Southern Utah University

Southern Utah University (SUU) is a public university in Cedar City, Utah. Founded in 1897 as a normal school, Southern Utah University now graduates over 1,800 students each year with baccalaureate and graduate degrees from its six colleges.[2] SUU offers more than 140 undergraduate degrees [2] and 19 graduate programs. More than 10,000 students attend SUU.

Southern Utah University
Former names
Branch Normal School (18971913)
Branch Agricultural College (19131953)
College of Southern Utah (19531969)
Southern Utah State College (19691990)
MottoLearning Lives Forever
PresidentScott L. Wyatt
Academic staff
Students11,224 (Fall 2019)[1]
Undergraduates9,324 (Fall 2017)
Postgraduates921 (Fall 2017)
Location, ,
United States

37°40′32″N 113°04′18″W
CampusCollege town, 129 acres (0.52 km²)
ColorsRed & White
Sporting affiliations
NCAA Division I FCSBig Sky Conference

SUU's 17 athletic teams compete in Division 1 of the NCAA and are collectively known as the Thunderbirds. SUU joined the Big Sky Conference in September 2012.[3] Southern Utah University is also the site for the Utah Summer Games.[4]


Founding the University

In the spring of 1897, Cedar City was notified it had been chosen as the site for the Branch Normal School, the region's first teaching training school in southern Utah. For the next three months, citizens labored to complete Ward Hall on Main Street for the first school year. In September, the school opened its doors.

School had been in session for two months when officials informed the school administrators that Ward Hall did not comply with state law and that a new building needed to be built on land deeded solely to the state by the next September or the school would be lost.

Cedar City residents came together and in January 5, 1898, a group of residents trudged into the Cedar Mountain through shoulder deep snow. It took them four days to reach the sawmills, located near present-day Brian Head Ski Resort. Upon arrival, they realized the wagons they brought with them could not carry logs through the heavy snow. Sleighs were needed.

The way back was just as hard as the trip up. The snow continued to fall destroying the trail they originally took. It was this phase of their march that an old sorrel horse proved valuable. Placed at the front of the party, the horse would walk into the drifts, pushing against the snow until it gave way. Then he would pause for a rest and then get up and start over again. “Old Sorrel” was credited with being the savior of the expedition.

From January through July they kept up their labors and when September 1898 arrived, Old Main was almost completed. It had a large chapel for religious assemblies, a library and reading room, a natural history museum, biological and physical laboratories, classrooms and offices.[5]

University's first president

Milton Bennion was first principal for the Branch Normal School (BNS). Courageous and young, Bennion brought a code of integrity to the students of BNS. He established a self-governing student body. Bennion directed 161 students during his time as principal.[6]

Branch Normal School

The BNS started classes with four teachers, now known as the Founding Four. Bennion, who acted as principal, taught history, geography and physiology classes during his three-year tenure before he left in 1900 to teach at the University of Utah. Howard R. Driggs acted as the first English professor at BNS until 1905. During his career, Dr. Driggs was both a professor of English education and historian of the American West. SUU still honors his name with the Howard R. Driggs Collection located in the Gerald R. Sherratt Library and plays host to a semi-annual lectures by national scholars. The third, George W. Decker was a southern Utah native and was adamant about teaching from the student's point of view rather from a book. Students loved him so much that a request by the student body to proper authorities was the turning point to his appointment as the fourth principal of BNS. Annie Elizabeth Spencer Milne was also on the original BNS staff and she taught physical education and started the school's first basketball team.[6]

Under the leadership of Nathan T. Porter the Science Building was constructed in 1901—now known as the Braithwaite Building — which doubled as classroom space. Interested in the arts, Porter enhanced student theatrical production and started the school's ballroom dance program.

Porter remained BNS principal till 1904 when George W. Decker took the position. Decker was among the first four faculty members at BNS and also the first southern Utah native to take the position. He served the school for 16 years, seven on the faculty and nine as principal before he was elected to the office of state representative.[6]

Branch Agriculture College

Roy F. Homer took Decker's seat as principal in 1913 and ushered BNS into the next stage as the Branch Agricultural College (BAC).[6] BAC was a branch school of the Utah State Agriculture College (now Utah State University). BAC received its third building in 1927 as the Women's Gymnasium—now known as the Hunter Conference Center. It was then that ties were created between the school and Zion National Park that are still intact, raising quality of classes, increasing enrollment and created the school's first Greek societies.

The school continued to expand under the leadership of Henry Oberhansley and H. Wayne Driggs. Driggs oversaw the building of the Football Field Stadium in 1947 and the reconstruction of Old Main after it caught fire. Driggs also established a campus ROTC program for returning soldiers and expanded studies to a four-year program.

