Early History of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn University

Sciences and mathematics have existed within the educational framework of Auburn University since its beginning as East Alabama Male College in 1856. Early Auburn leaders in the sciences and mathematics are numerous and include several men who provided impressive leadership for the growing institution. Their names are synonymous with Auburn University, and many of the institution’s buildings, both past and present, have been named after these early university leaders.

  • William Leroy Broun taught chemistry, physics and astronomy at Auburn from 1882 through 1902. He also served as university president from 1882-83 and 1884-1902. The gap in his presidency between 1883 and 1884 is symbolic of his passion for the role science would play in the university’s curriculum: he briefly resigned until his plan for expanding laboratory and vocational instruction was adopted.
  • Bennet Battle Ross was a chemist who graduated from Auburn in 1881 and received an honorary master’s in 1886. He spent his career at Auburn from 1893-1930 and served as a professor of general and agricultural chemistry. He was the first dean of agricultural sciences (1911-22), dean of chemistry and pharmacy (1922-30), and in both 1920 and 1925 as acting university president.
  • Cliff Hare was on the Auburn faculty from 1895-1949. He taught physical, physiological, and agricultural chemistry, was dean of the school of chemistry, and state chemist from 1930-1948. He was also a member of Auburn’s first football team in 1892, president of the Old Southern Conference, and longtime chairman of Auburn’s Faculty Athletic Committee. The Cliff Hare Award, established in his memory, is given annually to the outstanding senior athlete. Auburn’s football stadium, Jordan-Hare, is named in honor of Cliff Hare and Ralph Jordan, Auburn’s winningest football coach whose son, incidentally, is a College of Sciences and Mathematics Distinguished Alumnus and longtime supporter of the college.
  • Fred Allison founded the Department of Physics and provided leadership for the department for 31 years, from 1922 to 1953. He also served as dean of the graduate school for four years, during which time he helped to develop the first doctorate programs at the university. A renowned laboratory physicist, he also discovered astatine (originally called alabamine).
  • Vann Parker created the mathematics program at Auburn University, was a faculty member from 1950-1953, and graduate dean at Auburn from 1953-1972. 
  • Charles Saunders earned his bachelor of science and master of science degrees in chemistry at Auburn in 1923 and 1925, respectively. He received a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Nebraska and returned to Auburn to join the chemistry faculty in 1932. In 1950, he was appointed dean of the School of Chemistry, a position he held until his retirement in 1968 when the School of Chemistry became part of the School of Arts and Sciences.

These men and many others represent the efforts of dedicated Auburn University faculty who were able to advanced their respective disciplines through two world wars and a depression. A culmination of the progress of sciences and mathematics at Auburn was the 1963 opening of the largest construction project on campus to-date: a $3 million, three building Science Center consisting of Allison Physics Laboratory, Parker Hall, and Saunders Hall.

The College of Sciences and Mathematics is Established

The 1980’s brought big changes to Auburn when then-president, James Martin, declared it was time to “make Auburn University a major national research university…beyond the agricultural production areas that had once been the university’s mainstay.” One way to achieve this goal was to bring the physical, biological, and mathematical sciences together into one new college, putting sciences and mathematics at the forefront and becoming the foundation for instructional, research, and outreach success. Thus, in 1986, the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) was created.

Today, COSAM is comprised of five departments: Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Geosciences, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics. It is one of the largest colleges at Auburn with approximately 200 faculty members, more than 2,700 undergraduate students, and nearly 400 graduate students.

COSAM saw a significant rise in student enrollment with a 58 percent increase from 2000-2015. The growth can be attributed to an increasing awareness by high school students of the emerging career options that have been reinforced by the college’s recruiting efforts; COSAM’s K-12 outreach programs; a commitment to minority student success; increased scholarship resources provided by donors; dedicated faculty and staff who have put into place quality programs that provide a meaningful learning experience; and continued improvements to existing facilities and the construction of new, state-of-the-art buildings.

Since its inception, COSAM has enjoyed the enrollment of exceptional students. Each year, COSAM freshmen carry higher-than-average high school GPAs, and the college boasts more honor graduates than any other college on Auburn’s campus.

Additionally, the college’s undergraduate students who apply to medical school are accepted at a rate that is approximately 30 percent higher than the national average. Acceptance rates to other professional schools, such as dental and optometry school, are consistently between 80 and 100 percent each year.

COSAM strives to provide our students with a solid academic foundation, and our graduates consistently build on the college’s long tradition of excellence. COSAM alumni are world-class researchers, dedicated physicians, veterinarians, astronauts, and inventors. They are teachers and problem solvers. Our alumni enrich communities, serve others, and improve quality of life using compassion, honesty, and integrity.