On Jan. 1, OSU-Tulsa will mark the start of its 15th anniversary.
“While our campus is still relatively new compared to other universities, we have had a major impact on higher education in Oklahoma,” OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett says. “By bringing OSU to Tulsa, the institution offered place-bound students the opportunity to earn a degree from a major state university.”
OSU officially began administration of the campus on Jan. 1, 1999. Before that, the campus was home to the University Center at Tulsa, a consortium consisting of Langston University, Northeastern State University, OSU and the University of Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Legislature approved the bill establishing an OSU campus in Tulsa in May 1998, and OSU-Tulsa officially opened in January 1999. Then-OSU President James Halligan pushed for the establishment of the OSU campus in Tulsa, which was the largest city in the nation without a freestanding public university at the time.
“My mantra at the time was one university and multiple sites,” says Halligan, who now serves in the Oklahoma Senate. “I still think that is the correct strategy, because the state of Oklahoma cannot be successful unless Tulsa is also successful. In order for Tulsa to succeed, it has to have an array of educational opportunities and that has to include OSU and its programs.”
Under Halligan’s guidance, OSU-Tulsa maintained strong ties with the main campus in Stillwater. OSU-Tulsa offers junior-, senior- and graduate-level courses in business, engineering, aerospace, education, social sciences, human sciences and liberal arts.
“We wanted students to know that if they were attending the Tulsa campus or the Stillwater campus, they were enrolled in the same nationally accredited programs,” says Halligan. “Students in Tulsa earn the same internationally respected OSU degree that students in Stillwater receive.”
Gary Trennepohl, who had been serving as the Spears School of Business dean, was tapped to be the first president of OSU-Tulsa. Trennepohl guided the transition of the campus from the consortium model to OSU.
“From the beginning, we established a reputation for high quality academic programs and developed partnerships with key industry leaders to offer new opportunities for our students,” Trennepohl says. “Our goal was to offer students an OSU college experience and help Tulsa flourish by identifying degree programs that were in demand by Tulsa employers.”
Under Trennepohl’s leadership, OSU-Tulsa established a partnership with Tulsa Community College to provide a seamless transition for transferring students, expanded learning and career services to aid in student success and broke enrollment records.
“We worked to create opportunities for our students and the citizens of the Tulsa area,” Trennepohl says. “Our focus on student success and dedication to OSU’s mission as a land grant university has really resonated in the growth that we have seen on our campus and in the many things that we have been able to accomplish.”
In 2003, Trennepohl secured $45 million in funding from Vision 2025, as well as state and private sources, to construct the Helmerich Research Center. The facility opened in 2008, offering research space for engineering faculty and graduate students. Research at the center supports the region’s aerospace, energy, manufacturing, transportation, electronics and medical industries.
Since OSU-Tulsa first opened, enrollment has grown from 870 to nearly 3,000. The university has served more than 30,000 students in the Tulsa area and has impacted countless others through outreach and research programs.
Chris Benge, a former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Tulsa Metro Chamber, graduated from OSU-Tulsa in 2008.
“OSU-Tulsa helped me to earn my OSU degree with classes that were convenient for me,” Benge says. “When I was going through school, I already had a family and a career at the Legislature, so it created a real opportunity for me as a non-traditional student. This same scenario has been played out many times for others in the Tulsa area.”
Having access to higher education was critical to Benge, as it is for the thousands of other OSU-Tulsa students, who need a location close to home while pursuing a degree, raising a family and working full time.
“It would have been much more difficult having to commute from Tulsa and I do not even know if it would have been possible,” Benge says. “The access to higher education that OSU-Tulsa provides was an important factor for me to be able to earn my degree.”
Together, Halligan and Trennepohl provided a solid foundation for OSU-Tulsa. Halligan retired as OSU president in 2002, but remains an advocate of higher education in the Senate. In honor of his many contributions to the university, he was named a 2013 OSU in Tulsa Icon. Trennepohl stepped down as president of OSU-Tulsa in 2009, returning to the classroom full-time as a faculty member in the Spears School of Business.
Barnett was named the second president of OSU-Tulsa in 2009 and has continued to push the university to be an innovator in higher education for Tulsans. Under his leadership, the university has expanded scholarship opportunities for students, increase awareness of OSU’s two campuses in Tulsa and placed a strong focus on developing academic programs that meet Tulsa’s economic demands.
“OSU has been a higher education leader in Oklahoma for more than a century,” Barnett says. “Our mission for the next 15 years is to ensure that the legacy created in Stillwater those many years ago continues in everything we do in Tulsa.”
This story originally ran in the Winter 2013 issue of STATE Magazine.