College of Southern Utah

In 1951 Daryl Chase took the president's seat and was responsible for the schools heightened vision and name change to the College of Southern Utah (CSU).[6] The next college president was Royden C. Braithwaite in 1955 and during his tenure CSU campus almost doubled in acreage, of the 28 structures on campus at the time of his death in 1991, very few had not been built or renovated under Braithwaite's direction. He oversaw the construction of the Library (now the Auditorium) in 1955, Science Building (now the General Classroom Building) in 1961, the Music Center in 1967 and an additional Library (now the Electronic Learning Center) in 1969.

A monumental addition to the College of Southern Utah was the birth of the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 1961 by Fred C. Adams. In its first season it attracted 3,276 visitors and in 2012 it reached 130,000.[7]

Southern Utah State College

In 1969 Braithwaite oversaw the school's name change to Southern Utah State College. He also coined the school's motto “Learning Lives Forever” and student enrollment grew from 360 to 2000. Orville D. Carnahan took over in 1978;[6] during his three-year tenure he led the institution in an expansion of academic offerings.

The largest expansion of growth happened under the direction of Gerald R. Sherratt who took the presidential seat in 1982 till 1997. During his time as the SUSC president he oversaw the creation of the Business Building in 1982 and the Centrum in 1985.[6]

Southern Utah University

Southern Utah State College was given university status in 1991 under the direction of President Sherratt.[6] Once reaching university status, Sherratt was able to receive funding to construct 14 other buildings during his tenure. Sherratt also helped with the launching of the Utah Summer Games[8] and the athletic program achieving NCAA Division I status.

Steven D. Bennion, grandson of Milton Bennion, ushered in SUU's next 100 years starting in 1997. He led movements to restore Old Main and built a teacher-education facility, and added two new colleges and several new baccalaureate and graduate programs.

Michael T. Benson took over the presidential seat in 2007. Benson received his master's degree from Notre Dame and his doctorate from University of Oxford. During his time as president he championed the most ambitious fundraising campaign in University history, raising more than $90 million of the $100 million goal, including the three largest donations in SUU history. He also oversaw the construction of the new Science Center, Cedar Hall and the Carter Carillon. President Benson heightened academic standards and increased resources for instruction, significantly raised retention rates, and realigned SUU Athletics in the Big Sky Conference.[3]

President Benson concluded his tenure at SUU and Scott L Wyatt took the presidential seat [9] in November 2013. Since then, Wyatt finalized an unprecedented funding campaign, ending in the groundbreaking of the Beverly Taylor Sorensen Center for the Arts in March 2014 [9]


Since 1969 three administrational bodies have governed SUU: the President's Council, Board of Trustees and ultimately the Utah Boards of Regents. The President's Council consists of eight top University administrators. These groups convene on a regular basis to discuss issues of top importance to the University and help advise the president on executive decisions. The Board of Trustees, created by the Higher Education Act of 1969, is an integral part of the Utah System of Higher Education. The Board of Trustees help facilitate communication between the institution and community, strengthen alumni traditions and goals, select recipient of honorary degrees, and implement and execute fundraising and developmental projects. The Utah Board of Regents is composed of 20 Utah residents, appointed by the governor for a six-year term, and oversees all institutes of higher education in the state of Utah.[10]


In May 2013, SUU had 8,000 students and 261 full-time faculty members and another 102 adjunct faculty to give a student/faculty ratio of 20:1. SUU admitted 57.3 percent freshmen that applied, making a total of 1,264 new freshmen in September 2012 that boasted an average GPA of 3.5 and an average composite ACT score of 22.95. SUU currently boasts a 53 percent graduation rate.[11]

The University awards associates, bachelor's and master's degrees that are divided into four colleges and two schools. The combined total of 140 bachelor's degrees are offered and 19 master's degrees.


In July 2012 the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges recognized SUU, one of only 27 universities in the U.S., as a designated public liberal arts and sciences university.[12]

Performing and visual arts

SUU has a large amount of performing and visual arts opportunities for students and local community. Students perform more than 250 performances each year and vocal students have won countless competitions with the National Opera Association and National Association of Teachers of Singers.

The Department of Music is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music[13] and offers SUU students a wide array of musical opportunities. The Department of Theatre Arts and Dance offers two types of degrees and is closely connected with the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which is housed at SUU.

Student life

The Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service, named after Michael O. Leavitt, is housed at the university.[14]

There are three student-run media outlets at SUU: the monthly campus newspaper, University Journal; KSUU 91.1 FM (Thunder 91), an FM radio station, and SUTV-9 cable television.[15]

Utah Shakespeare Festival

The Shakespeare Festival, which is housed on SUU's campus, was founded by Fred C. Adams in 1961 and presented its first season in 1962, bringing in 3,276 spectators. The initial two-week season yielded $2,000 and demonstrated the cooperative relationship between SUU and the community. Now in 2003, nearly 150,000 ticket-holders viewed 246 performances in three theaters during a sixteen-week season. The Festival is now a year-round operation with a full-time staff of 26 and now an outgoing educational outreach program, including workshops and a touring version of one of the plays.[16]

The Festival's well-known outdoor theatre materialized in stages. The Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre, located on SUU's campus and one of the most authentic Elizabethan theaters in the world, was dedicated in 1977. The Festival continued to grow and opened the modern, indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre in June 23, 1989, offering classics of world drama. With two theaters under its belt, the Festival has spanned it repertoire to more than three centuries of playwrights and has included classics of France, England, Norway and the U.S. In 2015 the Utah Shakespeare Festival completed its last season in the Adams Shakespearean Theater. In 2016, the new Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre and the Eileen and Allan Anes Studio Theatre add to Festival's facilities as part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts at Southern Utah University.

