First Lady Dena Kitts honored for philanthropy

Emma Tanner, Managing Editor

On Mar. 1, First Lady Dena Kitts was named an honoree of This Is Alabama’s Women Who Shape the State. A luncheon was held Mar. 8 to celebrate the 25 honorees. 

This Is Alabama, a subsidiary of, has named the Women Who Shape the State for ten years. Their goal is to honor women who have made significant, positive impacts in their community. The Women Who Shape the State come from varying professional fields and backgrounds. Over 200 nominations were sent in and 25 were chosen from the group. Kitts is the only First Lady to be included. 

“I have been so overwhelmed and honored by all of the comments, the positivity that I’ve received and the encouragement,” said Kitts. 

Kitts graduated college with a degree in English, with minors in Spanish and history. Following graduation, she worked in human resources in Florence, S.C. for nearly a decade. In the role, she overlooked OSHA, employee training and professional development. South Carolina’s Division of State Human Resources invited Kitts to receive training in career interviewing. She later helped DSHR interview and mentor young people on resume writing skills and interpersonal interviewing skills.

Kitts has served as UNA’s First Lady since 2015. Her children are the youngest to reside in the President’s Home at ages 13 and 16. She is heavily involved on campus, serving roles on Shoals Symphony at UNA Board of Directors, Derby Day Planning Committee and the Kilby Laboratory School Parent Advisory Board. She also assists the UNA Career Center in their Speed Networking interviews biannually. She finds her involvement on campus fulfilling. The Kitts family attends athletic games together, as they can easily incorporate their children.

“We never wanted to be those parents that were gone more than they were home,” Kitts said. “So athletic events became something we could do as the four of us. We would always try to go to athletic events. The best part of my day and my husband’s day is when we can be with the students.”

She also makes a point to highlight students’ work as often as she can. This past year, she worked with Ms. Chiong-Yiao Chen, professor in the arts department and University Gallery Director, to have students take photographs around campus to give to Board of Trustees members. Kitts found herself enamored with the works and chose three to showcase in the President’s Home. This is not the only student work she has featured. She has ceramics made by students in her home and has gifted them as well.

Kitts founded the Women of Influence Initiative during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also serves as the initiative’s co-chair. The initiative began with 30 members. Today, its numbers are nearing 100. The idea first began with Vice President of University Advancement Kevin Haslam and Associate VP of University Advancement Barbie Terry. The two presented their idea to Kitts — a philanthropy enterprise that brings together influential women to help “enhance and elevate the education of students.” The members pay a yearly due and are requested to attend two meetings at the university, where testimonials from faculty, staff and students are heard. 

The group’s membership drive will be Mar. 23. Kitts wants the members to become immersed in the campus through student activities and events. 

“We have so many women in our area who are philanthropic in their own right, who want to make a difference, who want to make positive change, who see student stories and say, ‘yes, we want to be a part of this,’” Kitts said. “Those types of people were on board because they are good people… Every single lady that we asked said yes.”