Wright State History

Originally founded as a branch campus of The Ohio State University and Miami University, Wright State became an independent institution in 1967. In the decades since, Wright State has grown into an innovative leader in the Dayton region and beyond.

Here’s a look back on the milestones and achievements that shaped Wright State University.


  • Student input has always mattered at Wright State. In spring 1966, the new campus’s single building—Allyn Hall—offered few amenities. Students set up a snack tent and dubbed it the “Student Center.” It helped spur a $1 million fund drive for the first real center.
  • Students responded to the devastating 1974 Xenia tornado with a relief drive that raised more than $3,000 and 69 vanloads of food, clothing, and blankets for victims.
  • For 33 consecutive years, students on Wright State University’s Model United Nations team achieved the highest recognition possible at the national conference in New York City and have regularly collected Outstanding Delegation, Outstanding Committee Delegates (as voted by their peers), and Outstanding Committee Position Paper recognitions.
  • Led by President David R. Hopkins—himself a first-generation college graduate—Wright State extends opportunities to many from underserved populations. As a result, nearly half of Wright State’s students are the first in their families to attend college.
  • Students completed 417,938 community service hours during the 2010–11 academic year. For its commitment to civic engagement and service-learning, Wright State has been named for three consecutive years to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction, the highest such federal recognition a university can achieve.
  • Knapke Villas, the student housing at Wright State’s Lake Campus, opened in 2011. The townhouse-style building consists of six furnished apartments, each of which can hold five to six students. The apartments have four or five bedrooms, a living room, full kitchen, washer and dryer, and two bathrooms.

Teaching & Learning

  • Four alumni of Wright State’s education programs have been named Ohio’s Teacher of the Year: Jacqueline Kay Collier (1994), William (Bill) K. Richey (1998), Douglas W. Cooper (2001), and Kathy S. Rank (2005).
  • For 20 years, the Office of Residence Services has organized Living Learning Communities, which are designed to offer students the opportunity to live with other students who have similar academic and professional goals. Examples include the Honors, Fine Arts, and Engineering and Computer Sciences communities, among several others.
  • While redesigning the university’s engineering mathematics curriculum, Wright State faculty developed a nationally recognized model for teaching math to engineers. It postpones problematic calculus requirements until the students are upperclassmen, and relies on EGR 1010, a first-year engineering course, to introduce students to the broad math concepts needed to succeed in the engineering program.  
  • The College of Nursing and Health sends several classes a term to the Nursing Institute of West Central Ohio’s Living Lab, a state-of-the-art learning center, which is home to the “Techys,” a family of robotic simulators who breathe, talk, and even give birth.
  • Wright State offers military-only classes in an effort to offer a safe space for those who are returning from combat situations and a comfortable atmosphere for veterans. The classes were created by the Veteran and Military-Connected Student Committee with support of the faculty.


  • In 1969, the Western Ohio College in Celina became a Wright State branch campus. What was then a one-building college now has four buildings on a 173-acre campus on the shore of Grand Lake St. Marys with a broad range of undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • Wright State has offered programs in industrial systems, human factors, and ergonomics since the 1960s. Today, the Department of Biomedical, Industrial, and Human Factors Engineering is the only academic unit nationally to share programs in these disciplines.  
  • In 1974, Wright State’s MBA program became the first in the Dayton region to be accredited by the highest accrediting body for business programs, AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Only 28 percent of the 1,400 business programs in the U.S. have achieved this rigorous standard.  
  • The business college began a new era of global growth in 2000 when it was named the Raj Soin College of Business in honor of internationally recognized entrepreneur Rajesh K. Soin. For example, its Executive MBA program has graduated more than 370 Chinese business leaders.  
  • Making it easier for working nurses to earn their bachelor’s degrees through a program that combines online learning with individual support, the College of Nursing and Health launched the redesigned R.N.-to-B.S.N. program in 2012.


  • The Dayton Council on World Affairs (DCOWA), now at Wright State University, is a nonprofit organization that has served the Dayton region for over 60 years. DCOWA’s board and its members seek to engage people on diverse world issues, points of view, and cultures to link individuals and organizations with common interests.  
  • As the cultural diversity of Wright State’s student population has grown over the years, so have its cultural programs, beginning with the Bolinga Black Cultural Resources Center in 1971. The Women’s Center and the Asian and Native American Center also support cultural diversity.
  • From the beginning, Wright State has emphasized accessibility with barrier-free architecture and support services for students with disabilities—long before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Since 1979, its wheelchair-accessible “Garden for the Senses” has featured scented plants and bird feeding stations to create experiences of smell and sound as wellas sight.  
  • In 2000, Wright State sponsored its first Quest for Community conference, a statewide meeting on diversity and inclusiveness in higher education. The conference is now an important annual event, co-sponsored by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.  
  • In 2012, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission presented Wright State with a Civil Rights Leadership Award of Excellence for the university’s support of civil rights and for being one of Ohio’s most accessible universities for disabled persons.
  • Wright State’s underground tunnel system has grown with the campus over the years to make nearly every academic building accessible in any weather to people with limited mobility.
  • Built in 2008, the Wingerd Service Dog Park is believed to be the only college park built specifically for service dogs. Samantha Laux, who died in 2012, and the Laux family were the driving force behind the park’s creation.

