To commemorate Women’s History Month, The University of Alabama is proud to honor female trailblazers who have made a lasting contribution to the University, state, nation and beyond. Throughout March, we encourage you to learn more about each woman as we celebrate these champions of the Capstone.
In April 2016, UA graduate Vicki Hollub became the first female CEO of a major U.S. oil and gas company when she was named president and chief executive officer of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation. Hollub has worked for Occidental Petroleum Corporation since earning her bachelor’s degree in mineral engineering in 1981.
Vivian Malone Jones was UA’s first African American graduate. In 1963, Malone was accepted as a junior and graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. She later worked at the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Veterans Administration and U.S. Environmental Protections Agency, and became executive director of the Voter Education Project. In 2000, UA bestowed on her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Dianne Kirksey Floyd enrolled at UA in 1967 majoring in theatre. While at the Capstone, Kirksey Floyd founded the African American Association, now known as the Black Student Union. In 1969, she became the first African American member of the homecoming court. In 2003, Kirksey Floyd was named as one of UA’s Pioneers for Opening Doors. The Black Student Union celebrated its 50th anniversary on campus in 2017.
Harper Lee was an American novelist widely known for her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was published in 1960. The novel won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American literature. In 2007, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Lee studied law at UA for several years and served as editor of the campus newspaper. In 1990, she received an honorary doctorate from UA’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Best known for her role as Sasha Williams in the television hit show “The Walking Dead,” Sonequa Martin-Green graduated from UA in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre. In 2016, she was awarded a role as a lead actress in the television series “Star Trek: The Discovery,” making her the first African American woman to lead the cast of a Star Trek ensemble.
Sarah Patterson was the head coach of the Crimson Tide gymnastics team from 1979 to 2014. During her tenure, she built one of the most successful programs in the history of college gymnastics, winning 29 regional titles, eight Southeastern Conference Championships and six NCAA Championships. Patterson was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Patterson’s 1988 national championship team was the first women’s team in any sport at UA to win a national title. In celebration of her career, the Sarah Patterson Champions Plaza was built between Coleman Coliseum and Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
UA graduate Betsy Plank was known as a public relations pioneer, a champion of PR education and the first lady of public relations. The Public Relations Society of America Foundation established its first scholarship endowment fund in her name. Since then, the Betsy Plank Scholarship Endowment Fund has helped ensure the availability of public relations education funds for students at more than 40 colleges nationwide. In 2005, UA’s Board of Trustees established the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.
In 1970, Dr. Lena Prewitt became the first African American female professor to be appointed at UA. Before making her mark at the Capstone, Prewitt received a fellowship to work with rocket scientist Werner von Braun at NASA in Huntsville. Prewitt served as the only African American on the team working on Saturn V. In addition to teaching in what is now known as the Culverhouse College of Business, Prewitt also held teaching and administrative positions at Stillman College, her alma mater. In addition to these roles, she has been a noted speaker on manufacturing, education, equal rights and international relations, and has served on advisory commissions in various countries.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.