College Rankings

College Rankings

U.S. News & World Report has released their 2019-2020 National University Rankings. The University of Utah is now ranked No. 1 in Utah, No. 104 nationally, and No. 44 nationally among public universities.

The College of Science fared even better. National rankings for science departments at public universities put Biology at No. 27, Chemistry at No. 18, Mathematics at No. 16 and Physics & Astronomy at No. 37. An aggregate of these rankings puts the College of Science at No. 46 nationally and No. 27 nationally among public universities.

There are many factors used to determine a school’s final ranking in the U.S. News & World Report but one factor that is not considered is cost. When cost is factored, there are few universities that challenge the University of Utah.

U.S. News & World Report does not specifically rank Science Colleges. The college rankings published here are an aggregate of their national department rankings.

 - First Published in Discover Magazine, Fall 2019



Explore the SRI

At many universities undergraduates have the opportunity to engage in scientific research only in their junior or senior years. Yet successful scientists all have the same core attributes—curiosity, communication skills and a willingness to learn interdisciplinary techniques— traits that many students already possess as freshmen. In 2020, College of Science will the give hundreds of undergraduates the opportunity to contribute to real research projects the year that they step onto campus.

The Science Research Initiative (SRI) is a team-based program that will connect students to discovery-based research early in their education to gain valuable scientific skills. The vision is to provide an opportunity to do research for any incoming student in the College of Science. Additionally, the cohort model makes research opportunities more equitable for students from all backgrounds.

The initiative is self-sustaining by design with experienced students tasked with training incoming freshman—a model that could allow hundreds of students to contribute to a principal investigator’s research for decades. The initiative has support from the university, the state, and industry partners who see the benefit of producing students who are ready to thrive in Utah’s STEM workforce.

“Research opportunities for undergraduates are transformative experiences. The problem that the college has historically faced is that there are many more science majors than there are openings in faculty research laboratories. The SRI solves that problem by scaling up the model of one-on-one faculty mentorship in the framework of vertically integrated research streams,” said Peter Trapa, Dean of the College of Science.

The SRI aims to give 500 undergraduates per year the opportunity to contribute to scientific discoveries, just like Bridget Phillips, a Crocker Science House Scholar and sophomore biology major with a math minor, had this summer.

Phillips was working in biologist Mike Shapiro’s Pigeon Genetics Lab writing code for a project looking for genes that determine the birds’ eye color. She was mining mountains of data searching for a quantitative trait locus (QTL) peak.

She was comparing the genotypes of two groups of pigeons with different eye colors. Because pigeons breeds are the same species, their genetics should look identical except for the gene locus underpinning eye color.

“I got a QTL peak that showed where the gene might be,” she said, smiling. “It was nice. I impressed the postdocs.”

Phillips has been working in Shapiro’s lab since her freshman year. She is an alum of ACCESS, a program where rising freshman in STEM disciplines join a cohort of like-minded undergrads ahead of their first semester in college. ACCESS facilitated her placement in the lab where she found her passion—coding and genetics, two things she never knew existed in a one career.

“Starting in a lab as a freshman is so useful, but the fear is that you don’t know what you’re doing. But you learn the skills really quickly,” Phillips said. “The earlier you can start, the better. If you find out your freshman year that you don’t like research, that’s good to know. If you like research, like I do, then you know what to aim for.”

The college based the SRI on a similar program at the University of Texas-Austin that impressed Henry White, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and former dean of the college who championed the initiative during his tenure. Since starting the program 20 years ago, UT-Austin has increased enrollment and improved student success, particularly among those from underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

“Students from families who’ve been going to college for generations come to campus recognizing that research opportunities are just as important as the classes themselves,” said White. “This program is meant to promote students who haven’t had the opportunity to be involved in research. We hope to introduce underrepresented, first-generation students to research opportunities, enriching their experience at the U.”

