History of the College of Science

For more than half a century, the UTA College of Science has been preparing generations of scientists to blaze new trails in the fields of biology, chemistry and biochemistry, Earth and environmental sciences, mathematics, physics and psychology. As the College has grown in size and stature over the past 50+ years, so too have its contributions to research and science education. 

Science education at UTA prior to 1965

UTA originated as Arlington College in 1895. It was co-founded by Arlington civic leader Edward Emmett Rankin, Lee M. Hammond and William M. Trimble, to improve the availability of quality education in the recently founded rural town. A private institution, Arlington College’s first class of roughly 75 students received schooling from elementary to today’s high school level. The college consisted of a single wood frame, two-story building located at the current site of the E.H. Hereford University Center. In 1902, the school was converted into Carlisle Military Academy, which included classes in physics, chemistry, geology and botany.

In 1913, the institution was renamed Arlington Training School, but it retained its emphasis on military training. A new annex building was completed to the southeast of the original building in 1916, with biology, chemistry and physics labs located in the half-sunken basement floor. In 1916-17, the institution operated as Arlington Military Academy. In 1917, the school became a branch of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University). The institution was renamed Grubbs Vocational College, in honor of Judge Vincent Grubbs, who led a campaign to create the school. New buildings were constructed, including a three-story brick administration building now known as Ransom Hall, which opened in 1919. It included a classroom and laboratory designated for chemistry and another room designated for “science use”.

In 1923, Grubbs Vocational College was renamed North Texas Agricultural College (NTAC); it included junior and senior level high school courses as well as freshman and sophomore level college courses. In 1928 the first building specifically designed for science classrooms and labs was completed, with facilities for biology, chemistry, physics as well as agriculture. Geology, mathematics and psychology classes were held in other buildings. Originally named the Science Building, it is known today as Preston Hall. A structure which became known as the Roundhouse was built adjacent to the Science Building. It was originally utilized for showing livestock and was later used for art classes and history department offices before being converted into the institution’s first planetarium in 1981.

NTAC became Arlington State College in 1949; the institution was by this time the largest state-supported junior college in the Southwest. In 1949, Science Hall was completed to the west of the Science Building, which was renamed Preston Hall. Science Hall contained classroom and lab space for biology, chemistry and physics classes. In 1951, the Geosciences Building was completed, providing classroom and lab space for geology courses just to the north of Science Hall. An addition to Science Hall was completed in 1965.

In 1959, after more than a decade of effort by administrators, Arlington State College became a four-year institution. Academic units were organized under the School of Arts and Sciences — which included the departments of biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics, physics and education/psychology — and the School of Engineering. With ASC’s enrollment growing steadily, administrators lobbied the Texas A&M System board for additional funding and for the creation of graduate programs. ASC administrators felt their school’s interests were being unfairly subordinated to College Station. After five years of being denied increased funding by Texas A&M’s board, and with support from North Texas state legislators and business leaders, a bill to transfer ASC to the University of Texas System was passed by the Texas Legislature in 1965.

A new era: 1965 and the School/College of Science

In 1965, ASC’s academic structure was reorganized with the creation of the School of Science, the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Business Administration joining the School of Engineering. In 1967, ASC was formally renamed The University of Texas at Arlington. The School of Science, which was comprised of biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics and physics, was renamed the College of Science in 1973. The psychology department — which was combined with sociology from 1928-48 and then with the education department until 1960, when it became its own department — was part of the School of Liberal Arts until 1975, when it moved into the College of Science. In 1992, the Department of Chemistry became the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Department of Geology became the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in 2007.

From its creation in 1895 as Arlington College into the 1960s when it was Arlington State College, the institution’s focus was on teaching. The move to a four-year college and the expansion of facilities and of faculty hiring led to the introduction of research programs by faculty members in various departments. The introduction of graduate-level studies also served to build the College’s research profile as faculty recruited graduate students to conduct research in their laboratories while working on their degrees. More and more faculty began applying for and receiving state and federal grants to support their research.

Although UTA is recognized today as having one of the most diverse student bodies of any university in the United States, that wasn’t always the case. The institution did not allow minority students to enroll until fall 1962, when the first African-American students were admitted. Scarlett Maxwell became the first African-American graduate of Arlington State College when he received a B.S. in Biology in June 1966. He went on to medical school and an extremely successful career as a physician and medical field executive. Today, the College of Science mirrors the rich cultural diversity found in the University as a whole, with students of every ethnic and religious background, from every state in the U.S. and from countries all over the world.

