Originally created 09/09/01

USC Aiken has come a long way

AIKEN - It all began in the spring of 1961.

In an Aiken County school system office, a man and his secretary worked with a borrowed typewriter to create a university.

On Monday, the University of South Carolina Aiken celebrates its 40th anniversary.

"It's amazing to me to see what has happened from our humble beginning," said Dr. Chris Sharp, the university's director during its first two years.

"There was sort of a national (movement), but especially at the university (in Columbia). They wanted to bring education closer to students so they wouldn't have to travel so far," Dr. Sharp said.

An eight-member Aiken County Commission on Higher Education and Aiken County legislative delegation purchased Banksia, the university's first home. The building, a renovated mansion in downtown Aiken, is now the Aiken County museum.

"We started recruiting students in early spring of 1961 in our borrowed office, advising them and getting them to send their papers to Columbia because all applications were handled there," Dr. Sharp said.

The university started with 10 full-time professors who were hired by department heads at the Columbia campus and relocated to Aiken so they would be available to students, he said.

"Students were recruited by newspapers and radio," Dr. Sharp said."You know, the TV was very young back then, so we didn't use a lot of TV."

The first class was expected to have about 35 students, but 294 came the first year and almost 300 came the second year, he said.

"So many people helped us from all the towns around Aiken. There was never a thought of failure," Dr. Sharp said."The classes got off to a great start. Aiken was the fifth branch to get started, and in our first year we were the largest enrollment-wise. We had a wonderful beginning."

After seven years at Banksia, the students found themselves cramped, with only one bathroom for women and one for men available.

The junior college was going to lose its accreditation because it did not fit code, former professor Marti Costantino said.

Ms. Costantino, who retired recently after 32 years, started at Banksia and was instrumental in the moving the university to its present existence.

"We found out a week before this bond referendum was supposed to be voted on that if it didn't pass we were history," Ms. Costantino said. "We had to get money to have another campus because we didn't want to be history.

"This was back in 1968, in the day that everybody was doing anti-marches, so it was my idea to do something for something instead of against something. We started marching downtown Laurens Street, and the store owners closed their stores and joined us," she said.

The march worked.

The referendum passed, and in 1972 the campus moved from Banksia to its present location on University Parkway. Some of the land was purchased from the Graniteville Co., which also donated some land.

"If we hadn't done that we wouldn't have a USC Aiken today. If you don't have accreditation, you don't have a school," Ms. Costantino said.

After watching the campus take shape from one building to a dozen buildings, Ms. Costantino said she has seen it all, especially in dealing with the students.

There was the time a hippie guy with long hair ran for Miss USC Aiken and won. When the college was at Banksia, half of Ms. Costantino's class would run out when the fire station siren around the corner sounded because they were volunteer fire cadets.

"When I first came there we were lily white. In our second year we had one black student, then the third year we had two black students," Ms. Costantino said."It's a totally different world now, and it hasn't been that long."

Every brick building added to the campus over the decades matches the one beside it. The brick used is called USC Aiken brick.

"It's gotten to be a tougher job in recent years," said Chancellor Thomas Hallman. The original company making the brick was sold, so new builders have to experiment to come up with the right brown color.

The next move for USC Aiken is across South Carolina Highway 118. A convocation center is slated to be built on 309 acres purchased in 1995. Construction on the center will begin before the end of the year, Dr. Hallman said.

"One of the values that we hold steady here is our size," Dr. Hallman said. "I don't anticipate that we would ever expect to grow beyond 5,000 students. I would like to think the quality of our educational experience is something we will refine over the next 10 years to have students seek us out."

Elementary education major Becky Cole said she has been impressed with the professors and the individual attention they are able to give. "They are concerned about the students as individuals," she said.

Today the college has 3,100 students and awards baccalaureate and master's degrees.

Anniversary events


10 a.m.: Kickoff celebration for the 40th anniversary will be at Banksia, the university's first home in downtown Aiken.

2 p.m.: Installation ceremony for Chancellor Thomas L. Hallman.


Social Sciences and Humanities Day in the Etherredge Center

12:15 p.m.: The play Clouds will be performed.

12:30-3:30 p.m.: "A Gathering of Writers" will feature poetry, fiction and nonfiction readings plus art exhibits.

7 p.m.: Faculty and Friends concert.


Sciences Day in the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center

Planetarium shows and observatory viewings will be offered throughout the day.

7 p.m.: A chemistry magic show will be performed in the Etherredge Center. Children are welcome.


2-5 p.m.: Special Public Session of the South Carolina Court of Appeals will be in the Etherredge Center.

7 p.m.: Lecture on "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" by Dr. Richard Rhodes in the Etherredge Center.


1961: The University of South Carolina Aiken is founded. The campus is housed in the historic Banksia mansion in downtown Aiken.

1968: The college is accredited to award associate degrees.

1970: The Aiken County Commission for Higher Education purchases property from the Graniteville Company for a new campus.

1972: The first building on the new campus opens, followed by the Gregg-Graniteville library.

1977: The college is accredited to award baccalaureate degrees.

1984: Pacer Downs, the first campus housing, opens.

1990: USC Aiken's athletic program joins the Peach Belt Athletic Conference in the NCAA Division II.

1995: The school begins offering a master's degree in elementary education. The campus expands to 453 acres through a donation and a purchase from the Graniteville Co.

1998: The second master's degree program is offered in applied clinical psychology.

1999: Construction is complete on the School of Nursing building, one of the college's largest programs.

2000: The School of Business Administration is nationally accredited.

2001: USC Aiken celebrates 40 years as an institution for higher learning and is named as a top comprehensive college in the South in the 2002 edition of U.S. News & World Report's college guide.

Reach Carly Phillips at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


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