Jesuit Mission USF history

History of the Sciences: Changing Course

The University of San Francisco and its science programs witnessed significant changes during the administration of John Lo Schiavo, S.J., whose presidency spanned the years from 1977 to 1991. Following USF’s economic crisis of the early and mid-1970s (see vignette #25), financial stability was restored, the longstanding cumulative debt of the university was eliminated, and beginning in 1980, every annual budget under Fr. Lo Schiavo was balanced. The REACH capital campaign was launched in 1978, and when the campaign ended in 1982, it had brought in $26.8 million, making it the largest and most successful capital campaign in the institution’s history up to that time. USF acquired the Lone Mountain Campus in 1978 and built the Koret Health and Recreation Center in 1989 with funds raised by another capital campaign. The university’s endowment grew during this period from $4.6 million in May 1976 to $38.7 million in May 1991. Overall student enrollment during Fr. Lo Schiavo’s administration increased almost ten percent, from 6,236 students in the fall of 1976 to 6,853 in the fall of 1991, though the number of science majors continued its downward trend, from 673 in the fall of 1976 to 500 in the fall of 1991. To try to bolster enrollment, several new academic programs, including in the sciences, were added during the 1980s.

26 Harney Plaza water fountain 1980

In the 1980s, Harney Plaza with its fountain in front of the Harney Science Center was a major gathering point for students (such as the two USF students nearest to the fountain, Mary Beth Bonnacci and John Sefranek). The fountain also served as an outdoor venue for speeches, concerts, rallies, and other university events. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

The graduate program in environmental management began in the Office of Continuing Education in 1977 under the leadership of Joseph Petulla, who authored eight books and numerous articles on environmental management and obtained several private and federal grants for the program. The master’s in environmental management became a mainstay of the College of Professional Studies (the successor to the Office of Continuing Education) before it was transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences in 1987. Petulla, with the support of biology professors R. James Brown and William Jordan (see vignette #25), greatly expanded the program and took it abroad to Europe, China, and the Philippines. By the fall of 1991, enrollment in the environmental management master’s program stood at 131 students, up from 88 students in the fall of 1987. The program met the needs of environmental specialists in industry, government, and the private sector, and could be completed by professionals as they continued their employment. The curriculum provided students with knowledge of the scientific, technical, legal, economic, and public policy components of environmental management associated with air and water quality, solid and liquid waste management, energy, land use, and environmental health. Students could also take environmental engineering electives and were required to complete an original project leading to a master’s thesis in a particular area of concentration. The program faculty maintained close ties with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, and various other federal, state, and local environmental agencies that employed many of the program’s graduates. This new master’s degree program was added to the existing repertoire of graduate programs in the sciences, including the master’s degrees offered in biology, chemistry, and computer science. Graduate enrollment in the sciences increased from 32 students in the fall of 1976 to 131 in the fall of 1991, with most of that increase in the environmental management program.

26 Students working in computer lab

During the 1980s, USF students had ample opportunity to work with what were then “state-of-the-art” computers. As technology has changed, so have the university’s technological resources for students. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

The 1980s witnessed other programmatic changes in the sciences at USF. In the fall of 1987, the College of Arts and Sciences launched an undergraduate major in environmental sciences, which was closely connected to the master’s program in environmental management. The undergraduate students pursued an integrated and interdisciplinary curriculum in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and environmental management, culminating in a senior research project designed to underpin graduate work or a career associated with air and water quality management, hazardous waste management, environmental health, or energy and land use management. In the biology major, an electron microscopy emphasis was added to prepare students for graduate study in cell and molecular biology, for other graduate disciplines in the life sciences, and for positions in academic, medical, or industrial laboratories. Concurrently, a molecular biology emphasis was added to augment students’ training for graduate work in genetics or molecular biology, or for positions in biotechnology laboratories and related fields. In the fall of 1986, the college launched a major in computer engineering (derived from a former emphasis in that content area) to prepare students to work in the rapidly developing computer industry, with a focus on the design and development of computer hardware systems. The curriculum integrated course work from computer engineering, mathematics, computer science, and physics. In September 1988, the computer science program was among the first 65 in the nation to receive national accreditation at the undergraduate level by the Computer Science Commission of the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB). In cooperation with USF’s McLaren College of Business, the mathematics department in the College of Arts and Sciences developed a bachelor’s in mathematics with a business foundations emphasis, designed for students wishing to pursue a business career or to enroll in an MBA degree program. By the fall semester of 1991, there were 369 undergraduate students majoring in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and environmental science—a significant decrease, however, from the 641 undergraduate science majors in the fall of 1976, a decline only partially offset by the increase in graduate science students.