Utah Summer Games

In 1986, President Gerald R. Sherratt was inspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and with the help of the local community the first Utah Summer Games commenced. Now after more than 25 years the Utah Summer Games brings in more than 10,000 athletes from the surrounding region. In nearly 40 different Olympic-style competitions, Cedar City hosts the competition for athletes starting at the age of 3 all the way to 93. Competitions such as volleyball, water polo, tennis, archery, gymnastics, basketball, and much more.[17]

Intramural sports

Intramural sports are large aspect of student life for Thunderbirds. More than 3,300 students participate each year. From badminton to pickleball to rugby, students have long list of intramural sports to choose from that run the entire school year, with tournaments and events for each sport.[18]

Outdoor recreation

With SUU located in the southeast Great Basin, and about 20 miles north of the northeastern edge of the Mojave Desert, gives it a cooler and less arid compared to the nearby Dixie region only 45 minutes south. With 13 national and state parks near SUU's campus[19] outdoor recreation is a popular student activity with many participating in rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking and boating in the surrounding red cliffs. SUU is a 60-minute drive from Zion National Park, 90-minute drive from Bryce Canyon National Park and only a 30-minute drive to Kolob Canyon.

Greek life

SUU is home to four Greek-letter organizations: Alpha Phi (sorority), Delta Psi Omega (sorority), Sigma Chi (fraternity), and Chi Phi (fraternity). Every year Greek students provide hundreds of hours of community service, raise thousands of dollars for charities and build leadership skills. Greek students also tap into a network of chapters around the world and build connections with Greek alumni such as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (Sigma Chi), award-winning actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Alpha Phi), renowned news anchor Walter Cronkite (Chi Phi).


The university's sports teams are known as the Thunderbirds. The colors are red, white and black. Teams compete in The NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly known as division I-AA) in the Big Sky Conference. SUU also competes in The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, in the Rocky Mountain Region. The school became a full member of the Big Sky Conference in 2012.[20] With the move, SUU discontinued its baseball program and established a men's tennis team in its place. The most decorated program both athletically and academically is the prestigious "Bowerman Award" winning Cross Country and Track & Field programs at SUU. The SUU Gymnastic team competes within the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and in 2013 received a total of six academic all-WAC citations in 2013 with the list including two seniors and four sophomores. The group was made up of seniors Caitlin Kennedy and Michaela Chernoch and the four sophomores included Jamie Armijo, Rochelle Bernier, Ana Jaworski and Brittney Jensen. All six had GPA's higher than a 3.3 with three above a 3.8 cumulative grade point average.[21] The team placed fifth at the 2013 NCAA regional competition[22]

The Thunderbirds compete in:

Notable alumni


  1. Enrollment at Utah’s public colleges is up statewide, but down at the University of Utah and Utah State University October 2019
  2. "Southern Utah University".
  3. "Big Sky Conference - Southern Utah, North Dakota Join Big Sky". Big Sky Conference.
  4. "Larry H Miller Utah Summer Games".
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  6. Leavitt, Anne O. (1997). Southern Utah University: The First 100 Years. Southern Utah University Press. p. 41.
  7. Utah Shakespeare Festival "History of Utah Shakespeare Festival"
  8. "Utah Summer Games".
  9. "Utah Local News - Salt Lake City News, Sports, Archive - The Salt Lake Tribune".
  10. "About the Board".
  12. "COPLAC - Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges".
  13. "Accredited Institutional Members". Archived from the original on 2015-06-13. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
  14. SUU names new director of Leavitt Center for Politics, Deseret News (August 22, 2017).
  15. SUU News: About (retrieved November 24, 2018).
  16. "History". 1989-06-23. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  17. "Utah Summer Games". Utah Summer Games. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
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  19. "Outdoor Recreation in Parks and Tourism | Programs and Major Info | Prospective Students | SUU". Archived from the original on 2014-03-12. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  20. "Big Sky Conference - Southern Utah, North Dakota Join Big Sky". Retrieved 2012-11-30.
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  22. "Armijo Narrowly Misses Nationals Bid as T-Birds Conclude Season - Southern Utah Thunderbirds Athletics". Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  23. "Inauguration of Tommy Burr - 109th President of the National Press Club". The National Press Club. January 22, 2016.
  24. "UFC: For onetime Utah walk-on Sean O'Connell, the hard way has been worth it".
  25. "Sorensen Drafted By San Diego - Southern Utah Thunderbirds Athletics". 2013-04-27. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
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