GOLDEN Anniversary

July 1, 2020, marks the 50-year anniversary of the College of Science, comprised of the School of Biological Sciences, and Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics & Astronomy.

A Brief History

Henry Eyring

When the University of Deseret was founded in 1850 in the Territory of Utah, it was primarily a training school for teachers. The newly formed university taught only a handful of topics, including algebra, astronomy, botany, chemistry, geometry, and zoology. Indeed, mathematics and physical sciences were well represented from the earliest days of the university.

By the 1920s, only six organized schools existed at the U: Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering and Mines, Law, and a two-year Medical School.

James M. Sugihara, PhD 1947

Between 1948 and 1958, through two reorganizations, the School of Arts and Sciences expanded to become the College of Letters and Science. However, the composition was enormous, including departments of air science, anthropology, botany, chemistry, English, experimental biology, genetics and cytology, history, journalism, languages, mathematics, military science and tactics, naval science and tactics, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, sociology, speech and theater arts, and zoology.

By the late 1960s, Pete D. Gardner, a prominent organic chemist at the U, had convinced the central administration that mathematics and physical sciences would be most effective if separated from the large, amorphous College of Letters and Science.

Therefore, on July 1, 1970, the College of Letters and Science was replaced by three new colleges: Humanities, Social and Behavioral Science, and the College of Science.

The disciplines of biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics and astronomy were ideally consolidated in one cohesive academic unit. Gardner was appointed as the first dean of the College and served from 1970 to 1973.

The College of Science utilized seven buildings in 1970, including Chemistry (the north wing was finished in 1968), South Biology (completed in 1969), North Biology (the James Talmage Building), Life Sciences (built in 1920 and former home the of School of Medicine), the John Widtsoe Building (housed both the chemistry and the physics departments), the James Fletcher Building and South Physics. The total faculty consisted of about 80 tenured or tenure-track professors across all four departments.

Modern Day Powerhouse

Today the College of Science is one of the largest colleges within the University of Utah, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics and astronomy, plus specialized degrees such as a doctorate in chemical physics.

The College supports nearly 2,000 undergraduate science majors and 475 graduate students and employs 143 full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty. The College also employs hundreds of adjunct and auxiliary faculty, postdoctoral fellows, research assistants, lab technicians, and support staff.

Last year, the College received about $36 million in external research funding, which is nearly seven percent of the University’s total external research revenue.

“The exceptional caliber of the College’s faculty has been a driving force behind the University’s ascension as a world-class research university,” says Peter Trapa.

The College has constructed new educational and research facilities in recent years, including the Thatcher Building for Biological and Biophysical Chemistry and the Crocker Science Center on Presidents Circle. The two buildings combined serve thousands of students each year with professional academic advising, expanded classrooms, and cutting-edge labs and instrumentation.

This year, a new project–the Stewart Building for Applied Sciences – was approved by the Utah legislature to renovate the historic William Stewart building and construct a 100,000 square-foot addition to house the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

The proposed Applied Sciences Center will be 140,729 square-feet in size, consisting of 40,729 square feet of renovated space and 100,000 square feet of new construction. Undergraduate teaching labs, research labs, and classrooms will comprise 90% of the footprint and faculty offices will use 10% of the space. The new facility will support more than 40 faculty members, 200 undergraduate majors, 115 graduate students, and nearly 5,000 students taking STEM courses each year at the U.

Building the Future

As the 21st century unfolds amidst a global pandemic, the importance of science and mathematics will only continue to increase.  Our quality of life and economic future depends on the next generation of scientists. The College of Science is refreshing its strategic plan to further strengthen and enhance its academic and educational programs and its scientific leadership in the nation. Emerging priorities include:

  • Fully implement the Science Research Initiative (SRI) in the Crocker Science Center to serve 500 undergraduates per year with specialized research opportunities.
  • Establish new endowed faculty chair positions in each department, and increase the number of endowed professorships and graduate fellowships.
  • Continue to increase the amount of external research funding received in the College per year.
  • Invest in new and existing research directions to strengthen the College’s faculty.
  • Continue to advance our commitment to diversity, and foster inclusive communities of faculty, staff, and students.
  • Increase the six-year graduation rate of declared Science majors, and increase the total number of STEM graduates at the University.

Pearl Sandick, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, has led an effort that has distilled the input of faculty, staff, and students into a coherent plan for the future.

“The College will be prepared to meet the demands of the next 50 years in science education and research,” says Sandick. “We will see our way through the current crisis,  with an enhanced focus and commitment to student success, providing the facilities and rigorous training needed to boost the number of STEM graduates in Utah.”

The College is sincerely grateful for its numerous friends and supporters over the last 50 years. Each gift, large and small, propels the College forward. Please join us to write the next chapter, and the following 50 chapters, in the College of Science.