History & Development

UTSA has been serving as a driver of social mobility and economic prosperity for over 50 years. The university was born at a ceremony held in front of the Alamo on June 5, 1969. This symbolic start, linking the new university to the community it serves, is one of many reasons that UTSA is unique.

Storied History, Impactful Development

Prior to 1969, San Antonio lacked a public four-year higher education institution. Seeking to address high demand for local, high quality educational opportunities, a combination of Mexican-American community activists, San Antonio business leaders and political champions came together to create a university of the community, by the community and for the community.

From its first graduating class of 82, to the nearly 35,000 students enrolled today, UTSA has grown into San Antonio's university and serves as a symbol of the city's upward trajectory.

Decades of Development

Much like the city of San Antonio, UTSA has experienced tremendous growth over the years.

Students walking in the courtyard with the sun setting

1969-1977 Laying the Foundation

Architect working on a model

Knowing that the next University of Texas campus would be in San Antonio, university leadership looked for spacious sites that provided plenty of room for future growth. Sites across San Antonio were considered, from the city's south side to the heart of downtown. Eventually leaders chose a 600-acre site at what is now the intersection of Interstate 10 and Highway 1604. Initially surrounded by farmland and fields, UTSA's Main Campus spurred the city's northward economic development progress, and set the stage for other major developments to locate in the area including USAA's headquarters, the medical center and UT Health San Antonio.

In 1970, campus began to take shape. Lead architect O'Neil Ford created a campus design based on an old European city, with a central plaza and courtyard connected by ‘paseos’ – plazas and walkways for strolling. To help campus architecture blend in with the existing landscape, ‘Texas concrete’ was used, a variation of the building material with a soft beige color. Carefully planned landscaping included live oak trees to shade students in the summer and leaf-shedding red oaks. By 1976, construction of UTSA's Main Campus was complete and Roadrunners had an official home.

Professor giving a lecture
A horse with a sign that says 'Reserved for President'
Highway 1604 circa 1969
600 acres

Initial size of campus

82 students

Size of first graduating class

52 faculty

Initial number of teachers

The first faculty, staff and students helped shape UTSA and set the stage for its future. Early faculty included Tomás Rivera, a Chicano author, poet, and administrator who championed social mobility though education; Jacinto Quirarte, one of the first art historians to focus on Chicano art; Álbar Peña, a bilingual educator and founder of the National Association for Bilingual Education; and Richard Adams, an archaeologist specializing in Mesoamerican and Mayan civilization.

Rivera smiling in a suit

Tomás Rivera

Quirarte smiling in a suit

Jacinto Quirarte

Peña smiling in a suit

Álbar Peña

Adams smiling in a suit

Richard Adams

  • 1973 The first UTSA class, consisting of 671 graduate students started their educational journey on June 5, 1973.
  • 1974 In August, UTSA held its first commencement, with 82 students receiving degrees.
  • 1976 UTSA welcomed its first cohort of undergraduates, reaching the long-awaited milestone of being a four-year higher educational institution.
ITC building

1968Hemisfair Park Campus

The year 1968 proved to be an important milestone for the City of San Antonio, as it marked the 250th anniversary of the city's founding in 1718. To celebrate, the community hosted the World's Fair, a six-month experience referred to as HemisFair. The event brought about some of San Antonio's most familiar landmarks, including the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC), which highlights the cultural traditions, stories and history that makes up Texan culture. In 1973, the ITC became part of UTSA, and the university is currently envisioning what the next 50 years holds for this important Texas resource.

Explore UTSA's campuses

1977Rowdy the Roadrunner

UTSA hosted an election to determine a school mascot in what was to be a major milestone for the university. Many choices were considered, including the armadillo, stars, eagle, jaguar, roadrunner, puma, toro ('bull') and vaquero ('cowboy'). The armadillos and stars won the election, knocking the roadrunner from contention. However, a voided election forced a second vote, and the roadrunner staged a surprising comeback. On December 12, 1977 the roadrunner officially became UTSA's mascot.

Learn more about our traditions

Original Rowdy mascot outfit

1978-1994 Growing Our Identity

Building under construction

UTSA swag
UTSA Bulletin
Two students holding a sign

UTSA's expansion during the 1980's involved a deepening identity, due to a growing number of graduates, sports, traditions and student life opportunities. One of the hallmarks of the college experience is cheering for college athletics. In 1981, UTSA welcomed its first sport to campus: track and cross country. That same year, UTSA basketball played its first season, cheered on by a growing number of UTSA students and alumni as well as the school's mascot, Rowdy the Roadrunner.

