$20M Gift to UA College of Optical Sciences is Largest Ever for Faculty Endowed Chairs

people posing for a photo

From left: James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences Dean Thomas Koch, Professor Emeritus James C. Wyant, and university President Robert C. Robbins.

Amee Hennig

The University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences announced Friday that it has received a $20 million pledge to support 10 new endowed faculty positions. The gift comes from the college's founding dean, Professor Emeritus James C. Wyant, and his family. It is the largest gift for endowed faculty chair positions in the university's history.  

"This is an incredible, enabling moment for the College of Optical Sciences, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to advance the rapidly expanding ways that optics and photonics can improve our lives," said Thomas L. Koch, dean of the College of Optical Sciences.

The Meinel Optical Sciences building houses the College of Optical Sciences, which recently received a $20 million gift from founding dean James Wyant and his family.

The Meinel Optical Sciences building houses the College of Optical Sciences, which recently received a $20 million gift from founding dean James Wyant and his family.

UA President Robert C. Robbins added that the Wyant family gift, which will be received over five years, provides the UA with the resources needed to achieve the goal of being a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the cornerstone of the university's recently unveiled strategic plan.

"Jim Wyant's leadership, vision and support for students has already had an incredible impact on the UA College of Optical Sciences, and his legacy is one of the main reasons why the UA is a global leader in optics and photonics. We are all very grateful to Dr. Wyant and his family for their exemplary leadership and extraordinary generosity that will advance one of the university's top priorities," Robbins said. "This new gift will support faculty and enhance our students' experience by enabling an environment that fosters leadership, learning, collaboration and connections, and it will help shape the success of UA students far into the future."

Known widely throughout the optics industry for his academic and professional leadership, Wyant has a history of co-founding successful Tucson-based businesses in optics, including WYKO Corp. and 4D Technology Corp.  

Explaining his motivation for both the endowed chairs and his previous scholarship gifts, Wyant said, "I am especially grateful to the university for its incredible flexibility when I was partway through my teaching career and wanted to start a company (WYKO). The financial success of that business has made these gifts possible."

The leading reason for his gifts, he said, is to "ensure a pathway for the College of Optical Sciences to achieve even greater prominence and success in its education and research mission."     

In 2013, Wyant made a historic $10 million gift to the college for graduate student scholarships in a campaign called FoTO, an acronym for Friends of Tucson Optics. As a result of his initial gift, more than 250 additional donors contributed and 30 first-year graduate student scholarship endowments were established, each bearing the name of a donor.      

"It's no understatement to say that Jim Wyant's visionary leadership of the College of Optical Sciences, both as founding dean and as a philanthropist, is transformative," said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. "No gift in our history as a university has created this many endowed chairs at once. This is an incredible opportunity to grow the college's impact in the field of optics, and I can't wait to watch it unfold."

Established in 1964, the College of Optical Sciences is highly regarded for its innovation and interdisciplinary research. It is now the largest and most diverse academic optics education and research program in the nation. In addition to awarding more than 2,800 degrees since 1964, the college is recognized for the impact of its research and private-sector engagements, including a prolific intellectual property portfolio that has contributed strongly to the UA's patents and licenses in recent years.  

Jim Wyant

Jim Wyant

(Photo: Amee Hennig)

Wyant is considered a pioneer in the optics and photonics field. He joined the UA as an assistant professor of optical sciences in 1974. In 1999, he was named director of the Optical Sciences Center. He then became the founding dean as he led the transition of the center to a college in 2005. 

During his tenure as dean, he oversaw tremendous growth in research as well as the expansion of the Meinel Optical Sciences building, which added 47,000 square feet of state-of-the-art teaching and research space. He retired in 2013, but continues to be involved as a professor emeritus.

The Wyant family's gift will establish the Distinguished Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences Fund, which will be used to help the college recruit a minimum of 10 stellar faculty. To further the impact of the gift, Wyant has agreed to transfer $1.5 million from the Distinguished Endowed Chair Fund into a separate endowment in optical sciences when a donor or a donor group offers $500,000 to create a new, named endowed faculty chair. These new endowed chair funds, named by the donors, will then hold a minimum balance of $2 million each and give the college the resources to hire and support more faculty.

"The extraordinary gifts received from Jim and his family come from a place of vision and trust – vision that we can accelerate the impact of optics through education and research, and trust that we will attract the best people in the world to do it," Koch said. "We are immensely grateful for their generosity and are committed to exceeding all that they might imagine could be made possible through their gifts to the College of Optical Sciences."

For more information on the College of Optical Sciences and the Distinguished Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences Fund partnering opportunity, please contact Kaye Rowan in the College of Optical Sciences Development Department, at 520-626-8754 or rowan@optics.arizona.edu.