26 USF students ride a cable car

In 1873, Andrew Hallidie, a Scottish immigrant, wire rope manufacturer, and operator of cable transport devices in the mines of Northern California, gave the first public demonstration of a device he had invented for the steep streets of San Francisco: a cable-operated streetcar. By the 1880s, cable car lines extended for 112 miles on eight different lines throughout San Francisco. They were almost entirely phased out after World War II, but in 1955, with only a few miles of cable car lines left, the citizens of San Francisco voted to save them, and in 1964, the San Francisco cable car system was declared a National Historic Landmark. In this photo from the mid-1980s, USF students enjoy riding on one of the city’s historic cable cars, as students still do today. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

During the 1980s, several outstanding faculty members joined the science programs at USF, and two of those individuals soon began administering the College of Arts and Sciences. Before coming to USF in 1981, Carl Naegele was a program director at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., associate professor of physics at Michigan State University, and research associate and director of premedical physics at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. in physics. At USF, Naegele taught physics and computer science and served as associate dean of the sciences, receiving the Leadership Award from the faculty and staff of the science division for his work. In 1986, he was appointed dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. As dean, Naegele reorganized the College of Arts and Sciences into three major divisions, each with an associate dean: Maureen O’Sullivan, professor of psychology, was named associate dean for the arts; Stanley Nel, associate professor of mathematics, was selected to be associate dean for the sciences; and Kim Summerhays, professor of chemistry, became associate dean for graduate programs and support services.

26 Carl Naegele

Carl Naegele began his career at USF in 1981, teaching physics and computer science. He served as associate dean for the sciences, and in 1986, he was appointed dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a position he held until May 1990, when he returned to his professorship in physics and computer science. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

26 Stanley Nel

Stanley Nel began his career at USF as an assistant professor of mathematics in 1983. He quickly advanced to become department chair for mathematics, a tenured professor, and associate dean for the sciences before his selection as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1990. While Nel was dean, the college witnessed significant growth in student enrollment, increased faculty recruitment, and considerable program development. In 2003, he was appointed USF’s vice president for international relations. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Naegele also explored the feasibility of offering new graduate programs in the college to offset the decline in undergraduate enrollment. In 1989, for example, Naegele commissioned a marketing study by Alan Ziajka, then assistant vice president for academic affairs, on the viability of offering a master’s degree in sports and fitness management, a program initiative first proposed by George McGlynn, professor of physical education. Over the next several years, this program and other graduate programs were successful in bringing many new students to the college. In addition, freshman enrollment in the college began to increase during the last two years of Dean Naegele’s administration, from 238 first-time and transfer freshmen in the fall of 1987 to 321 by the fall of 1989. In May 1990, Naegele resigned as dean to return to teaching physics and computer science. In 1994, Professor Naegele, in his capacity as director of the USF Science Teacher Institute, and Clifton Albergotti, physics department chair, received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund a project to introduce Bay Area high school physics teachers to the use of computers. In 2005, Carl Naegele died at age 66 of complications associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Stanley Nel came to USF in 1983 as an assistant professor of mathematics. He was promoted to associate professor with tenure and later to full professor, and he chaired the mathematics department and served as associate dean for the sciences before becoming the college’s dean in 1990 following Carl Naegele’s resignation. In 1986, Nel was named the outstanding faculty member in the sciences by the college’s faculty development committee. Two years later, he was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an applied mathematics computing laboratory for the college. A Rhodes Scholar, Stanley Nel did his undergraduate work at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where he also received his Ph.D. in 1980. As an undergraduate and graduate student, Nel specialized in applied mathematics, mathematical physics, and cosmology. His doctoral dissertation was titled Observational Space-Times, and he subsequently published numerous articles on his specialties in peer-reviewed journals, including his research in observational cosmology. In 1985, he was the only representative from a Catholic institution to join 19 other internationally known researchers at the “Theory and Observational Limits of Cosmology” conference sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and hosted by Pope John Paul II. Stanley Nel served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1990 to 2003, a period of significant growth in student enrollment, faculty recruitment, and program development. While he was dean, Nel served on several critical management committees at the university, and in 2003, he was appointed USF’s first vice president for international relations.

