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The 2010s @ the U

The decade that was.

From world-class facilities to graduation rates and degrees awarded to the amount of research conducted and knowledge transferred, the University of Utah experienced unprecedented growth in the 2010s. The banner decade was bookended by two momentous appointments.

In 2011, the U was invited to join the Pac-12 Conference, which not only elevated the sphere of the school’s athletic competitors but also of its academic peers. Athletically, the U has answered the bell. In football and men’s basketball, Utah won more Pac-12 games than they lost and contended for conference championships. And the school was crowned champions of the “Conference of Champions” four times (three times in women’s gymnastics and once in baseball).

Academically, the University of Utah also lived up to its billing, most evident in its invitation to join the Association of American Universities. The AAU is the most prestigious association in higher education. In fact, 2019 marked the first year AAU had invited new member institutions since 2012. The number of AAU schools now sits at 65.

But those weren’t the only highlights from the last decade…


The Pac-10 becomes the Pac-12 as the University of Utah joins the “Conference of Champions”

An invitation to join the Pac-12 was a great way to start off the decade and helped lead to tremendous growth in both athletics and academics.

University of Utah named to the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU)

For more than 100 years AAU has recognized the most outstanding academic institutions in the nation, and in 2019, the organization named the University of Utah as one of its 65 members

University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins.

The University of Utah selects its first female president

On Jan. 18, 2018, the Utah State Board of Regents selected Ruth V. Watkins as the 16th president of the U.

U of U Health ranked in the Top 10 for the 10th consecutive year

For 10 straight years, University of Utah Health has been one of the top 10 academic medical centers for demonstrating superior quality and safety performance as measured by the Vizient Quality and Accountability Study.

Milken Institute ranks the U No. 1 in tech commercialization

The University of Utah is the top research institution in the nation when it comes to commercializing technology innovations, according to the Milken Institute. It has “quietly evolved into one of the most prestigious research universities in the United States with a strong emphasis on commercializing its research.”

Research funding surpasses $500 million milestone for a single year

In 2018, the U achieved its most successful research funding year ever, reaching $515 million. The funding is composed of grants large and small, from thousands of dollars to study the structural health of Utah’s rock arches to millions of dollars to discover non-opioid painkillers.

The U extends its global reach with the Utah Asia Campus in Songdo, South Korea

The first classes at the Utah Asia Campus began in September 2014. Today, 337 students are enrolled in five undergraduate and two graduate programs, with the largest class (68 students) graduating last spring.

New Eccles Student Life Center expands recreation and healthy living opportunities

The long-awaited George S. Eccles Student Life Center opened its doors in January 2015. The 180,000-square-foot facility houses gymnasiums, a four-story climbing wall, indoor and outdoor pools, areas for cardio and weight training, and the largest outdoor recreation rental service in the country.

Gardner Commons replaces OSH in the heart of campus

For more than 60 years Orson Spencer Hall served as the main classroom building on campus, but those who had classes there knew it was in need of an upgrade. And that’s exactly what Gardner Commons has provided with hundreds of study spaces, 37 classrooms, 13 conference rooms, two auditoriums, science labs and its own food court.

Lassonde Studios, one of the first live-work-launch student housing complexes in the country, opens

More than 400 students reside, innovate and create at the Lassonde Studios, a five-story, 160,000-foot-square residence hall with four themed living floors.

The University of Utah is the first “Power 5” conference to launch a varsity esports program

In 2017, the University of Utah announced that the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program would form the school’s first college-sponsored varsity esports team. Since then, the esports program has competed in the first ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship and other major gaming tournaments.

The School of Dentistry is the state of Utah’s first

Utah’s first dental college admitted its first students in August 2013, opened the Ray and Tye Noorda Oral Health Sciences Building in January 2015 and has graduated three classes thus far.

School for Cultural and Social Transformation is established

Established in 2017, the new school provides an intellectual foundation for understanding and addressing some of the most pressing issues surrounding race and gender in American society, and celebrated its first graduating class in May 2018.

The For Utah Scholarship provides a fully funded path towards a University of Utah degree

The For Utah Scholarship combines federal, state and university funds to cover tuition and fees for academically qualified, Pell Grant-eligible first-time freshmen who are Utah residents. The program is the first of its kind in the state.

Three U graduates jump for joy at commencement at the University of Utah on May 5, 2017.

By the numbers

From graduation rates to research funding to renewable energy usage, here’s a glimpse of the 2010s by the numbers.

  • The graduation rate went from 56.9% in 2010 to 69.5% in 2019. That increase marked the second-largest jump for a university in the nation.
  • Total number of degrees awarded: 77,227
  • Degrees awarded in a single year increased from 6,846 in 2010 to 8,268 in 2019. In that same span, the number of doctorate and professional degrees went from 632 to 835.
  • Number of student “startup teams” (those that use Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute programs to test, develop and grow business ideas): 1,796
  • Amount of campus energy consumption that is renewable: 50%
  • Number of National Academy members: 25
  • Research funding awarded: $4,247,952,045
  • ~165,000: The number of free or deeply discounted tickets issued to campus arts events through the one-of-a-kind Arts Pass program

Notable speakers

Sonia Sotomayor

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered a truly unique speech, climbing into the seats of the Huntsman Center and engaging with the youth in attendance right there in person. Her message: seek the positive, stay hopeful, understand our differences and know that education should be more than just getting good grades.

PHOTO CREDIT: August Miller

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speaks to 10,000 people at the Huntsman Center on the University of Utah Campus on June 21, 2016.

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama’s long-awaited visit to Utah was received by a full house at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on June 21, 2016. He began with a message of seeking ways to find common ground across all humanity.

“We are all equal and have the same desires. Everyone on this planet of 7 billion people desires and has the right to desire peace and happiness.”

Alex Smith

Arguably the most well-attended commencement ceremony of the decade was when former Utah Football quarterback and No. 1 NFL draft pick Alex Smith addressed the Class of 2014.

“It wasn’t until I stopped worrying about my own validation and finally refocused my energy on things I could actually change that I finally grew as a person and as a professional.”

Conrad Anker

Alum and world-class mountaineer delivered another popular commencement keynote address.

“While emotional, the moments shared on the summit with a partner are fleeting and only half of the journey. It is cooperation that makes these expeditions possible and successful. The effective and enjoyable way that we get things done in society is through cooperation.”

Spike Lee

In March 2016, the filmmaker and activist Spike Lee spoke at the Conference on Diverse Excellence. The daylong conference for students is an annual event hosted by the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU).

Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden visited campus in 2018 as the keynote speaker to the MUSE Project’s theme year about “purpose.” Each year MUSE, which stands for My Utah Signature Experience, organizes forums and speakers surrounding a topic for that year.

Jane Goodall

The legendary conservationist Jane Goodall actually spoke on campus twice in the last decade, once in 2015 as part of a College of Humanities and again this year at the Quinney College of Law.

Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith

Critically acclaimed, bestselling authors Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith delivered the University of Utah’s Tanner Lecture on Human Values at Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Oct. 19, 2017. In a conversation format, they addressed topics such as creativity, argumentation, narrative, style and anger.