Gift of $20 Million Creates 10 Endowed Faculty Positions for College of Optical Sciences at University of Arizona

07 December 2018
James Wyant

On Friday 30 November, The University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences announced a $20 million gift which will support 10 new endowed faculty positions. The generous pledge - the largest gift in the university's history - comes from the college's founding dean, Professor Emeritus James C. Wyant, and his family. "This is an incredible, enabling moment for the College of Optical Sciences," said Thomas L. Koch, the college's current dean. "It gives us an unprecedented opportunity to advance the rapidly expanding ways that optics and photonics can improve our lives."

Among his other optics-focused activities, Wyant maintains a high level of involvement with SPIE, the society for optics and photonics. An SPIE Fellow and Lifetime Member, he held the position of SPIE President in 1986, and is a current member of the Fellows Committee. He was a member of the Board of Governors, Associate Editor of the SPIE journal Optical Engineering, and has participated in multiple advisory committees since 1980. He is also the recipient of multiple SPIE awards including the Chandra S. Vikram Award in Optical Metrology (2010); the Technology Achievement Award (1988); the Governors' Award (1979); and the Gold Medal (2003).

Wyant is considered a pioneer in the optics and photonics field, leading multiple successful start-ups including WYKO Corporation and 4D Technology Corporation. He joined the university as an assistant professor of optical sciences in 1974, and was named director of the Optical Sciences Center in 1999. He became the College of Optical Sciences founding dean as he led the transition of that center to a college in 2005.

In 2013, the year he retired, he made another historic gift to the college, one for graduate student scholarships. SPIE was an additional donor to that gift which established the Friends of Tucson Optics (FoTO) program. FoTO has generated 30 first-year graduate student scholarship endowments, each bearing the name of a donor. Explaining the motivation for his seminal 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. [I hope that they] ensure a pathway for the College of Optical Sciences to achieve even greater prominence and success in its education and research mission."

"It's wonderful to see this kind of thoughtful investment in the future of photonics," said SPIE CEO Kent Rochford who received his PhD in Optical Science from the University of Arizona in 1990. "This kind of generosity and positive action will increase the expertise at the college, and support growth in the photonics industry by ensuring a pipeline of critical talent for generations to come. It gives me a particular thrill to think that even more students will be able to experience the wonder of optics at the very place which was so integral to my own education and career."

UA President Robert C. Robbins noted that the Wyant family gift, which will be received over five years, provides the university with the resources needed to achieve the goal of being a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the cornerstone of the institution's new 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. 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."The Wyant 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 enhance the gift's impact, 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 endowed chair. These endowed chair funds, named by the donors, will hold a minimum balance of $2 million each and give the college the resources to hire and support more faculty.

"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."

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