James Wyant

James C. Wyant

The UA College of Optical Sciences received a $20 million pledge for 10 new endowed faculty positions, the largest gift of its kind in the university's history.

The pledge comes from the college's founding dean, Professor Emeritus James C. Wyant, and his family, the university said Friday.

It will allow the university to hire 10 top faculty members.

"This is an incredible, enabling moment for the College of Optical Sciences, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to advance the rapidly expanding ways that optics and photonics can improve our lives," said Thomas L. Koch, dean of the College of Optical Sciences.

UA President Robert C. Robbins added that the Wyant family gift, which will be received over five years, provides the UA with the resources needed to achieve the goal of being a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the cornerstone of the university's recently unveiled strategic plan.

"Jim Wyant's leadership, vision and support for students has already had an incredible impact on the UA College of Optical Sciences, and his legacy is one of the main reasons why the UA is a global leader in optics and photonics," Robbins said. "This new gift will support faculty and enhance our students' experience by enabling an environment that fosters leadership, learning, collaboration and connections, and it will help shape the success of UA students far into the future."

Wyant also co-founded successful Tucson-based businesses in optics, including WYKO Corp. and 4D Technology Corp.

In 2013, he made a $10 million gift to the college for graduate student scholarships in a campaign called FoTO, an acronym for Friends of Tucson Optics. As a result of his initial gift, more than 250 additional donors contributed and 30 first-year graduate student scholarship endowments were established, each bearing the name of a donor.

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

During his tenure as dean, he oversaw growth in research as well as the expansion of the Meinel Optical Sciences building, which added 47,000 square feet of teaching and research space. He retired in 2013, but continues to be involved as a professor emeritus.

"I am especially grateful to the university for its incredible flexibility when I was partway through my teaching career and wanted to start a company," Wyant said. "The financial success of that business has made these gifts possible."

The Wyant family's gift will establish the Distinguished Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences Fund, which will be used to help the college recruit a minimum of 10 stellar faculty.

Wyant has agreed to transfer $1.5 million from the Distinguished Endowed Chair Fund into a separate endowment in optical sciences when a donor or a donor group offers $500,000 to create a new, named endowed faculty chair. These new endowed chair funds will give the college the resources to hire and support more faculty.