No longer in the middle of the desert but now sitting in the heart of a bustling city, Arizona’s first university has come a long way since its foundation in 1885.

On March 2 the University of Arizona celebrated its 125th anniversary as the oldest institution of higher learning in the state.

It is clear the UA is a much different place than it was when it started, but it has always been on the cutting edge.

The University of Arizona opened its doors to students Oct. 1, 1891. For the first semester, 32 students enrolled but only six were admitted to the freshman class. Males were placed in the School of Mining and females were in the School of Agriculture. 

“The first graduating class was only three students; two females and one male,” said Lauren Kraft, a history major studying the early history of the UA.

“The campus size was about the same as now,” Kraft said. “It was mapped out by C.C. Stephens who got the land from two gamblers and a saloon owner, however the only building on campus was Old Main, for quite some time. “

John Marchello, a professor of animal science and director of the Meat Science Laboratory, began teaching at the UA in 1965.

“The biggest difference from when I first started here is the number of people. Today the campus is much more crowded than it used to be,” said Marchello.

He said he thinks the school has progressed and made changes for the better over the past 45 years.

“The tools and technology that have evolved over the years has really made teaching much easier. Lectures are more interactive than they used to be,” he said. “My salary was also quite different. I made $10,000 a year, but that was a lot back then.”

Marchello said the good thing is that there is more scholarship money for students today, which was not the case back in the 1960s and 1970s.

From the first president, Theodore B. Comstock, to today’s 19th president, Robert N. Shelton, the UA has expanded dramatically, from the number of buildings to the number of students and staff members.

According to the UA website, there were 39,000 students enrolled in the just completed spring semester taking classes in more than 300 degree fields.

The National Science Foundation ranks the UA No. 16 among public universities and colleges for development expenditures.

To keep up the high standards of the UA, Shelton has his goals set.

“Immediate goals and long-term goals are similar; namely to attract and retain the highest level of talent: student, staff, appointed professionals, and faculty.  This goal implies setting priorities, garnering resources, and being sensitive to the total ways in which the UA can serve the state and nation,” said Shelton.

While his goals are set high, his challenges are listed out for him to keep in check with accomplishing his goals. The amount of work and efforts put into running the UA has certainly changed drastically in the past couple years.

“The presidency of major, public, research universities is a 24/7 job with accountability to myriad audiences. The visibility is unrelenting, which can be advantageous in advancing the mission of the university as well as demanding.  Fund raising occupies a major portion of time as does articulating why the mission of the university is valuable to all residents,” said Shelton.

The university has made numerous improvements to the campus and hopes to continuously advance its appearance and work toward a more sustainable student environment.

The UA provides students today with a wide range of opportunities and a diverse and rewarding educational experience.

In addition, the history of the school is not only important as we gather together to celebrate 125 years, but it is important to one professor in particular.

Martha Few, a history professor at the UA, taught a research class for senior history majors this past semester on the UA’s history to commemorate the 125th anniversary.

“I have thought about teaching this topic for awhile,” said Few. “Because of the anniversary, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to teach this to our capstone research class for history majors.”

In the class, students relied primarily on special collections to research their selected topic. They used resources including photographs, scrapbooks, memos, and news clippings, among other things, to revisit UA history on a range of topics. Each student chose their own topic, which they researched throughout the semester and presented at a reception and poster session earlier this month.

“As I understand it, it is the only commemoration of the 125th anniversary that is based on student perspectives, interests, and research,” said Few.