During the first semester, a cohort of students will take a research course to learn basic lab techniques that will replace a traditional prerequisite class. The second semester, the students begin work in a lab led by a principal investigator. They continue the research for their third and fourth semesters, and train an incoming cohort to create a “steady-state” model. During their third year, the students can do an internship or work on an individual project that resembles a more traditional undergraduate lab experience. The college aims to have different streams of research in data science, molecular biology and many disciplines across the College of Science.

In January 2020, a small pilot cohort began the SRI journey. White, Shelley Minteer, professor of chemistry, Markus Babst, professor of biology, and Braxton Osting, professor of mathematics, have committed to developing initial projects. The goal is to eventually have 500 freshmen, sophomores and transfer students participate every year.

SRI brings benefits beyond campus Others outside the university see benefits beyond student success. Funding has come from many sources, including corporate, foundation and individual gifts and workforce development funds from the Utah State Legislature. ARUP Laboratories, a national pathology lab, research facility and a nonprofit enterprise of the University of Utah, and BioFire, a medical diagnostics company, are sponsoring SRI because they view the partnership as mutually beneficial.

“We are constantly looking for well-qualified people to work in labs. It’s a career that’s understaffed—graduates have no problem finding a job, but there’s not a good awareness of this as a possible career path,” said Sherrie Perkins, CEO of ARUP Laboratories and professor of pathology at the U School of Medicine. “We’re so pleased to be a part of this exciting new program and to continue the pipeline of excellent students coming out of the university that we employ.”

Research opportunities indeed open many doors, agreed Rachel Cantrell, a senior chemistry major and Goldwater Scholarship recipient. Also an ACCESS alum, Cantrell has worked in Ryan Looper’s organic synthesis lab since her freshman year. At the time, she thought she wanted to be a pharmacist. Instead, she fell in love with research.

She is developing a scaffold for new antibiotic candidates, a crucial field of inquiry as bacteria are constantly building resistance to current antibiotics. Cantrell’s molecule is modeled after a natural product that kills both bacteria and human cells. Her project focuses on modifying the molecule so that it will only kill the bacteria and leave human cells alone. She plans to pursue a PhD after graduating this year. Beyond the research, the community and networking aspects of ACCESS made a big impact on her life.

“I met a lot of great people there that I’m still friends with. I got to meet faculty and was selected for a scholarship to study in Germany—the community aspect was huge,” she said. To undergrads thinking about whether they want to work in a lab, Cantrell has this advice, “You have to give it a chance. I worked as a pharmacy technician for a while, but I loved being in the lab more. Check out what you like. It can open some huge doors.” The new SRI aims to do just that.





 - First Published in Discover Magazine, Fall 2019

Excellence & Opportunity


For All Of Our Students.

The College of Science is home to a dazzling collection of world-class researchers and research facilities. Our faculty pursue fundamental questions at the forefront of science and mathematics, from global ecology to physics of the subatomic, and all the theoretical and experimental domains in between.  These are the frontiers that will define the most important scientific advances of our time.  Generating more than $40M in annual research expenditures, the College's three departments (Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics & Astronomy) and its School of Biological Sciences collectively rank 26th among public universities in the US.

We place students on exciting career paths in the fastest growing segments of today's STEM economy.  Innovative educational programs and close faculty-student interactions provide tremendous opportunities for our majors.  You will find our internationally-acclaimed faculty in our lecture halls and at our lab benches working with students.  The value of a University of Utah science education is unsurpassed: our tuition is a fifth of the cost of many of our peers. We provide opportunity to those who cannot afford to pay more for a lesser education.

These are exceptional opportunities for all of our students. We are constantly seeking ways to study and implement best-practices for student success and inclusiveness for the diverse community of learners we serve. You belong here.  We're here to help you succeed.


