The face of our valley changed this week.

Literally.

Each of those new letters on the side of the McKay Events Center is 8 feet tall, but they carry a visual wallop that makes them appear twice as big.

"Utah Valley University."

With just 20 letters, the statement is a striking, bricks-and-mortar text message to everyone speeding down I-15: Utah Valley has grown up. The state's second-largest county finally has a state university.

Legally, what once was Utah Tech and Utah Valley Community College, and lately Utah Valley State College, became UVU on Tuesday. Here's a glimpse of how it happened.

• Fifteen years ago, then-President Kerry Romesburg took advantage of the school's promotion from a community college to a state college to take an early psychological step toward the next rung up the ladder of Utah's system of higher education.

The address for the Orem campus at the time was another mundane Utah location-finder: 800 W. 1200 South.

Work also was being done to the roundabout on the south entrance to the school, so Romesburg asked Val Peterson, assistant vice president, to find out if the school owned any land along the larger thoroughfare that feeds the roundabout.

Sure enough, it did, and the school changed its address to 1200 S. University Parkway.

"Every time somebody saw our address, I wanted them to see 'university,"' Romesburg said. "That's the word we wanted them to associate with us."

• About four years ago, new UVSC President William Sederburg set up a lunch meeting with Senate President John Valentine, House Speaker Jeff Alexander and Peterson, now a UVSC vice president.

Using the whiteboard in Sederburg's back office, the men brainstormed. What emerged was a strategy that remained on that whiteboard for more than two years.

"It had all the elements we thought were needed and a timeline," Valentine said. "The only thing I disagreed with was the timeline was too long. Political careers are too short. You have to do things when you're in the right position."

Valentine also said the sketch on the whiteboard initially felt like the parameters of a "Mission: Impossible" episode.

• That's what Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Kendall thought, too, when he got a look at the whiteboard outline in 2006.

"I think we can work this through over the next eight years," Kendall told Sederburg and Valentine. After some more discussion, he said, "I think over the next four years, we can make this happen."

That's when Valentine looked at him and said, "No, it's going to be in two years, by the end of 2008."

Kendall joined the collaboration that created a plan to prepare the campus for the move to university status: More faculty and fewer adjunct professors. Another $10 million per year in state funding. A library. More classrooms.

Finally, Kendall introduced the whiteboard plan as a memo to the Legislature with his name on it.

And now we have a university in our swelling valley with a student body expected to expand from 24,000 to 40,000 by 2030.

Those 8-foot-tall letters are perfect.


Utah County Bureau Chief Tad Walch lives with his wife and five children in Provo, their home of 21 years. E-mail [email protected]