UArizona Wyant College of Optical Sciences raises $28M for endowed chairs

Jan. 25, 2022

The success of a three-year campaign marks a historic university achievement.

Wyant Endowment

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 James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences has completed one of the most ambitious fundraising endowed chair campaigns for a single college in the university's history.

Thomas L. Koch, dean of the Wyant College, announced today that the college has received $28 million in donations and commitments to establish 14 new endowed chairs. Each endowment has been or will be established with initial gifts totaling $2 million.

"For nearly 60 years, the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences has been a powerhouse of innovation, and it is a major contributor to the university's international reputation for research excellence," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "It is impressive to see how visionary donors in our community – individuals, nonprofits and foundations – are investing to further extend the college’s impact and reach. I am very grateful for their generosity."

Following a gift from Harrison and Catherine Barrett in 2018 to establish the Harrison H. and Catherine C. Barrett Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences for Cancer Imaging, Wyant and his family made a $20 million gift to the college to support creation of new faculty positions.

Wyant is considered a pioneer in the optics and photonics field. He joined the university 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.

The $20 million gift, the largest for endowed chairs in the university's history, came with an invitation to others interested in giving to the college.

The Wyant family's gift was placed into the Distinguished Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences Fund. Each time a donor or a donor group pledged $500,000 to create a new, named endowed faculty chair, $1.5 million from the fund was added to bring initial gifts to each endowed chair to $2 million. The endowed chair was then be named by the donor or donor group.

By December 2021, the campaign reached its goal of 13 new endowed chair funds, each named by the donors, bringing the college number of endowed chairs to 14.

Koch also shared the names of the most recently established endowed chairs:

  • Jean M. Bennett Optica Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • Nelson E. Claytor Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • Robert M. Edmund Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • John B. Hayes Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences 

The previously announced chairs, in order of establishment, are:

  • Harrison H. and Catherine C. Barrett Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences for Cancer Imaging
  • J.W. and H.M. Goodman Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • Robert R. Shannon Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • SPIE Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • John Paul Schaefer Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • Nasser Peyghambarian Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • Jack Lee Jewell Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
  • Thomas R. Brown Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences

The namesakes for the remaining two endowed chairs are expected to be shared soon.

"These prestigiously named endowed chairs will unquestionably enhance our ability to recruit faculty members who will make transformational discoveries, ignite new fields and teach our students to lead," said Koch. "Our faculty, through their daring research and student mentoring, are the engine that drives innovation. Investing in our faculty, just as these amazing and highly acclaimed donors have done, will continue to provide rich, lasting dividends – to our students, to the university, and to society." 

The success of the fundraising campaign is a testament to the power of collective giving, said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation.

"This tremendous achievement began with acts of generosity that inspired giving from a wide variety of individuals and groups," he said. "The result is exponentially more security for the Wyant College, as well as more potential to innovate and continue to lead the world in optical sciences."

Since its inception as the Optical Sciences Center in 1964, the Wyant College has grown as a center of innovation and interdisciplinary research and today is the largest and most diverse academic optics education and research program in the nation. In addition to producing the talent that fuels growth in the field, the college is a prolific producer of intellectual property, bringing in a substantial number of patents and licenses.

The Wyant College has announced the namesakes for 12 of the chairs.

To house the research labs and offices for the new faculty, the college has secured three floors of UArizona's $99 million, seven-story Grand Challenges Research Building presently under construction. Located on Cherry Avenue, the nearly 115,000-square-foot facility will connect to the Meinel Optical Sciences building and is expected to be completed in early 2024.


Endowed Chairs in Optical Sciences

The namesakes for the James C. Wyant College of Optical Science's endowed chairs are accomplished faculty and researchers as well as university and industry leaders.

  • Harrison H. and Catherine C. Barrett, donor Harrison and Catherine Barrett
  • Jean M. Bennett Optica, donors Optica and James C. Wyant
  • Thomas R. Brown, donor Thomas R. Brown Foundation
  • Nelson E. Claytor, donors Richard and Linda Claytor
  • Robert M. Edmund, donors John Schaefer and Fredrick Gardner Cottrell Foundation
  • J.W. and H.M. Goodman, donors Joseph and Honmai Goodman
  • John B. Hayes, donors John Hayes and Jane Quale
  • Jack Lee Jewell, donor Jack Jewell
  • Nasser Peyghambarian, donor Nasser Peyghambarian
  • John P. Schaefer, donor Fredrick Gardner Cottrell Foundation
  • Robert R. Shannon, donor James C. Wyant
  • SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics, donor SPIE
Kaye Rowan, Executive Director of Development