Top moments of 2023

Top moments of 2023

From a historic donation to major athletics milestones, it’s been a great year to be a Panther! Here’s a roundup of some of the University of Northern Iowa’s biggest news from 2023.

Our Tomorrow shines bright 

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the UNI Foundation had a record-setting fundraising year during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. A total of $58.4 million was raised, leading university efforts to raise $250 million well ahead of the goal. To date, the ambitious Our Tomorrow fundraising campaign  has raised more than $240 million. In 2023, it was announced the campaign would expand to include a wrestling training facilityUNI unveiled conceptual renderings for this facility in November. 

Wilson gives $25 million to UNI, the largest donor gift in school history

Confetti is thrown in the air at unveiling of "Wilson" sign

UNI graduate David Wilson made a groundbreaking donation to the University of Northern Iowa's College of Business. Wilson’s $25 million commitment marked the largest single gift in the university's history. In honor of this generous contribution, UNI has renamed the business college to the David W. Wilson College of Business, the first-ever named college at the institution. Building upon Wilson's earlier establishment of the Wilson Chair in Business Ethics, this donation will significantly shape the college's future and emphasize ethics as a fundamental aspect of its mission and curriculum.

Enrollment saw its largest increase in a decade

The University of Northern Iowa’s total fall enrollment for 2023 was 9,021 students, marking the institution’s biggest year-to-year increase in over a decade. UNI’s population has been bolstered by a freshman class of 1,552 students, an 8% increase over 2022. Notably, 73% of new transfer students came from Iowa's community colleges, emphasizing UNI's status as a preferred destination for those seeking a four-year degree. Graduate student enrollment has also surged, reaching its highest point since 2020. UNI's residence hall contracts for the academic year increased by 7.5%, indicating a growing interest in the traditional on-campus college experience. Furthermore, the university's graduation rates have hit record highs for the third consecutive year, significantly surpassing similar institutions, with one in 11 students graduating in just three years.

UNI provides a home for Ukrainian students

When eight Ukrainian students found themselves unable to return home due to the conflict in Ukraine, their futures became uncertain. Stranded in the United States after their stays were extended through their senior year of high school, their host families sought help from Iowa's higher education institutions. The University of Northern Iowa stepped in, offering support to these students facing financial challenges and legal complexities and mobilizing various departments to assist. All eight students are now attending UNI. In the fall, the UNI Art Gallery hosted a special exhibition on campus to bring awareness to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and introduce the students to members of the Cedar Valley community. 

Eight Ukrainian students in UNI gear

New Campanile bells provide once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

UNI’s iconic Campanile bells made their glorious return in May, drawing spectators from across campus and the wider community to watch as crews from The Verdin Company lifted the recently refurbished and brand-new bells into the top of the structure. No group may have been more excited about the return than the Guild of Carillonneurs, the student group responsible for playing the carillon instrument. Music could be heard from the carillon just in time for May commencement. Senior leadership at UNI celebrated this return by recreating an iconic photo alongside the largest bells.

Expansion of Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center well underway

Gallagher Bluedorn groundbreaking

Over the past 20 years, the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center has enriched the University of Northern Iowa, becoming a cultural centerpiece of the Cedar Valley. This summer, friends and donors gathered outside the facility to celebrate the groundbreaking of a $14.9 million renovation and expansion project. While the new seats in the Great Hall were installed this summer and the new box office and service counter opened this fall, the remainder of the project will be completed in 2024.

Athletics celebrated major milestones

2023 was extra special for Panther sports, as it marked the 125th season of UNI Football and the 100th season of UNI Wrestling. Throughout the 2023 season, UNI Football honored its proud legacy with special commemorative logo decals on player helmets. Historic moments, players and coaches from the first 125 seasons of Panther football were highlighted on social media, during home games and on the program's special 125th season website. UNI Athletics will be celebrating wrestling’s centennial season in several ways throughout the next few months, including weekly throwbacks on social media accounts and video tributes to moments in history played during duals in the McLeod Center.

UNI built the foundation for new standalone nursing program

UNI is less than a year away from starting its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in fall 2024, and UNI leadership is hard at work to make the program a success. At the beginning of 2023, UNI announced plans to renovate portions of the Innovative Teaching and Technology Center (ITTC) to house the nursing program. UNI also reorganized a variety of its health-related programs, including nursing, into the School of Health and Human Sciences to address the increasing needs for health professionals in Iowa. In September, the Higher Learning Commission awarded accreditation to UNI’s nursing program.

Rendering of renovated ITTC

Strengthening our partnership with Iowa community colleges

It was a big year for UNI at Iowa Community Colleges (UNI@IACC), our initiative to make four-year degrees more accessible to adult and place-bound learners. In its second year, the program showed a significant 68% increase in enrollment. UNI announced new programs to meet the demands of employers across the state. The first is a hybrid delivery option of its top-ranked accounting program, in partnership with Des Moines Area Community College. The second, also in partnership with DMACC, is an expansion of UNI’s master’s degree and advanced studies certificate in principalship to include a cohort specifically for Des Moines Public Schools, the largest public school district in the State of Iowa. 

Students featured on the streaming series, “The College Tour”

Luigi Lopez with crew of The College Tour

UNI made its big-screen debut on season eight of “The College Tour,” a groundbreaking series now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Hosted by “The Amazing Race” winner Alex Boylan, “The College Tour” travels the country telling the story of colleges and universities through the diverse lens of their students, giving the viewer an intimate portrayal of life on campus. UNI’s episode features the perspectives of 10 real UNI students. All the participants were in attendance at a premiere event in the Gallagher Bluedorn in February.

Kurt Warner butter sculpture featured at the Iowa State Fair

This year’s Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair was accompanied by some famous faces in college and professional athletics, including UNI alum Kurt Warner. Sarah Pratt, the lead butter sculptor since 2006, is a UNI alum herself. Pratt is passing down her passion for butter as an art form to her two daughters, Hannah and Grace, who are her apprentices and currently students at the University of Northern Iowa. 

Students and alums rang in the new year in a musical fashion

UNI has a long-standing tradition of excellence when it comes to music. This was evident in 2023 when four UNI alums directed three bands in the iconic Rose Parade. All four band directors received UNI degrees in instrumental music education. The Panther Marching Band also started the New Year with a bang, performing for more than 1.5 million people in Spain for the annual Three Kings Parade. PMB later learned they’d be heading to London next year.