President Emeritus Robert Witt receiving a plaque from Dr. Allen Yeilding in honor of the renaming of the UA Fellows Program

Gift to UA Fellows Program Honors Former UA President

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University Fellows Experience at The University of Alabama has been named for its founder and former UA President Dr. Robert E. Witt following a gift from the family of UA alumna Reta Mudd.

The naming of the Dr. Robert E. Witt University Fellows Program, approved by The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees on Feb. 2, celebrates the successes of its students and their community engagement over the program’s 17 years. 

Witt, who served as president of the University from 2003 to 2012 and chancellor of The University of Alabama System from 2012 to 2016, continues to support the Honors College as a professor.

“As I’ve reflected on this incredibly generous gift and honor, I know there’s a foundation to help ensure that University Fellows will endure and be a part of Honors College in perpetuity,” Witt said. 

Mudd died Oct. 20, 2022 at the age of 94. A Tuscaloosa native and UA alumna, Mudd was introduced to Honors College leadership and students around 2015. She and her son, Bill Mudd, also a UA alumnus, have since been ardent supporters of the Honors College.

Dr. Allen Yeilding, chair of the Honors College Board of Visitors and close friend of the Mudd family, said the Mudds’ gift to Honors College is an “incredible tribute” to the Capstone.

“I’ve been fortunate to be in the dirt with Honors College students for 20 years,” he said. “So, it’s an honor and privilege that Reta Mudd saw the vision and the opportunity to not only help the University and young people, but also our community, culture and country.”

Rooted in service with a focus on leadership, Honors College students selected for the Witt University Fellows Program earn a minor in social innovation and leadership, develop service projects with partners in the Black Belt and Tuscaloosa communities, and conduct research with UA professors.

Dr. Dana Patton, director of the program, said the gift from the Mudd family will also support the Witt University Fellows Program in the following ways:

  • Expanding professional development services offered to fellows.
  • Providing scholarship support to fellows for summer internship experiences and presentations at academic conferences.
  • Establishing seed grants for significant Magnum Opus projects.
  • Creating immersion experiences focused on economic development, culture and ecology and supporting shadowing opportunities with professionals in the region.
  • Procuring and maintaining an inventory of critical items to support the activities of Witt Fellows, such as work tools for the Black Belt Experience, software licenses and audiovisual equipment.

“The Mudd family’s transformative gift stands as a testament to their unwavering dedication to the advancement of higher education and the cultivation of intellectual excellence,” Dr. Tiffany Sippial, dean of UA’s Honors College, said. “This exceptionally generous endowment establishes an enduring legacy that will enrich a dynamic community devoted to fostering critical thinking, innovation and a lifelong love for learning.”

Each year, the Witt University Fellows Program receives around 350 applications from academically elite high school seniors. Finalists complete two rounds of interviews with up to 25 students selected to comprise the next cohort. 

Fellows engage with the world outside the classroom through community immersion, cultural exposure, and project design and implementation. Central to a Witt Fellow’s experience is a network of encouragement and positive challenge, and the Witt University Fellows Program strives to develop a close-knit, mutually supportive group of peers.

Alumni of the program often pursue graduate degrees in law, medicine and the fine arts and are working in finance, public education and aerospace, among other industries. 

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.