26 Benjamin Wells

Beginning in 1983, Benjamin Wells taught a wide range of mathematics and computer science courses at USF, until his retirement in 2011 as professor of mathematics and computer science emeritus. For years he taught a popular freshman seminar on science and art, and he also developed an innovative project to teach math through art to at-risk middle school students in San Francisco. In 2009, Wells was the recipient of the university’s Distinguished Research Award. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Benjamin Wells joined USF’s mathematics department in 1983 but was soon teaching mathematics and computer science courses as a member of both the math and computer science departments. For years he taught a popular freshman seminar that combined science and art. Professor Wells earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. He won a John Templeton Foundation science and religion course prize in 1998 and held the USF Louise M. Davies Professorship in 1989. His research and publications covered a wide range of advanced topics in logic, algebra, and computing. He also did the foundational work for the Fusion Project, which used art to teach mathematics to at-risk San Francisco middle school students. The collaborative project involved the USF College of Arts and Sciences, the USF School of Education, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The project opened young students’ eyes to the prevalence of math in museum settings, brought art to the math classroom and math students to the art museum, and fostered students’ understanding of percentages, volumes, symmetry, and architectural elements. In 2009, Wells received the university’s Distinguished Research Award, two years before he retired as professor of mathematics and computer science emeritus.

26 Jeff Buckwalter

Jeff Buckwalter is currently an associate professor of computer science at USF and director of the Dual Degree Program in Teacher Education. He teaches undergraduate and graduate computer networking courses and has published in the areas of frame relay computer networking, network design, and data communication. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

After receiving his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, Jeff Buckwalter began his career at USF in the computer science department in 1982. He is currently an associate professor of computer science and also serves as the director of the Dual Degree Program in Teacher Education. He teaches undergraduate and graduate computer network courses, and his current research interests include performance prediction of supercomputers. Professor Buckwalter has led numerous professional seminars on data communication, network design, and frame relay computer networking. He authored the book Frame Relay: Technology and Practice and the publication “Queuing Network Models of Performance of High End Computing Systems” for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He has also written training materials for Sprint and a frame relay seminar manual for Business Communication Review.

Jeff Curtis joined the chemistry department in 1983, after receiving his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. At USF, Curtis rose through the ranks to become a tenured professor and later chair of the department. He obtained a three-year $109,000 NSF grant to study the fundamental nature of electron transfer between molecules, and another NSF grant for $135,000 to support USF undergraduate and graduate students’ research in chemistry. Professor Curtis has presented numerous professional papers, often co-authored with his students, and has published a wide range of peer-reviewed journal articles, also frequently co-written with his students. His major areas of research are in inorganic chemistry and include optical and thermal electron-transfer processes, redox kinetics and their electrolyte effects, solvent-solute interactions, and second coordination sphere interactions. In 1998, Jeff Curtis received the university’s Distinguished Research Award.

26 Jeff Curtis

Jeff Curtis began his career at USF in 1983 and is currently a professor of chemistry. Professor Curtis has obtained major NSF grants, published and presented numerous scientific papers with his students, and received the university’s Distinguished Research Award. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Tristan Needham studied physics at Merton College, Oxford University, before enrolling in that venerable institution’s Mathematical Institute, where he studied black holes under the supervision of the legendary Sir Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics. After receiving his B.A. in physics and his D.Phil. in mathematics from Oxford University, Dr. Needham joined the faculty at the University of San Francisco in 1989, gained tenure, and became a full professor of mathematics. His research focused on differential geometry, complex analysis, general relativity, and the history of science. His book, Visual Complex Analysis, published by Oxford University Press, won first prize in the National Jesuit Book Award Competition in 1997 for its innovative geometric approach, and it has since been translated into several languages. An earlier paper, “Geometry of Harmonic Functions,” derived from the same research that inspired his book, received the Mathematical Association of America’s Carl B. Allendoerfer Award. Needham’s research and teaching, like that of his mentor, Sir Roger Penrose, reflects the school of thought in the mathematical academic world that emphasizes visualization and geometry rather than abstract calculations as a way of understanding advanced mathematical concepts. Professor Needham has published many other professional papers, and in 1997, he received the university’s Distinguished Research Award. In April 2014, Needham invited his former supervisor, Sir Roger Penrose, to speak at USF. Needham is currently engaged in composing a new book, Visual Differential Geometry.

