Radford University marks 110 years as a strong, steadfast and proven institution

Early Radford University students with suitcases
Students from around the world stand on campus with their luggage in Radford's early years.

In March 2020, Radford University marked a historic milestone by reaching 110 years of Highlanders transforming the world. Since its founding charter in 1910, the institution has focused on a bright future based on excellence, innovation and service to students and the community, while maintaining a tradition of teaching and a commitment to change.

This semester, in Radford University’s 11th decade, is historic in its own right. But, as Highlanders have proven time and time again, we are responsive to change, resilient when times get tough and real through it all. This is nothing new. Highlanders have been rising for 110 years.

Radford University’s commitment to producing changemakers started with founding President John Preston McConnell, Ph.D. His advocacy for women’s education set him apart from his scholarly peers and carved the institution’s influence in Virginia’s emerging public school system.

Much has changed and grown since McConnell laid the foundation for a University that would expand his vision of becoming a strong, steadfast and proven institution. What started as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women has grown exponentially ever since.

From 1938 through 1951, President David Wilbur Peters oversaw the transition of Radford to the Women’s Division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and guided the school through tremendous post-World War II growth. And, between 1952 and 1972, during the Charles Knox Martin, Ph.D. presidency, Radford became the largest women’s college on the East Coast. Enrollment increased from 823 to 3,670 students, and 19 buildings were constructed.

President Donald Newton Dedmon, Ph.D. followed suit by embracing change and leading efforts to double the institution’s recruitment by admitting male undergraduates in Fall 1972. He worked to institute a groundbreaking University governance system that embodied student representation. During his presidency, the Radford University Foundation, Inc. was established to advance and further the purpose and reach of the institution.

President Douglas Covington, Ph.D. broke racial barriers and became the fifth president and first African-American leader of Radford University in 1995. Within a decade, he successfully led efforts to raise $71 million and provide more financial support to increased numbers of students each year.

Since our centennial in 2010, the campus has quickly changed academically and physically. That important work was led by Penelope Ward Kyle, J.D. during her tenure as the sixth president from 2005 through 2016.

In Fall 2012, the 116,000-square-foot Davis College of Business and Economics, became home for students to adapt to a rapidly-changing global economy with new educational technology including a signature trading room. This building embraced Radford University’s historical architecture and set the bar high for future construction.

College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences
The College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences Building opened in 2016.

In 2014, Radford University opened the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, a 110,000-square-foot space promotes student health and wellbeing. The center features an indoor graded track, a multi-use court, racquetball courts and classrooms.

Classes began in 2016 in the 114,000-square-foot Center for the Sciences, which has become a premier science destination for students and the community with new learning spaces like the Planetarium, the Museum of Earth Sciences and the Forensic Science Institute.

In 2016, The College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences moved into a 144,000-square-foot new home, the largest academic building on campus. The modern facility houses a courtroom for mock trials, a forensic laboratory, an Emergency Management Center and a television studio.

Through the leadership of Radford University’s seventh President, Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., the institution has embraced the mission of teaching and learning, while providing adequate space for a forward-focused and innovation-driven education. In 2017, the University launched IMPACT, a competency-based program with a spotlight on cybersecurity, geospatial intelligence and education. Radford University was the first public university in the Commonwealth to launch this program and secured a historic $13.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support the program.

President Hemphill was instrumental in securing significant resources for Radford University students of today and tomorrow. In 2017, Nancy E. Artis ’73 and H. Pat Artis, Ph.D. contributed $5 million to establish the Artis Endowed Scholarship Fund, thereby providing scholarship support for students known as Artis Scholars. Due to their steadfast support and as a tribute to the largest gift from an alumnus in the institution’s history, Radford University named the Artis College of Science and Technology in honor of Nancy and Pat. And, in 2018, Jack and Sandy Davis gifted $8 million to the University, representing the largest gift from an individual in the institution’s history and resulting in the naming of the Davis College of Business and Economics and the Davis Performance Hall located in the Covington Center.

Students at RUC simulate real-world visits on-site.

The recent growth of Radford University is felt and seen beyond the New River Valley. In 2019, Carilion Clinic, Jefferson College of Health Sciences and Radford University joined forces to create Radford University Carilion, located in downtown Roanoke, Virginia’s Innovation Corridor. The merger provides a rigorous real-world learning experience for students pursuing degrees in the health sciences. Students experience how to care for patients, conduct research and explore how to manage organizations.

As our Alma Mater states, “Praise her broad and her lofty aim, Her purpose ne’er will fail.” Highlanders continue to broaden Radford University’s reach globally and build a strong-willed and proven alumni body. Highlanders are responsive, resilient and real.

More than 80,000 students through 110 years have committed to making a difference here on campus, online and in their chosen fields. Our faculty have encouraged forward momentum in scholarship that has transformed the world. Our staff have dedicated their careers and themselves to being fierce advocates for Highlander success. Our alumni have established meaningful careers, connections and support that carries the Highlander spirit around the globe.

There is no doubt that Radford University has changed in 110 years, while embracing the tradition and envisioning the future. Let’s start shaping the next 110 years. It is up to us to carry on the proud and strong Highlander traditions.

Apr 9, 2020
Justin Ward
(540) 831-1953