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College of Optical Sciences to be renamed after founding dean

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Courtesy of Jacob Chinn / UA Alumni Association

James C. Wyant in front of the Meinel Optical Sciences building. Wyant, the founding dean of the College of Optical Sciences, donated $10 million of the $12.5 million raised for scholarships.

This spring, the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences will be renamed in honor of its founding dean, James C. Wyant, for the many contributions he has made to the school. 

Wyant served as the director when it was only a center in 1999, became the founding dean when it became a college in 2005  and is now a professor emeritus of the college. Wyant said he doesn’t know if he deserves it.

When Wyant first heard of the proposal, he told them, “No.”

He questioned why he was selected when there were so many other people who did so much for the school as well. 

“But you know, I thought about it for a couple of days, and I said, ‘This is crazy. Why do I say no? I should say yes, this is fantastic!’” Wyant said. “Of course I am happy to receive [the honor].”

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Thomas L. Koch, the dean of the College of Optical Sciences, said the process of the selection proposal was very involved. Several communities and the faculty senate voted on it, and many supported the decision because it was Wyant. 

Koch said to have Wyant’s name attached to the college was a honor in itself and it would further increase its visibility. 

Over the years, Wyant had donated more than $30 million in support of the college. In 2013, he had donated $10 million for student scholarships and set the record for the largest scholarship gift ever received at the UA. 

Wyant said that he did this for a couple reasons. 

“First off, [the college] gave me a job that I've enjoyed,” Wyant said on how much he enjoyed teaching, working with students and research. “Then, when I wanted to start a company, they let me start the company. They didn't put any constraints on there, I still was teaching and had research programs at the university.”

Even when Wyant wanted to spend more time with his company, he said the college was still supportive of him. 

“They let me keep tenure," Wyant said. "So when I sold the company, and I wanted to come back, they let me come back, and they’ve just treated me so well.”

Koch said one of Wyant’s biggest contributions was his vision of the college.

“He has set a very high standard,” Koch said, adding he is not sure anyone could top it. 

Koch became dean after Wyant stepped down in 2012. 

Though retired, Wyant is still active in the College of Optical Sciences. Although the college is to be renamed after him, he said he thinks it will not change how excellent the college already is. 

“If you go to chemistry, physics, astronomy, medicine or engineering, or whatever you are interested in, we have not only the expertise in the college of optical sciences but also joint faculty members all around the world,” Wyant said. “It’s a wonderful place, and I truly feel it's the best place in the world to the study and research optics and photonics.” 

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The renaming of the college will be part of Wyant's legacy, but Wyant said he wants to be remembered by the other things he did throughout his career. 

“It’s nice that people will remember me by the name of the college, but I want people to know that I liked to start companies, and I liked to work with other people, and together we can do much more than any could do by ourselves.” 

Koch said the college plans to have an official renaming ceremony sometime this April. 


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