Progress and change: University of Montevallo marks 125 years of higher education

Published 2:07 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By EMILY SPARACINO | Staff Writer 

MONTEVALLO – A walk along the brick streets of the University of Montevallo campus provides a sense of the institution’s longevity spanning multiple generations and decades.

This year presented an opportunity for current and former administrators, faculty, staff and students to commemorate UM’s past and to consider how events over the years have shaped the university into what it is today.

UM marked its 125th anniversary this year, a milestone highlighted during the Founders’ Day celebration in October.

“This institution was born of challenge, born of progress and change, and it was our adaptability that continues to ensure success in both the classroom and later for our students in society,” President John W. Stewart III said at the ceremony. “I stand here today, both grateful and proud.”

UM traces its roots back to 1896, when the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School opened to nearly 150 women pursuing training as teachers, bookkeepers, artists, musicians, dressmakers, telegraphers and milliners.

AGIS became Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute in 1911, and in 1919, the phrase “and College for Women” was added to the name.

Four years later, the school became Alabama College, State College for Women, a degree-granting institution.

Two men enrolled in January 1956, followed by more than 30 more, ushering in a new era in the life of the school.

In 1968, UM was integrated peacefully as three Black female students enrolled for the fall semester. They were followed the next fall by two Black male student-athletes.

In 1969, the school changed its name to University of Montevallo, and its four distinct colleges – Arts and Sciences, Education, Business and Fine Arts – were soon established.

As Alabama’s only public liberal arts university, UM offers degree programs in more than 70 academic disciplines.

UM’s progression since its founding is especially meaningful considering the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented in the last two years.

During the 2021 Founders’ Day ceremony, Dr. Carl A. Stockton, chancellor of Auburn University of Montgomery, received the 2021 President’s Award for his efforts to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to UM faculty and staff in the early months of the pandemic, thus enabling the university to continue its mission to educate its students.

Professor Carey W. Heatherly, archive and special collections librarian, served as the keynote speaker for Founders’ Day and recounted the history of the university from the inception of the idea in the mind of Julia Tutwiler to current day, including anecdotes and recognition of people who contributed to the success of the school along the way. Heatherly received a plaque honoring his diligence in preserving UM’s history.

In addition, Dr. Steven Peters, dean of the College of Fine Arts, presented the University Scholar award to Dr. Tiffany Wang, associate professor of communication studies and director of the Progression to Profession Quality Enhancement Plan (P2P), for exhibiting exemplary strides in creativity, research and scholarship.

Then, Dr. Ray Ozley, associate professor of communication and president of the Faculty Senate, presented the Faculty Service Award to Dr. Cynthia Tidwell, professor of chemistry and coordinator of the Undergraduate Research Program, for her accessibility to students and her leadership in the promotion of undergraduate research.

In addition, Ozley presented a proclamation by the Faculty Senate recognizing the efforts of the university staff who continually provide support functions necessary for daily operations, particularly during the pandemic.

Many logistical changes were necessary to keep the university viable during periods of quarantine, and many staff members were critical in facilitating the adjustments.

Cynthia Todd, president of the University of Montevallo National Alumni Association, presented awards to the following individuals selected by the UMNAA Board of Directors based on their dedication to UM and the accomplishments they have made in their personal and professional lives:

  • Joshua Miller, director of counseling services. Miller received the Outstanding Staff Service Award, which recognizes excellence in service and loyalty to the university, for his diligence in strengthening the university’s counseling programs and for arranging a significant increase in counseling services during the pandemic.
  • Dr. Bruce Finklea, associate professor and coordinator of mass communication. Finklea received the Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award recognizing dedication to the provision of a quality education and his impact on students through the teaching-learning process. He has received several national broadcasting awards and has contributed to a number of communication-focused textbooks.
  • Sandi Falkenhagen, who graduated from the university in 1968. Falkenhagen received the Mary Lou Elder Williams Alumnus Loyalty Award honoring her many years of loyalty and dedication to the University of Montevallo through her contributions of time, talents and resources. She served on the UM Alumni Board of Directors for 13 years, chairing several committees.

2021 has brought other positive developments at UM into focus, including ribbon cutting ceremonies for two new buildings, Allison and Michael Stephens Hall and the Center for the Arts.

Allison and Michael Stephens Hall is a 10,000-square-foot facility serving students in the Michael E. Stephens College of Business.

The Center for the Arts measures 36,750 square feet and serves students in the College of Fine Arts departments of art, communication, music and theatre and adds a dance program to the college.

And once again, UM was named one of the top institutions of higher learning in Alabama by, a website that recognizes colleges and universities that provide a strong education at an affordable cost.

The 2022 College and University Rankings compared more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the country, and UM was the second-highest ranked in Alabama compared to other public and private colleges and universities in the state.

Like the red brick streets the campus has become known for, UM’s first 125 years have paved the way for more progress in the years to come.