Auburn Alumni Association to establish Dr. Josetta Brittain Matthews Memorial Endowed Scholarship for underserved students

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The Auburn Alumni Association Board of Directors has approved the creation of the Dr. Josetta Brittain Matthews Memorial Endowed Scholarship to support Auburn University’s goal of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion among its student body, which is key to its educational mission. The scholarship will provide support to undergraduate students whose financial need makes attendance at Auburn cost prohibitive.

Matthews was the first Black student to earn a degree from Auburn, earning a master’s degree in 1966 and a doctorate in 1975, both in education. She was also the first Black faculty member at the university, joining the College of Liberal Arts as a French and history instructor around 1972. In 2005, the Auburn University Board of Trustees awarded an honorary doctorate to Matthews, who passed away in 2019. 

“I am very proud of the Auburn Alumni Association Board of Directors’ demonstration of support for the university’s goal of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion among its student body,” said Gretchen VanValkenburg, vice president of alumni affairs and executive director of the Auburn Alumni Association. “This need-based, memorial scholarship will make a positive difference in the lives of underserved students from the state of Alabama by opening the door to the educational opportunities that will allow them to pursue their educational dreams.”

Matthews’ daughter, Heidi B. Wright ’20, who teaches special education at Auburn, said her mother not only made history, she also loved it. 

“My mom was a true historian,” Wright said. “I loved listening to her explain history to me in her unique way that made me understand things happening in the world. She had a knack for making you understand any world event by bringing history into the future. She could give you the historic background information on wars, culture, gender differences and politics that made you understand the world around you.

“She told me, ’I love what I do!’ I know she is smiling from heaven on Auburn University.” 

Van Henley, chairman of the alumni board, led the efforts to honor Matthews.

“I am excited the Auburn Alumni Association is investing in the goal of increasing diversity within Auburn’s student body by endowing this scholarship in memory of a true trailblazer,” Henley said. “The alumni association hopes the Auburn Family will join in the effort to make it possible for more qualified underrepresented students to attend Auburn by making gifts to this scholarship.” 

For more about Matthews’ story, visit

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.