Numerous departments launched graduate programs once ASC became a four-year institution. The mathematics, physics and psychology departments began offering master’s degrees in 1966, followed by biology and chemistry in 1968 and geology in 1970. The creation of Ph.D. programs at UTA would prove to be a prolonged struggle. The state’s coordinating board for higher education programs wanted to avoid the expense of the state offering new advanced degrees which were already offered at other institutions in the same geographical area. Gradually, through the determined efforts of faculty and administrators, doctoral degree programs were implemented. Psychology began offering a Ph.D. in 1971, followed by mathematics in 1974. D.Sc. degrees in chemistry and physics were added in the mid-1980s; these were changed to traditional Ph.D. degrees in the 1990s. The biology and geology departments also added doctoral programs.

The College of Science celebrated its 50th anniversary as a separate UTA academic unit in 2015-16. 

New facilities for a growing College

With enrollment in science and other programs growing rapidly in the 1960s, more facilities for classrooms and laboratories on campus became essential. In 1970 the new Business Administration and Life Sciences Building opened on the southern end of campus, with classroom and lab space for biology and psychology (the School of Business moved into its own building a few years later). In 1981, years of effort by physics professors Ulrich Herrmann and Cecil Thompson succeeded in securing funding to turn the Roundhouse into the University’s first planetarium and astronomy classroom space.

The triangular-shaped Nursing and Math Building — which boasts 154,000 square foot of space for mathematics and nursing classes and cost $12.4 million — opened in 1982. It was renamed Pickard Hall in 1995 for the founding dean of the School of Nursing, Myrna Pickard. Mathematics classes had previously been housed in Ransom Hall until 1960, then in Science Hall and in Trimble Hall.

The Chemistry Research Building (CRB) opened in 1996. It contains laboratory and classroom space as well as offices for faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The facility was renamed the W.A. Baker Chemistry Research Building in April 2005 for Baker, a professor of chemistry who came to UTA in 1971 as the first dean of the Graduate School. Two years later he became vice president for academic affairs — a position he held for 20 years. Under Baker’s direction, the University added 49 degrees, many at the master’s and doctoral levels.

In March 2006, the Chemistry and Physics Building (CPB) opened just to the east of CRB. The 123,678 square foot, $39.9 million facility includes the UTA Planetarium, a state-of-the-art facility which features a 60-foot-tall dome and the latest in digital projection technology and which is widely regarded as one of the top planetariums in the nation. The CPB also contains lab space for chemistry and physics faculty members in addition to teaching labs.

A major resource for collaborative research, the Engineering Research Building (ERB), opened on the north end of campus in 2012. The $126 million facility has 234,000 square feet of lab and office space, with the College of Science occupying one-third of that space. The ERB and its state-of-the-art labs provide unparalleled opportunities for joint research projects among biology, biochemistry, biophysics and bioengineering scientists and their students.

In September 2018, the newest crown jewel on campus – the $125 million Science and Engineering Innovation and Research (SEIR) Building – opened. The 229,000-square-foot structure, located just south of the Life Sciences Building, provides students and faculty with the best in teaching and research facilities. The SEIR Building’s state-of-the-art lab facilities are research neighborhoods which focus on interdisciplinary and collaborative research and are making significant contributions to the University's growing excellence in health science initiatives. SEIR also houses the North Texas Genome Center (NTGC), which is the only facility of its kind in the UT System and in North Texas. NTGC is a key research hub and offers whole genome sequencing and data interpretation on a fee-for-services basis.

Visionary leadership: Deans of the College of Science

Samuel Thomas “Tom” Keim, a professor of economics, served as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences from 1959-65, when he became vice president for academic affairs. For the 1965-66 academic year, Allen Herndon served as dean of the School of Science on an interim basis. In September 1966, Peter Girardot, a professor of chemistry who came to ASC in early 1966, became the first dean of the College of Science. He served until 1973, when he returned to teaching full-time.

William Meacham, a professor of biology, took over as acting dean in 1973 while the search for a new dean was conducted. In 1974, professor of biology Howard Arnott moved into the dean’s office, where he served until 1990, making him the longest-tenured dean in the College’s history. Following his departure, professor of physics S. Peter Rosen took over as dean from 1990-96. When Rosen retired, professor of psychology Verne Cox stepped in and served as interim dean from 1996-98.

Cox was followed by Neal Smatresk, a professor of biology who served as dean from 1998-2004. His tenure was followed by that of Paul Paulus, a professor of psychology who led the College from 2004-09 before returning to his research and teaching. Pamela Jansma, a professor of earth and environmental sciences, took over as dean in 2009, becoming the first woman to lead the College of Science. Jansma departed in 2014 and was replaced on an interim basis by professor of biology James Grover from 2014-15. In August 2015, professor of chemistry Morteza Khaledi came to UTA and became the 10th person to serve as dean of the College of Science. His bold leadership is helping the College reach new heights in innovation, discovery, and learning.