The ‘Firsts’ of UTD


Universities experience quite a few “firsts” in their early years.
Here’s a look at some of our milestones from the past five decades.
(Side note: Take a stroll through UTD history in our new interactive timeline!)
Man thinking with arm of glasses in mouth, looking off camera

First President

Dr. Bryce Jordan served as UT Dallas president from 1971 to 1981, during which UTD quickly expanded.
Not only were more buildings added — more on that in a bit — but the faculty grew from 50 to 215 and student enrollment increased from 40 to more than 7,000.
“I was the least-likely person around to be president of UT Dallas, being a historical musicologist and having been formerly the head of the music department at UT Austin,” Jordan said in a 2009 interview. “I went up to Dallas to meet with the so-called ‘selection committee’ of the faculty that was chaired by a cosmologist named Ivor Robinson.
“I was puzzled enough that I said to Ivor Robinson, ‘Why in the world would you scientists want this musicologist to be president of your university’? And I never will forget Ivor’s response, he said, ‘Dr. Jordan, you don’t know a thing about what we do, and we like it that way.’ And that’s how I became president of UT Dallas.”
UTD began accepting juniors and seniors under Jordan’s term, and he awarded the first bachelor’s degree at spring commencement in 1976. He also created the University’s first logo and chose the University’s colors – orange and green.
Black and white photo of a student handing a punchcard to a staff member

First Student Registration

Joseph Mills was the first student to register at UT Dallas. He was one of 39 graduate students who enrolled in classes at the first registration day in 1970.
Enrollment at UTD was limited to master’s and doctoral candidates in physics, earth sciences and biology until 1975.
Black and white photos of three graduates

First Graduation

The first UTD diplomas were awarded in 1973 during a ceremony in the auditorium of the Founders North Building.
Among the recipients were (from left) Wang-Kong Lam in physics, Susan Seabury Mahlum in biology and Ronald Allan Hawkins in physics.
Black and white photo of a man posing for the camera with one hand on his hip and the other hand holding a cigarette

First Nobel Laureate on Campus

Dr. Polykarp Kusch, who shared the 1955 Nobel Prize in physics, became the first Nobel laureate to teach at UTD — actually, in the Southwest — when he joined the faculty in 1972.
He spearheaded the conversion of a campus movie theater to a 2,535-square-foot, 185-seat lecture hall complete with laboratory bench and lectern. It provided the main stage from which Kusch made physics come alive for his students.
“Here, he created a course for non-scientists called Phenomena of Nature. It was a showpiece,” said the late Margie Renfrow in a 2012 interview with UT Dallas Magazine. Renfrow’s 38-year career at UTD began when Kusch hired her as a temporary office worker in 1973. “Kusch was better than Mr. Wizard. He would put ice bombs in the corner of the room so they’d go off about halfway through the lecture. He believed in things being dramatic.”
Aerial photo of campus construction in the mid-1970s

First Expansion

The Phase II construction project was a grand undertaking during Dr. Bryce Jordan’s tenure as president.
The project encompassed the additions of the Eugene McDermott Library, Cecil H. Green Hall, the Erik Jonsson Academic Center and Karl Hoblitzelle Hall.
Students in McDermott Library registering for classes

First Undergraduate Student Registration

University archivist Al Mitchell detailed the debut of undergraduates on campus in 1975:
“Registration reached 1,359 on a very hot first day, during which the lines stretched up the north stairs from the lower level of McDermott Library at many times. Final official count was 1,838 undergraduates, with 1,495 graduate students (more than doubling the 1974 enrollment) for a total of 3,333.”
Only juniors, seniors and graduate students signed up for classes that day; freshmen and sophomores wouldn’t be admitted to the University until later …
Students attending the first freshmen orientation

First Freshmen on Campus

… in the 1990s, in fact.
The Texas Legislature in 1990 authorized UTD to admit freshman and sophomore students for the first time.
The initial freshman class (you can see a glimpse of one of the first freshmen orientations above) consisted of about 100 students. The freshman class for fall 2019 will number more than 4,000 students.
Campus residence hall as seen at dusk

First Residence Hall

The first residence hall on campus opened in fall 2009. The 148,000-square-foot hall housed 400 freshmen in living-learning communities.
UT Dallas, which has since opened four more residence halls, now has more than 7,000 beds on or near campus.

First Alum to Receive Nobel Prize

In October 2015, Aziz Sancar PhD’77 was one of three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He can be seen in the above photo accepting the Nobel Prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
Sancar, who earned his PhD in molecular and cell biology, and his fellow awardees received the Nobel Prize for “mechanistic studies of DNA repair.”
He currently is the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
In 2009 Sancar received the UT Dallas Distinguished Alumnus Award, and was given University’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.