A History of UNLV's College of Sciences

College Beginnings

After offering science and mathematics classes in the 1950s, the university established the Division of Sciences and Mathematics in 1966, which became a school the next year. In 1968, the College of Science and Mathematics was formed; the next year, Robert Smith began serving as founding dean, with nearly 500 undergraduate and 41 graduate students enrolled. Five core academic units have served as the foundation for the college — biological sciences, chemistry, geoscience, mathematics, and physics (and astronomy).

Enrollment Growth

In 2005, the college established the Pre-Health Science Professional Program to advise students who plan to attend medical, dental, or veterinary school. Since then, the number of UNLV undergraduates accepted to medical school has risen from 53 percent of the national average to 105 percent. In 2006, the department of biological sciences became the School of Life Sciences, reflecting the college’s emphasis on interdisciplinary research programs. In addition, the college added a graduate program in astronomy and renamed the department of physics to include astronomy.

Interdisciplinary Approach

Faculty members have long embraced the benefits of interdisciplinary teaching and research. They often serve in university administrative positions and have contributed their expertise to such important programs as the Honors College (first established as a program by professor of physics Len Zane) and the Water Resources Management Program. Faculty are currently involved with the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies, the Nevada Cancer Institute, the Public Lands Institute, and many centers and schools across campus, including the Center for Math and Science Education.

Commitment to Research

College faculty began receiving research grants in the 1970s and 1980s. Federally funded, peer-reviewed research from such entities as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health is now a fixture on campus.

Student Success

In recent years, the college has become increasingly committed to providing undergraduate research opportunities, with faculty including undergraduates as central members of research teams. NSF grants currently provide funds that support summer research programs for some 44 undergraduates, including students selected from colleges and universities across the country.

Community Outreach

As part of its mission to increase science literacy and spread scientific knowledge to diverse communities, the college participates in various community activities:

  • Beal Bank USA Southern Nevada Regional Science & Engineering Fair — promotes an interest in mathematics and scientific studies for elementary, middle, and high school students in Southern Nevada.
  • Alpha Epsilon Delta — the pre-health honor society for undergraduates participates in a wide range of community improvement projects, which include arranging blood drives to preparing meals for those in need.
  • Classroom Visits — college faculty frequently visit local schools to talk with students about the various aspects of the sciences.
  • Science Café Las Vegas — an organization geared towards bringing fascinating science discussions to the public of Southern Nevada.


  • 1969 — Robert B. Smith
  • 1981 — David W. Emerson
  • 1989 — Eugene Peck
  • 1996 — Warren P. Burggren, Interim
  • 1997 — Raymond W. Alden III
  • 2000 — Peter L. Starkweather, Interim
  • 2001 — Frederick W. Bachhuber
  • 2003 — Ronald E. Yasbin
  • 2008 — Wanda J. Taylor, Interim
  • 2010 — Timothy L. Porter
  • 2016 — Stanley D. Smith, Acting