Tino Nyawelo

Finding Refuge in Education


by Lisa Potter

On a balmy morning in May, 10 newly graduated high schoolers and their families filed into the Sorenson Arts & Education Complex on the University of Utah campus, greeting one another with excited chatter. The parents beamed with pride—many of their sons and daughters were the first in the family to attend college. Tino Nyawelo, assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, smiled at the crowd, thinking of his own journey to the university against overwhelming odds. He cleared his throat and quickly won over the room.

Nyawelo was addressing the 2018 cohort of the Refugees Exploring the Foundations of Undergraduate Education In Science (REFUGES) Bridge Program. Based in the Center for Science and Math Education (CSME) at the U, the program aims to encourage underrepresented students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education at the university level. The seven-week bridge gives freshmen the opportunity to earn credits toward their degree and provides the funding for their tuition, meals, and housing.

Many of the undergraduates are recruited from the REFUGES Afterschool Program, which has provided tutoring, STEM workshops, and college prep and financial aid classes to more than 200 underrepresented students in Salt Lake City. Nyawelo and community partners founded REFUGES to address the challenges faced by refugee youth, minorities, women, and economically disadvantaged students in Utah schools.

Nyawelo, whose family fled violence at the outbreak of the Sudanese civil war, drew on his own experiences to help build REFUGES from the ground up. He fell in love with physics as a high school student in South Sudan, then left the unrest in his country to pursue graduate studies in Europe. When Nyawelo joined the U faculty, he wanted to pay it forward.

Tino Nyawelo

“I see myself in those kids who are brought here as refugees, maybe haven’t had schooling in the camps, and have no English. It’s such a big transition,” explains Nyawelo, director of REFUGES and of diversity & recruitment for CSME. “I’m so passionate about this because I got a lot of help with my education along the way. Mentors and outreach programs in Sudan linked me to my PhD and post-doc studies, and I didn’t pay a penny for my education. Now, I want to give back.”

Bridging the Gap

During the summer bridge program, the students live in the dorms, go on excursions, and tour research labs together to build a strong sense of community. Through the Department of Mathematics and the U’s LEAP learning community, they take two courses that count toward general education credits. During the academic year, bridge students continue LEAP and engage in internship and research experiences. The small class sizes and supportive instructors and administrators help ease the transition.

“A freshman in college has so many things to keep track of, from general education requirements to registration deadlines, financial aid, etc. It can be pretty overwhelming,” says Allyson Rocks, academic coordinator for CSME, who runs logistics for the summer bridge. “The bridge program is a good way to get used to college life instead of getting it all dumped in one semester.”

Both the REFUGES summer bridge and after-school programs have been part of the CSME since 2013. The partnership was a perfect fit; one of the center’s core missions is to increase access to U STEM programming, says Jordan Gerton, director of the CSME. Yet REFUGES is unique in that it sets nontraditional students up for success as undergraduates long before they begin college applications.

“When students aren’t getting a lot of support at home—their family is working, doesn’t know English very well, doesn’t know the school system—they’re much more likely to fall behind, even if they have talent and determination,” says Gerton. “We can’t change the school system, so REFUGES went outside of school to provide that support to keep them moving forward.”

The summer bridge is funded by the Barbara L. Tanner Second Charitable Support Trust, and the CSME and the College of Science support the salaries of the REFUGES staff. The program’s tutors are mainly paid by grants, including from the Department of Workforce Services and the Sudanese Community in Utah. They also receive contributions from individual donors.

Being part of the U helps the students access an amazing team of undergraduate tutors, many of whom went through the REFUGES program themselves. “We hire those students because they look like the REFUGES students. In my experience, I was always unique in my field of theoretical physics. Most of the time, I was the only black person. That’s hard,” says Nyawelo. “Seeing someone who looks like them gives them confidence. They say, ‘If you made it to the U, and you came, like us, as a refugee, then we can make it, too.’ ”

The After-School Program

Like many bridge participants, Jolly Karungi, a member of the 2017 bridge cohort, has had REFUGES in her life for years. Karungi began the after-school program in 2015, a year after moving to Utah following time in a refugee camp in Uganda. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Karungi, her aunt, and her siblings lived in the camp for three years, then moved to Kampala, Uganda, for another three years before being resettled in Utah.

