Buena Vista College (which became Buena Vista University in 1995) was founded by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1891. The college was first granted accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1952. A graduate program in education received accreditation in March 1995, and this is when it transitioned from a college to a university.
Over time, the campus has grown from four buildings in a small area to nearly two dozen buildings which cover a handful blocks along the shores of Storm Lake. The first college building, known as “Old Main,” was opened in 1892 and was the primary building on campus until it was destroyed by fire in 1956. Around that time, a major expansion program was initiated with construction of three residence halls, a science building, a physical education complex, a library, a campus center, an auditorium and a classroom-administration building during the 1950s and 1960s.
Record enrollments in the late 1980s led to construction of three new residence halls in the early 1990s. An institutional self-study indicated the need to strengthen the college library and information resources, leading to construction of the Library and Information Technology Center in 1994-95. In 2001, the $9.5 million Lamberti Recreation Center opened, featuring three multipurpose courts and a six-lane, 200-meter indoor track. In 2004, BVU dedicated the Estelle Siebens Science Center. The 70,000-square foot building features 24 offices, 18 laboratories, seven classrooms and three research areas. In 2008, renovations to the old science building were completed and the building was rededicated as the Social Sciences & Art Hall. In addition, a new building connected to the hall, the Center for Ceramics and Sculpture, was completed.
Buena Vista launched a new era in May 1980 when they received an anonymous $18 million gift. Five years later, the anonymous donor was revealed as the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business/Siebens Forum was dedicated in the name of the benefactor. This gift started the creation of a competitive college endowment, which supported physical construction and renovation, as well as further development of regionally recognized academic programs. It made possible such distinctive programs as the William W. Siebens American Heritage Lecture Series and the Academic & Cultural Events Series (ACES).
Throughout the years, Buena Vista has recognized needs and trends and adapted to meet them. In the mid-70s, the institution opened its first satellite campus to help serve the needs of non-traditional students who could not attend classes in Storm Lake. Today, there are 15 locations across the state of Iowa as well as an online program for expanded learning opportunities. In August 2000, BVU became the nation’s first “wireless community” when they gave laptop computers to all full-time students and faculty at the Storm Lake campus with the ability to connect to the campus-wide wireless network. The university continues to issue laptops each year, and in the fall of 2011, they also distributed iPads to new and existing students at the Storm Lake campus.