First Residence Hall

One of the largest changes to campus life occurred in 1986 when the first residence hall, Chisholm Hall, opened. This new building not only gave on-campus students a broader college experience with regular social events, including dances, mixers, and movies, but also signaled UTSA's transition from a 'commuter school' to one offering a traditional residential campus home.

Learn more about UTSA Housing

Residence hall building

1994-2009 Expanding the Nest

Two people using a microscope
Two women wearing sashes with Rowdy
Alamodome filled with a crowd

By the 1990's, UTSA had been serving students and the larger San Antonio community for 25 years. With an eye on the next quarter century, UTSA turned its sights on expanding the resources that would accommodate its growing student population and research efforts.

Expanding Downtown

In 1995, bulldozers started to roll across what would be one of UTSA's largest developments since its founding, a new 18-acre Downtown Campus. The Downtown Campus began as a need to provide an advanced four-year public education institution situated in the heart of San Antonio for the multi-cultural communities of South Texas. The city wanted to offer its urban population an opportunity to fulfill their educational dreams without having to travel outside of Loop 410. To address this absence, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Enterprises, Inc. bought and gifted property between West Durango Boulevard and Buena Vista Street for the construction of the downtown campus. By 1997, the Downtown Campus officially opened with four academic buildings.

Explore UTSA's downtown presence

Rapid Growth Continues

Other facility developments soon emerged, as did Roadrunners' innovative research and educational successes. In 1996, the university's first two PhDs were awarded in biology with a specialty in neurobiology. That same year, the Student Union completed a major expansion, which included a bookstore, student activities complex, and the Retama auditorium – a 350 seat, tiered-style theater.

Two students chatting

1994 Hispanic Serving Institution

UTSA was founded with the intention to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved populations. Building on this commitment, UTSA continues to position Hispanic students, staff and faculty for growth, leadership and success. In 1994, UTSA was designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic Serving Institution and in 2020 received the Seal of Excelencia, a national certification recognizing leadership in advancing Latino student success.

Explore UTSA's Hispanic thriving vision

architecture model

1995 Architecture to Reflect the Community

Throughout the years, one of the defining characteristics of the downtown campus has been its eye-catching architecture. This is no accident; building architect Humberto Saldaña & Associates developed a plan to functionally and aesthetically connect the campus design to San Antonio's core. The choice of building material fabric for the three buildings - native limestone, red granite, brick, sandstone, and glazed tiles – is intended to reflect design elements of some of San Antonio's most significant buildings and connect the campus to the diverse neighborhoods throughout the city.

2009-Present Emerging Leadership

Football teaming coming onto the field
Orientation staff
Student smiling at the camera birds up

Major Leaps Forward

The 2000's – leading up to present day – have been marked by UTSA leadership in research, athletics, and plans for the future. In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed Proposition 4, designating UTSA as an emerging research university. This significant achievement, based on the university's pursuit of innovative discovery, was followed by another in 2014 when UTSA's cybersecurity program was ranked the best in the nation. Outside the classrooms and labs, UTSA's campus life continued to develop, offering new opportunities for Roadrunners to lead the way. In 2011, UTSA Athletics took a major leap forward when the first Roadrunner football team took to the field, cheered on by a sea of fans wearing orange, blue, and white.

One of the most recent series of leadership steps taken have revolved around plans for the Downtown Campus. In 2017, the campus celebrated its 20th anniversary in a ceremony overseen by the then newly appointed UTSA President Eighmy. At the event, Eighmy announced a new vision for the future of the Downtown Campus, imagining it as a model urban-serving university and discussing plans to broaden the UTSA Downtown Campus' footprint to include more buildings to house students. In support of this initiative, Graham Weston provided a $15 million gift and parcels of land downtown for construction of a new School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center. These facilities broke ground in 2020 and – once complete – will serve as a major connector between the university and the local community.

'Helenita': the gift that built a research powerhouse

UTSA's discovery and research success benefits from an ever-growing network of Roadrunner supporters and donors. One example is rancher and philanthropist Helen Kleberg Groves (of King Ranch fame), who funded the installation of the world's most powerful electron microscope. The microscope, nicknamed “Helenita” in her honor, is one of countless resources available to advance the educational journeys of UTSA students and researchers.

Learn more about our research

Researcher using microscope

Our Bold Future

Looking forward to the next decade and beyond, UTSA is committed to expanding its leadership role and ensuring students are prepared for career success. Ultimately, the history and developmental story of UTSA is highlighted by our commitment to students, the larger San Antonio community, and a bold future.

How UTSA is Creating Bold Futures