“When I came here, I didn’t speak any English. I didn’t understand what was going on,” she explains. “I had to catch up. This program helped me a lot.”

The after-school program provides homework tutoring three times per week and includes hands-on STEM workshops for grades 7 through 12. High schoolers take ACT prep courses and financial aid workshops. The program has become a family affair; Karungi’s three younger siblings are participating, and their older brother, Fiston Mwesige, couldn’t be prouder. “They have been through many, many things in the refugee camps. So, when they came here to a completely different system, they needed some guidance to find their way,” says Mwesige. “Now, they spend most of their time thinking about the future, what they can do, how they can help the community, and how they can make the world a better place.”

The years of hard work have already paid off—Karungi recently received a full-ride scholarship to the U from the Alumni Association, and she loved living on campus with her friends over the summer. REFUGES offers more than purely academic support. “People are not just helping you with math and science problems, they’re also helping you with your personal problems,” says Karungi, who is beginning her sophomore year this fall. “It’s the best thing about it. They really care about everyone.”

The REFUGES Afterschool Program helps nontraditional students at two locations: the U campus and the Salt Lake Center for Science Education. This year, all 10 REFUGES high school seniors from the U site were admitted to the U, and seven were offered full-ride scholarships to the U or Westminster College. In all, the group was also offered more than $98,000 in FAFSA scholarships. From the Salt Lake Center for Science Education, 17 seniors were accepted to the U, and the 25 students who completed FAFSA received more than $200,000 in scholarships.

Building Refuges

In 2016, more than 65 million people were forced to flee their homes worldwide, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Of those, nearly 22 million were considered refugees. Approximately 60,000 refugees live in Utah, the vast majority of whom live in Salt Lake County, according to the U’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

To Nyawelo, the numbers are more than just statistics—many of his friends have resettled in Utah, as well as his wife and her family. While pursing graduate studies in Europe, he flew to Salt Lake City frequently, moving officially in 2007 to join the U faculty.

“I knew a lot of refugees in Utah. Some of them were my classmates in South Sudan. I was lucky—I got a scholarship, I went to university. Some of them decided to leave because of a lot of unrest, and they ended up here in Utah. I felt like I was home,” says Nyawelo.

In 2009, he and other members of the refugee community began noticing high rates of school dropouts. After visiting homes, hosting town hall meetings, and organizing a youth summit, a pattern emerged; many refugee youth come to Utah after being in camps for years with little English and intermittent formal schooling. When they arrive here, the school system places them in a grade based on their age, leaving many feeling left behind.

The partners came up with the REFUGES program to help. After winning a grant from the Refugee Services Office, the program expanded to help other communities experiencing similar problems, such as immigrant populations and economically disadvantaged students. There is nothing comparable to REFUGES, explains Gerton, because both Nyawelo and the Utah refugee community are one of a kind.

“This would not be at all possible without Tino…. He built this with his partners from scratch,” says Gerton. “He comes from one of the key refugee communities on Earth, South Sudan. He also happens to be a scientist who also happens to really want to help the community.”

—Lisa Potter is a science writer for University Marketing & Communications.

History of ACCESS

Since its inception, ACCESS has evolved and now reflects contemporary values and our increasingly globalized society by supporting students from all backgrounds in their pursuit of science and engineering. Originally named the ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics, established in 1991, with a goal of priming undergraduate women for academic and career success in science disciplines.

ACCESS was created when Dr. Hugo Rossi, Dean of the University of Utah College of Science (91’) and world-renowned mathematician, was inspired by a group of Utah women in STEM careers, and studies that found that women in science had fewer opportunities than men at the time, especially in Utah. In hopes of addressing this inequity, Dr. Rossi submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the creation of a University of Utah program to support young women interested in studying science and mathematics.

