-1976). He encouraged me to get involved in a lot of programs. For example, he recommended me to be the UAB representative to the governor’s Highway Traffic Safety Student Advisory Panel during a time when there was a lot of emphasis on decreasing deaths from automobile accidents.

Dr. Appleton was always supportive and always positive, and looking back on the successes I had as a student, I can see that he played a big role in that. He was a big part of the reason why I loved my time at UAB.

UAB Engineering: Did you know when you decided to attend UAB that engineering was going to be a path to medical school?

Watts: No. I came here because I wanted to study electrical engineering, and I liked math. I worked with biomedical engineers at Spain Rehab after my second year and really liked biomedical engineering—particularly understanding speech and disorders that affected speech.

I applied to a Ph.D. graduate fellowship program in engineering at MIT and to medical school at the same time, and I wasn’t sure which to do as a rising senior. Dr. Appleton was very supportive behind the scenes at that time as well.

He was the kind of person who was always supportive and ready to help a young person figure out the best path for them. This is why it’s very important to me that this scholarship is established to continue to provide support to future generations of engineering students as part of Dr. Appleton’s legacy.

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