By: Vee Glessner
Next semester will mark the 40th year of operation of the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott Campus, which accepted its first class of students in the fall of 1978.
To celebrate, the campus looks back on its proud history: from its first class of only a few students to a bustling campus of over 2,300.
ERAU Prescott rose from the ashes of Prescott College, which had unfortunately gone bankrupt in 1974.
The original Prescott College only owned 200 acres, compared to the current ERAU Prescott’s 539, and although ERAU adopted many of the original buildings, the university made the campus its own.
ERAU Prescott celebrated its first commencement in 1982, and has had over 50 subsequent ceremonies chronologically increasing in size, grandeur, and variety of degree fields represented.
The students in the beginning were all studying Aeronautical Science, flight students, and all of their work was done by hand, on paper: computers as we know them had yet to hit the market, and wouldn’t be adopted by universities for educational purposes for years.
The first class was just a handful of students and faculty, as students were taking a major risk coming to a brand-new campus.
The first class consisted of the 268 students who decided to attend the new university in Fall of 1978.
ERAU has a few faculty members with long-standing histories with the Prescott campus, such as John Jenkins of the math department, who has been with the school since its first day; Sarah Thomas, who has 39 years experience in the library; and Dean of Students Larry Stephan, who has been with the school for 39 years as well.
Other things about ERAU in 1978 seem unimaginable now. Many of the buildings the student body knows and loves, such as King Engineering, AXFAB, Academic Complex 1, and even Hazy Library wouldn’t exist for years.
To add to that, the late 1970s and early 1980s were prime time for big hair, shoulder pads, and neon. Students and faculty alike participated in the trends of the era, rocking fluffy ponytails with scrunchies and thick, round glasses.
Other parts of pop and global culture at the time seem far-removed from our decade but heavily influenced students’ social experiences in colleges across the country.
In 1978, the no. 1 hit songs included “How Deep is Your Love” and “Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees, “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb, and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond.
The Bees Gees album “Saturday Night Fever” ranked no. 1 for 24 consecutive weeks.
The top box-office movie of the year was the iconic musical Grease, followed by the original Superman film and the classic National Lampoon’s Animal House.
Under Jimmy Carter’s presidency, a few major historical events unfolded: the U.S. turned over control of the Panama Canal to Panama, California elected its first openly gay politician to state office, and the federal government ruled quota systems that target specific demographics in college admissions processes unconstitutional.
1978 was a year for women’s rights, too. NASA selected its first American female astronauts, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was abolished and women were integrated into the regular army, and President Carter established the National Advisory Committee for Women.
In aerospace, the late 70s marked many major milestones as well. Double Eagle II became the first balloon to cross the Atlantic Ocean, Boeing began full-scale development of the 767, and the Airline Deregulation Act was signed into law, removing federal control over commercial airline prices and routes.
ERAU Prescott developed despite all of the technological limitations of its time period, geographical limitations of its campus, and financial limitations of its origins, and to celebrate its 40th anniversary, Horizons will be releasing one article every issue about an aspect of our campus’ history.
Look out for topics such as airport changes, the very first degree programs, and a day in the life of a student in 1978.