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Founders Day 2012: Happy Birthday Utah State University

Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012

Utah Agricultural College, the early days
women working on a car at USU circa 1940s

A touring photo exhibit created for Founders Day by USU's Special Collections and Archives includes photos through the decades.

Utah State University is turning 124 years old in March, and the university has much to celebrate. In 2012, the university celebrates its birthday and also celebrates the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s signing of the Morrill Act of 1862 that established the land-grant system of public colleges and universities.

“Utah State University is a proud member of the great collection of land-grant universities from across the country whose mission and purpose is ultimately connected to the concepts of access and opportunity,” said USU President Stan L. Albrecht.

The anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act provides an occasion to celebrate the enduring power of the land-grant vision of higher education and to recognize Utah State University as one of the nation’s premier land-grant institutions.

The Morrill Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, established a land-grant institution in each of the 50 states, and the territory of Puerto Rico. 

On March 8, 1888, the Utah Agricultural College became the land-grant college in the Utah territory. For nearly 125 years, Utah State has fulfilled the expectations of the founders of the land-grant system, a charter that has led to the institution’s fulfillment of the three-fold mission of learning, discovery, and engagement. It has transformed itself from a small, agricultural college into one that is nationally and internationally recognized for its many research endeavors.

As the land-grant vision expanded through Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension, the citizens of every corner of Utah have benefitted from the presence of Utah State University. Extension work at the university was underway by 1907 to take information to the people around the state. That year is considered the official beginning of Extension work in Utah. In 1907, three “arms” of the college were in place in Utah with teaching, research (Experiment Station) and diffusion/outreach (Extension). In 1913, U.S. Congress appropriated funding for a national Extension program at land-grant colleges. In 1914, the Extension Service was implemented nationwide.

“Extension’s history at the university is rich and varied,” said Noelle Cockett, vice president and dean for Extension and Agriculture. “Since the university’s founding our success as a university has been greatly dependent on sharing our knowledge with the people of Utah. And today, Extension is as relevant as ever, and perhaps even more so, due to the increased diversity and complexity of the issues people face. The Cooperative Extension system has a long-standing tradition of extending the university to improve the quality of life for individuals, families and communities.”

USU’s Regional Campuses and Distance Education program began in 1904, when professors were using the most advanced technology of the times to take education to rural communities — they boarded trains to present dairy lectures 130 miles away. Professors drove throughout the state to deliver lectures and face-to-face advice by the ’50s. They got their flying wings to take them around the state by the ’60s. And, as earliest satellite communications systems evolved, USU was one of the first universities in the nation to adopt the innovative technologies and use them as a tool to bring education to rural communities.  In spring 2012, RCDE is delivering courses in Utah to 87 sites — 381 different courses being broadcast through the Interactive Video Conferencing network all across Utah, the nation and even the world.

“The USU Regional Campuses and Distance Education organization has a long history of using the most advanced technology and innovation of the times to bring education to people in their own environment,” said Ronda Menlove, senior vice provost for regional campuses and distance education. “This tradition grew from the need to design education programs and delivery methods to ‘educate the state,’ focusing on community and student needs.”

Today, USU’s presence in the state includes Utah State Eastern, four regional campuses (Brigham City, Tooele, Uintah Basin, San Juan), Extension offices in 28 of 29 Utah counties and at Thanksgiving Point, the Ogden Botanical Center, the Utah Botanical Center and the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter in Park City.

Utah State University’s Special Collections and Archives created a touring Historical Photo Exhibit, Utah State University Celebrating 150 Years of Learning, Discovery, and Engagement: The Morrill-Act 1862-2012, that will circulate to each of Utah’s 29 counties throughout 2012 for the Sesquicentennial celebration of the Morrill Act. The exhibit focuses not only on the development of programs and facilities at the Logan campus, but also illustrates the statewide impact of the various programs associated with the university. The exhibit can be seen at the Logan campus, in the Merrill Cazier Library, March 2-27, prior to its tour.

USU celebrates Founders Day and the Sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act, Friday, March 2.

Contacts: Maren Cartwright, Utah State University,, 435-797-1355; Jacob Moon, Method Communications,, 801-461-9797

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