Wednesday, September 02, 2020

UIS celebrates 50th anniversary by reflecting on a bold legacy and looking forward to a bright future

The University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary during academic year 2020-21, as the public liberal arts university reflects on a bold legacy and looks forward to a bright future as an educational leader in central Illinois and beyond.

Billboards featuring UIS’ 50th anniversary logo and tagline “Bold Legacy. Bright Future.” are now up in Springfield. UIS also plans to celebrate the anniversary on its social media channels.

Reflecting on the anniversary, UIS Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney notes how UIS began as an upstart campus in a temporary building and is now ranked as the No. 1 public regional university in Illinois by U.S. News & World Report.

“UIS’ star is bright!” Whitney said. “Our unconventional start, our culture of thinking outside the box, our stamina and grit – these qualities continue to propel us forward, no matter the situation or the challenge. Hard work, determination and collaboration advances our mission to provide a uniquely student-centered educational experience both in and out of the classroom.”

Bold Legacy 

In 1960, a group of central Illinois citizens, united in their goal of bringing a four-year university to the capital city, formed the Springfield Committee for Higher Education. Theirs was not the first attempt to bring such an institution to Springfield, but it was successful. On June 10, 1969, Gov. Richard Ogilvie signed legislation creating Sangamon State University (SSU), which would later become UIS.

SSU was a child of its time. Conceived as an “upper-level” three-year institution, a “capstone” to the state’s community college system, SSU offered junior, senior and graduate courses.

On Sept. 28, 1970, 45 charter faculty members began teaching 811 students in temporary classrooms at Springfield’s First United Methodist Church. The first classes on UIS’ present day campus were not held until Oct. 5, 1970, due to construction delays.

Karen Hasara, who was the second person in line to register for classes and later would become a state senator and Springfield mayor, would say later many times that the establishment of SSU/UIS was the greatest thing to happen to Springfield in the last quarter of the 20th century.

“The community was very excited about having a university,” said Hasara, who was also the first UIS alumna on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. “I always say that I think it was one of the best things that happened to Springfield. It brought in a lot of people who weren’t from here, and we needed that.”

For nearly 25 years, Sangamon State University thrived, awarding its first degrees in 1971, as campus grew with the addition of Brookens Library, the Public Affairs Center (housing Sangamon Auditorium) and on-campus housing. In 1991, SSU enrolled 4,192 students, breaking the 4,000 mark for the first time.

However, changes were ahead as the state decided to reorganize higher education in Illinois. On Feb. 28, 1995, Gov. Jim Edgar signed into law legislation that made Sangamon State University the third campus of the University of Illinois. Thus was born the University of Illinois Springfield on July 1, 1995.

UIS would continue to grow in the 1990s enrolling even more students and would become a nationwide leader in online learning.

On Aug. 22, 2001, a group of about 120 freshman students would change the campus forever. The newly approved Capital Scholars Honors Program brought high-achieving first-year students to campus for the first time. In 2005, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved a new general education curriculum, making UIS a full-fledged four-year university.

“Both going with the University of Illinois and gaining four-year status meant a different future for this institution,” said UIS Chancellor Emeritus Naomi Lynn, who led SSU and UIS from 1991 to 2001. “It changed its future, determined what was going to happen. It put us in a different category.”

UIS saw a large physical growth on campus in the 2000s with the addition of Lincoln and Founders residence halls, University Hall, the Colonnade and The Recreation and Athletic Center.

“Newcomers to Springfield just take it for granted that there’s a four-year institution out here on the south side of town,” said UIS Chancellor Emeritus Richard Ringeisen when he retired in 2010 after leading the university for nine years. “I’m absolutely confident that UIS has a great future.”

UIS continued to grow in the 2010s, becoming a full-fledged member of NCAA Division II athletics in 2010 and enrolling a record 5,431 students in fall 2014. Academic programs also been expanded with the addition of programs in information systems security, data analytics, theater, exercise science, and a new bachelor of science in nursing through a partnership with University of Illinois at Chicago and Memorial Health System. In 2018, UIS also cut the ribbon on a new $21.75-million Student Union that serves as the campus’ living room.

“The Student Union was important for many reasons, but fundamentally it was important because the university experience is really about relationships,” said UIS Chancellor Emeritus Susan Koch, who led from 2011 to 2020. “It’s about building community. It’s about togetherness. It’s about meeting people and having conversations. The Student Union has been all of that and more.”

50th Anniversary Events 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UIS has delayed planning in-person activities to celebrate the anniversary but plans to mark the anniversary on campus when it is safe to have larger gatherings.

The UIS Office of Advancement will host a virtual Lunch & Learn Series as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration. The first of six events is planned for Thursday, Oct. 8. Visit for details.

For more on UIS’ history and future planned events celebrating the 50th anniversary, visit

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