By Keysha Drexel
The new president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham last week told a group of Vestavia Hills business leaders and residents that he is honored and privileged to represent the great people who work at UAB during such an exciting time for the one of the state’s largest employers and key economic engines of the Birmingham metro area.
Ray Watts, who was named the seventh president of UAB last year, was the guest speaker at the April 8 Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Vestavia Country Club.
“There has never been a more exciting time for our community and for UAB than now,” Watts said. “We are placing a new emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship to drive new revenue sources and to create new knowledge-based businesses and jobs in Birmingham.”
Watts replaced UAB’s sixth president, Carol Garrison, who retired in August 2013.
Watts and his wife, Nancy, a retired UAB nurse, have five grown children and lived in Mountain Brook before Watts was named the new UAB president and moved to the president’s residence in Redmont.
A graduate of West End High School and alumnus of UAB, Watts was named the dean of the UAB School of Medicine in 2010. He also has degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and did his residency and fellowship at Harvard Medical School.
As the new UAB president, Watts is charged with leading the university into the future. He talked about his vision last week at the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce event.
“We are working to put together a comprehensive plan that is all about providing great patient care, education and research,” he said. “We also want to work with our partners to create new high-tech jobs in Alabama.”
Watts has a background in neurology and played a key role in accelerating neuroscience research at UAB by helping establish the UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center, which has supported research that could lead to commercialized products.
“We want to grow our new research areas that will bring new jobs and will also bring tremendous new NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding to UAB,” Watts said.
Watts said the added emphasis on research and innovation will ensure that UAB is at the forefront of exciting advances in medicine.
“In the next few years, you will be able to have your genome sequenced, and we will be able to make diagnosis and prescribe treatments much earlier,” Watts said. “That’s really going to revolutionize medicine,” he said.
Watts talked about UAB’s “Give something, change everything” fundraising campaign launched late last year. The campaign’s goal is to raise $1 billion.
It is the university’s largest fundraising campaign ever and will run through 2018.
Watts said the campaign will help UAB’s goal to strengthen its position as one of the nation’s most productive and dynamic universities.
“The Campaign for UAB, the largest and most comprehensive philanthropic campaign in our university’s history, will focus on the gifts that make a difference because we aim to have a truly transformational impact–revolutionary advances in research and patient care, innovative academic programs for 21st century fields, enriched arts and cultural opportunities and robust economic growth,” Watts said in his President’s Message on the UAB website.