We’re proud of where we came from. Much has changed since our founding by the Presbyterian Church more than 125 years ago. However, our motto still rings true: "Education for Service." Find out how Buena Vista grew from modest beginnings to an impressive university campus on the shores of Storm Lake.
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 1995, initiating a transition 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 of 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, physical education complex, library, campus center, an auditorium, and a classroom-administration building during the 1950s and 1960s.
The college launched a new era in May 1980 when it received an anonymous $18 million gift. Five years later, the anonymous donor was revealed as the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business/Siebens Forum (HWSSOB/SF) 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. In 2018, the HWSSOB/SF was extensively renovated to create a more student-focused space. The facility now features expanded student lounges, more modern classrooms, a bright and open dining hall, a state-of-the-art trading room for business majors, and a renovated bookstore.
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 state-of-the-art, 70,000-square foot Estelle Siebens Science Center. Four years later, renovations to the old science building were completed and the building was rededicated as the Social Sciences & Art Hall with an attached Center for Ceramics and Sculpture. In 2012, a major renovation of Pierce/White residence halls was completed, including new furniture, upgraded lighting, a multipurpose space, elevator, and a new entrance.
Throughout the years, BVU has recognized needs and trends and adapted to meet them. In the mid-70s, the institution opened its first satellite location to help serve the needs of non-traditional students who could not attend classes in Storm Lake. Today, there are locations across the state of Iowa, as well as an online program for expanded learning opportunities. Graduate students benefit from several online options as well. In 2000, BVU became the nation’s first “wireless community” by providing laptops to all full-time students and faculty on the Storm Lake campus with the ability to connect to the campus-wide wireless network. Since then, BVU has built on civic engagement opportunities to create a greater atmosphere for community and campus service and involvement. Students have learned what it means to be global citizens and travel the world through professor-led academic ventures. Students also benefit from marching and pep band programs, as well as the Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Resource management feature programs in ag-business and ag-science, which began in 2019.