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Founding dean donates $10M

The College of Optical Sciences exceeded expectations, raising $12.5 million in 18 months, a large portion of the donation coming from the college’s 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.

The College of Optical Sciences has managed to raise $12.5 million for student scholarships in 18 months, despite a projected deadline of six years.

“It’s just simply astounding the change this will make, the impact is going to be phenomenal,” said Kaye Rowan, senior director of development at the College of Optical Sciences. “It will not only help the students as they pursue their education, but it’s [also] going to be an enormously strong recruiting tool for us to get the best and the brightest.”

James C. Wyant, professor emeritus and the founding dean of the college, donated $10 million out of the $12.5 million. 

“A lot of individuals saw the importance in this and were moved both by the sincerity of the impact and need but also by the incredible generosity of what Tim Wyant was offering to do,” said Thomas L. Koch, dean of the College of Optical Sciences. “It just motivated a lot of people to step forward. We had 275 people contribute to this; it’s quite phenomenal.”

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Rowan said she worked closely with the donors and that it is her responsibility to identify people who have the passion to support the college in different capacities, including scholarships.

Rowan said that the donor makeup was incredibly vast. It included alumni, faculty from the UA and other universities in the U.S., business leaders, families and family foundations.

“Not all of them had a formal relationship with the university or an education from our college, but they had some kind of interest in what our college is trying to accomplish,” Rowan said.

She said the donators believe in what the college is contributing to optics and photonics, because it affects us every day in areas such as entertainment and safety. It is also an investment in students and their passions, since they are the leaders of the future, Rowan added.

“The financial support that we can offer them in their first year is so badly needed for them,” Rowan said.

The scholarship will cover tuition for 30 scholarship recipients and offer a $20,000 stipend for first-year graduate students to live off of.

“It’s quite an opportunity,” Koch said. “Now, in their first year, they won’t have to make a commitment to work on a particular research project. They will have time to learn and understand what all the research is and all the things going on. That way, at the end of the year, they can make better and more informed choices.”

The first year is very difficult, Rowan said. The graduate work, especially in science and technology, requires focus and knowing where they want to take their research.

“There’s so many different areas of optics and photonics,” she said. “Although they might think they know what they want, they typically need to still explore that.”

Koch added that the funds will provide scholarships for about 30 students.

Lee Johnson is a first-year, optical sciences graduate student who is currently a recipient of the Kenneth and Michele Moore Graduate Student Friends of Tucson Optics Scholarship in Optical Sciences. Johnson graduated from the UA with a Bachelor of Science in optical sciences and engineering.

“I really appreciate what it has allowed me to do,” Johnson said. “There’s a community behind our college here. There’s support for the students, and it’s acknowledged how difficult it can be.”

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Updated April 10, 2021