Creative Endeavors

  • Opened in 1974, the Creative Arts Center was a part of a $14 million building program that included the University Library and Physical Education building. Today its outstanding art, theatre, dance, and music productions enhance the region’s cultural life.  
  • In 1979, Look Back in Anger became the first Wright State production invited to perform at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts by the American College Theatre Festival. Only the top 10 college productions in the nation are invited each year.  
  • In 2011, Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks saluted Wright State’s arts programs in a video congratulating Collaborative Education, Leadership, and Innovation in the Arts (CELIA) on becoming the university’s seventh Ohio Center of Excellence.
  • In 12 short years, Wright State’s ARTSGALA has turned into the arts event of the year in the Dayton region and has raised $1.3 million and counting to fund student scholarships in theatre, dance, art, music, and motion pictures.  
  • Each year, fine arts seniors showcase their talents in much-anticipated events like the Big Lens Film Festival, the Senior Dance Concert, the Senior Art Show, and the musical theatre Senior Showcase in New York City, which includes an intensive career workshop with elite casting agents and creative talent. 

Partners & Outreach

  • Wright State was born of public-private partnerships. In 1962, a community fundraising drive raised the $3 million in seed money needed to establish a public university in the Dayton area.  
  • The manufacturing decline begun in the 1970s prompted Wright State, University of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, Central State, and other institutions and the business community to create the Miami Valley Research Park in 1984. Today the park’s 1,250-acre campus supports a host of high-technology employers.  
  • A founding partner in the creation of the Dayton Regional STEM School since 2009, Wright State has steadfastly supported the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) School and its model of offering students a relevant, real-world educational experience.
  • Wright State and community partners received a $2 million Kellogg Foundation grant in the early 1990s to improve health care delivery in east and west Dayton and develop innovative training in medicine, nursing, and psychology. The program continues today as the Center for Healthy Communities.
  • In 1973, Wright brothers niece Ivonette Wright Miller presented the Wright Brothers Collection to the university’s new library. Dayton engineer William Shepherd donated his collection of autographed, first-edition works of African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1975. The Special Collections and Archives preserves these and other treasures for student and public scholarship.
  • The Nutter Center opened in 1990 with commencement and a performance of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. Home to Wright State athletics, the Nutter Center is truly an economic engine for the region, putting money into the pockets of motels, shops, and restaurants before and after concerts, conventions, and championship events.


  • Developed in the 1970s, what is now the Boonshoft School of Medicine embraced a new model: instead of building its own costly teaching hospital, it leveraged the resources of surrounding community hospitals, including the one at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  
  • Established in 1986 by the Wright State Board of Trustees, the Center for Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA) is an applied research center focused on urban, suburban, and rural issues—including workforce and economic development, education, community development, housing, and health—earning a state and regional reputation for excellence.  
  • The Matthew O. Diggs III Laboratory for Life Science Research was completed in 2007 as one of Ohio’s first “green” designed research laboratories and is LEED certified. Some 80 researchers train graduate and doctoral students in molecular genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and cell biology at the Diggs Lab.  
  • The planned $37 million Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration building is a nationally unique facility that brings together engineers and neuroscientists to bridge the gap between research and medical treatments and products.  
  • RaiderConnect opened its doors on Oct. 1, 2012, combining Registrar, Bursar, and Financial Aid services together in a single, convenient location. Designed with student input, this one-stop center helps students manage their enrollment with ease.

Research & Scholarship

  • The Fels Insitute, called a “national treasure” by the National Institutes of Health, was donated to Wright State in 1977. Now renamed the Lifespan Health Research Center, it continues to be the world’s largest and longest-running longitudinal study of human growth, body composition, and cardiovascular risk factors.
  • Elliott Brown, Ph.D., Ohio Research Scholars Endowed Chair in Sensors Physics at Wright State, conducts terahertz (THz) frequencies research that could result in applications that improve military radar and reveal invaluable information in THz DNA signatures.  
  • Working with the growing field of Web 3.0 or Semantic Web, Amit Sheth, Ph.D., is leading a collaborative research team that’s developing new ways to extract meaningful information from hundreds of thousands of tweets and other messages as they are posted during emergencies.  
  • Many veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War suffered what became known as Gulf War syndrome. In 2000, the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine was awarded a $5.8 million Department of Defense grant to study the syndrome. The contract launched groundbreaking research that has revealed the subtle impact of low-dose toxins.  
  • In 2012, the Boonshoft School of Medicine, Wright State Research Institute, and Premier Health Partners formed the Clinical Trials Research Alliance to give physicians more opportunities for medical research and boost clinical trials in the region.
  • Opened in 2006, the Joshi Research Center houses the Appenzeller Visualization Laboratory. Researchers there have virtually tested designs, tunneled under the earth, and toured the human bloodstream.