The history of Business at University of Northern Iowa
Business education has a rich history at the University of Northern Iowa that has made it the top-ranked program it is today. Take a journey through some highlights the business program has experienced from its inception at UNI.
Business first comes to UNI
Our journey begins in 1906 when the Iowa State Normal School established the Commercial Department. This was the first time in the school’s 30-year history that an instructional department officially recognized business in its name. The department became the Commercial Education Department in 1909. Years later, in 1922, the department combined with the Mathematics Department to become the Mathematics and Commerce Department. It was once again modified in 1927 to become the Mathematics and Commercial Education Department.
A campus icon is born
Prexy’s Pond was constructed on campus in 1935. The pond was located on a portion of the site now occupied by the Curris Business Building and the open area to the south of the building. This time period also saw more name changes and restructuring for business at UNI (then the Iowa State Teachers College). When Ira S. Condit, head of the Mathematics and Commercial Education Department, retired in 1937, the department split, and Commercial Education emerged as an independent unit. Then, in 1946, the department became the Business Education Department.
Business elevated to the college level
In 1965, the Business Education Department once again changed its name, this time coming to be known as the Business and Business Education Department. Three years later, the College of Business and Behavioral Sciences was established, and, one year after that, the Department of Economics emerged from the Social Sciences Department.
Business education and campus expands
In the 1970s, enrollment in the business curriculum at the university surged, leading to the need for additional space. As a result, business classes were relocated to Seerley Hall, while the campus underwent expansion to accommodate the growing student population. In 1975, the Board of Regents approved a Master in Business Administration (MBA) degree at UNI.
Business becomes a flagship program
In 1981, a significant development occurred when the School of Business was established as an independent college, with Robert J. Waller serving as its inaugural dean. During the same year, several key departments were founded, including accounting, business education and administrative management, management, and marketing. Subsequently, in 1985, the economics department became part of the School of Business. To keep up with growing enrollment in business classes construction crews broke ground in 1987 on the Business Building.
In 1989, the institution was further elevated as it transitioned to the College of Business Administration, coinciding with the founding of the finance department.
Also in the mid-80s, UNI’s outreach mission began by hosting a Small Business Development Center in the School of Business. Soon after, Governor Branstad asked each of the public universities to assume a broader role in supporting economic development in Iowa. Over the next few years, UNI and College leadership devoted considerable time to better understanding the economic development needs at the local level and across the state. Programs related to community and economic development, entrepreneurship, and the environment were created, with the Institute for Decision Making and Iowa Waste Reduction Center launching in 1987.
New business building opens
Business at UNI found a more formal home during this time period, as construction finished on the Business Building in 1990. The following year, the building was dedicated during “A Celebration of Business.” It was not until 1998 that the building was named after Constantine “Deno” Curris, who was president of UNI from 1983 to 1995 and instrumental in securing funds for the building.
1993 marked the first year UNI Business earned AACSB Accreditation. Fewer than 5% of business schools worldwide have earned this distinction, making it the gold standard of business school accreditation.
That same year, room 109 of the Curris Business Building was named the John Deere Auditorium in recognition of a $250,000 gift from the John Deere Foundation. The following year, the David W. Wilson Chair in Business Ethics was established when Wilson made a $1 million donation to his alma mater.
UNI recognized as a Princeton Review Best Business School
In 2001, UNI Business went international when it started offering its esteemed MBA program in Hong Kong. Also during his period, the UFG Room was named. In 2006, the College of Business Administration was recognized as a Princeton Review Best Business School for the first time, with student satisfaction scores that put it in the top 20% of all schools recognized. This is an accolade the college continues to earn year after year.
During this time period, statewide demand for business college outreach programs grew. A one-stop contact was deemed critical to the long-term success of these outreach programs given the complementary scope of operations. In 2000, eight outreach programs began to collectively operate under the umbrella of Business and Community Services – referred to as BCS. The longer-term vision was to create a central facility with easy access for BCS clients. Soon the outreach programs grew beyond the capacity of the Curris Business Building to house them. In 2007, the Business and Community Services Building was opened to house UNI economic development programs and a student business incubator.
MBA program experiences record growth
All eyes took notice of UNI’s MBA program during this time period. The program continued to grow internationally when it began being offered in China starting in 2014. In 2015, U.S. News and World Reports recognized UNI’s MBA program as part of its list of Best Part-Time MBA Programs.
The MBA program also experienced record growth between 2014 and 2019. The Transamerica Data Analytics Lab opened in 2019, providing a technology-driven learning environment featuring nine work stations tied together by a high-resolution monitor and laptops, simulating a modern, collaborative business environment for students.
Business and Community Services consistently innovated, and new programs were developed to address unmet economic development needs across Iowa, ranging from market research to entrepreneurship to business succession. With the growing recognition of the opportunity to elevate the impact of the various outreach programs across the university, programs in other colleges joined in collectively reporting outcomes and seeking collaborative projects under the BCS umbrella. Currently, 12 programs are represented under the BCS umbrella and technical assistance is delivered at the door of nearly 4,000 clients in all 99 Iowa counties and 30 different states.
UNI names David W. Wilson College of Business
In 2023, David W. Wilson pledged $25 million to the College of Business, the largest donation in UNI history. This makes the David W. Wilson College of Business UNI’s first named college, ushering in a new era. The gift establishes the Wilson Endowment for Integrity and Excellence to advance business ethics education and ensure graduates continue to thrive and lead in a rapidly changing business landscape.
A portion of the gift also creates the Wilson Scholars Fund, providing renewable scholarships for students from Tama County, which includes Wilson’s hometown of Traer. The donation expands on Wilson’s previous support that created the Wilson Chair in Business Ethics in 1999.