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UT Tyler Celebrates 10 Years of Phenomenal Growth, Success

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In 1998, The University of Texas at Tyler welcomed its very first freshman class with a new leader at the helm, UT Tyler President Rodney H. Mabry.

The university and the community knew this historic moment would change the face of the campus. But no one could have guessed the transformation that the university would undergo in the next 10 years and the impact it would have on the entire region, the state and the future of higher education.

This year UT Tyler celebrates a decade of excellence and unprecedented growth under the leadership of President Mabry.

In the past 10 years, enrollment more than doubled to over 6,000 students. Donor support has increased and helped to launch a multimillion dollar building campaign. Sponsored research awards rose to $7.4 million. The university started an NCAA Division III athletic program and made exciting campus life additions. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved UT Tyler’s first Ph.D. program in nursing. And the list goes on.

In reflecting on a decade of excellence at UT Tyler, Dr. Mabry said, “I am so pleased by how much we have grown in size and quality in a relatively short amount of time. We attribute our student growth to our atmosphere of quality that makes high-ability students want to call UT Tyler home, the exceptional faculty who guide them through their academic journey, and friends of the university who provide much-needed, and much-appreciated, support.”

Others in the community say UT Tyler’s transformation over the last few years is nothing short of phenomenal.

“What has happened in the last 10 years at UT Tyler has been remarkable. And it’s not just enrollment growth,” said A.W. “Whit” Riter III, vice chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and member of the UT Tyler Development Board.

“UT Tyler is closing the gaps in education. Now all the kids in the 14 surrounding counties have the opportunity to go to a quality, four-year university and not be restrained by geography or finances. When I think about a true university setting, I think about a centerpiece for the community for academics, cultural events and economic development. And that is what I see happening,” Riter said.

In the past decade, UT Tyler has grown to meet a very specific need for the region – a world-class university option for students, said Bill Ratliff, former Texas lieutenant governor and state senator.

“Over 10 years ago, (the state) sponsored a study of Northeast Texas higher education,” he said. “The study revealed that there was a serious lack of offering for young people who wanted to go into engineering, pharmaceuticals, medical school and other higher levels of study. They couldn’t stay in Northeast Texas, but had to go somewhere else to study.”

Riter said, “We were losing our intellectual capital. Young people were going off and never coming back.”

“Now, UT Tyler allows our young people to go to a real world-class university without leaving home,” Ratliff said.

To determine the best course for the future of the university, President Mabry called upon faculty, staff and student representation, as well as business and government leaders, to participate in a yearlong process that created the New Millennium Vision, UT Tyler's 10-year strategic plan for growth and academic excellence.

“After careful analysis and planning, Dr. Mabry soon visualized a plan for UT Tyler to become a major institution,’’ said Mary Irwin, retired UT Tyler vice president for university advancement and a supporter of the university. “Growth was on his mind. He was persistent and determined.”

Dr. Dale Lunsford, president of Le Tourneau University in Longview, said, “The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Rod Mabry is his vision. He truly thinks ahead and does a good job of communicating that future vision. He has motivated people to create a university that is very different than what they had before.”

Dr. Lunsford worked with Dr. Mabry for 12 years – first in Oklahoma and then at UT Tyler as vice president for student affairs and external relations. He said the changes to the university in the past 10 years have benefited the community and the entire region.

Ten years ago, “if you wanted to earn a four-year college degree at a university, you had to go to Waco or Nacogdoches or Austin,’’ Dr. Lunsford said. “Now, in addition to a great junior college, Tyler has a full four-year university and one of the outstanding campuses in the state.”

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