Thanks to the work of Dr. Rossi and numerous collaborators, including Carolyn Connell, Colleen Kennedy, Richard Steiner, Jacquelyn Stonebraker, and Christopher Johnson, the NSF proposal was approved and the ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics was founded. NSF funding for the program ended in 1993, but through support from the University, our community, and private donors, ACCESS continues to thrive and evolve.

The first ACCESS class (‘91) consisted of 20 science students. Since then, each year the ACCESS award has supported an average of 33 students each year. The ACCESS alumni network continues to grow and is now over 800 strong.

The program was re-envisioned in 2018 in response to changing demographic demands and under new directorship. This included establishing partnerships with the College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences. ACCESS recruits people from all backgrounds, with a particular interest in supporting first-generation college students and students from varied economic backgrounds. ACCESS seeks students with life experiences, leadership qualities, and/or goals that align with advancing gender equity in STEM fields. The 2018 cohort reflects this value.

The 2018 cohort of 32 students by the numbers:

  • 90% percent of the students qualify for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • 30% are first-generation college students

In addition, the program now begins with a newly designed, ACCESS exclusive, summer course, Science in a Changing World (SCI 3000). The curriculum in this “STEAM” (STEM with integration of arts and humanities) based course affords students with an opportunity to consider and learn about global policy, communication and STEM. Research faculty and graduate students from the Colleges of Science, Mines & Earth Sciences, and Engineering, as well as an array of campus and community program representatives participate in instruction.

Changes to the summer curriculum have made it possible to offer the ACCESS award to college transfer students for the first time in its 30-year history. This was a critical change as transfer students represent approximately 30% of the University of Utah undergraduate population (based on 2018 data). As time passes, the ACCESS program will continue to adapt to best suit the needs of the scientific, engineering, and University of Utah communities.

ACCESS works for students today, and the workforce of tomorrow, with a vision of greater inclusion, community and accessibility across STEM fields.

Professor Stacy Firth, Chemical Engineer, and ACCESS alumna (class of 1991), teaching students during Summer 2018.

Ambassadors Wanted

Do you have what it takes to be a College of Science Ambassador? Ambassadors participate in recruitment events including Red White and U day, College of Science events, high school visits, and other STEM recruitment programs, where they assist and communicate with prospective College of Science students.

Ambassadors should be well-rounded individuals with a love for the University of Utah and the College of Science! We are looking for students who have strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work in a team environment.

NOTE: Set aside about an hour because the application does not save your progress if you exit. Be prepared to provide a resume and references.



Becoming an Ambassador


  • Must be an enrolled, degree-seeking undergraduate in the College of Science
  • Must be in good academic standing with the University of Utah (3.00 GPA or higher)
  • Must be able to commit to a full academic year


  • $15 an hour with a minimum of 40 hours a semester (average of 3-4 hours a week)
  • Develop presentation, communication, and leadership skills
  • Gain public relations experience and vital interpersonal skills
  • Broaden networks throughout the University of Utah and the College of Science


  • Average weekly hours will fluctuate based on the number of programs in which an Ambassador participates, but will likely be less than 4 hours a week. University Ambassadors are permitted to have other jobs, either on or off campus, and are encouraged to be involved in other campus activities—provided that these jobs and activities do not interfere with various dates, duties and responsibilities of being a University Ambassador.

Ambassador Duties

  • Being a passionate representative of the University of Utah and the College of Science at recruitment and campus events, including those held on weekends and evenings
  • Create social media content that targets perspective and current students
  • Advise prospective students and parents about the College of Science academic programs, social opportunities, student life, et cetera
  • Participate in weekly campus tours

Important (Mandatory) Dates:

  • Ambassador Training – February 2020 (Date TBA)
  • Red, White, and U Day – April 2020 (Date TBA)
  • COS Convocation – Thursday, April 30, 2020
  • Science Day – Saturday, November 2020 (Date TBA)