26 Tristan Needham

Tristan Needham, professor of mathematics, is an award-winning author whose work focuses on visualization and geometry to understand advanced mathematical concepts. He is the recipient of the university’s Distinguished Research Award. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

26 Peter Pacheco

Peter Pacheco, professor of computer science, works closely with students in developing computer programs and in conducting research that has been published in books, articles, and conference papers. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Peter Pacheco received his Ph.D. from Florida State in 1983, and began his career at USF in 1989, after completing a post-doctoral instructorship in the mathematics department at UCLA. Professor Pacheco served as chair of the department of computer science and the department of mathematics, and is currently a tenured professor of computer science and mathematics. Pacheco’s main research interests include parallel computing, algorithms, and numerical analysis. His book, Parallel Programming with MPI, is an introduction to programming parallel systems that use the MPI 1 library of extensions to C and FORTRAN. He has also written An Introduction to Parallel Programming, a User’s Guide to MPI, and several papers for professional journals and conferences. Professor Pacheco received a National Science Foundation Grant (NSF) to conduct a conference on parallel computing and linear algebra. He was involved in the development of the MPI Standard for message-passing. During the 1990s, Pacheco directed the USF Math Lab, a nontraditional class in which a select group of highly motivated students conducted research on what were then characterized as supercomputers. Professor Pacheco has also worked in the area of computational neuroscience, and in concert with many of his students, developed a collection of programs, Parallel Neurosys, for the simulation of large networks of biologically accurate neurons on parallel computers.

Tami Spector began her career in the chemistry department at USF in 1989 and is currently a professor of organic chemistry. She received her B.A. from Bard College and her Ph.D. from Dartmouth College, and she was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota. She has also been a visiting researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, the California Institute of Technology, and the Huntington Library. Trained as a physical organic chemist, her past research has focused on fluorocarbons, strained ring organics, and the molecular dynamics and free energy calculations of biomolecules. Professor Spector’s current research involves molecular aesthetics, the visual image of chemistry, the intersections of chemistry and contemporary visual art, and nanoaesthetics. She began this work in 1997, when she was awarded the USF National Endowment for the Humanities Chair for her research on the Molecular Aesthetics of Disease. In 2005, she served as the Louis M. Davies Forum Professor for the course “The Material Body: Medicine and Aesthetics in American Culture.” Spector has published almost 20 articles in peer-reviewed journals and scholarly books, served as an editor for several journals, and co-curated “Chemistry in Art: A Virtual Exhibition.” She is on the HYLE editorial board and serves on the governing and editorial boards of the Leonardo/International Society for Art, Science and Technology. She currently co-hosts the bimonthly USF Leonardo Arts Sciences Evening Rendezvous’ Program (LASER), is the co-editor of the ongoing special section “Art and Atoms” for the LeonardoJournal, and is the editor of an e-book of the same name. She was a host and participant in the MIT Press podcast Art and Atoms. Professor Spector is a recipient of the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

26 Tami Spector and student

Tami Spector (on the left), professor of organic chemistry, in a chemistry lab with one of her current students: Amera Al-Faleh, a senior majoring in chemistry. Professor Spector teaches organic chemistry and molecular gastronomy. Her current research focuses on molecular aesthetics, the visual image of chemistry, the intersections of chemistry and contemporary visual art, and nanoaesthetics. Dr. Spector is a recipient of the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award. PAUL MORRILL, UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO

The University of San Francisco’s 1988 Self-Study for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) highlighted many of the strengths of the science programs in the College of Arts and Sciences at the university:

In addition to individual guidance and a balanced curriculum preparing students for the future, the College of Arts and Sciences cites among the advantages of an educational experience in the College its respected faculty, who are dedicated to teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Many of the faculty are international experts in their fields. Students have the opportunity to conduct individual research at the undergraduate level, and are encouraged to pursue independent research and participate in significant faculty research projects. Students often work with faculty to co-write articles for scientific journals and accompany professors to presentations. Further, opportunities are offered in respected campus-based research institutes and organizations, including the Physics Research Laboratory, the Institute of Chemical Biology, a NASA study, and the Applied Mathematics Laboratory. Several of the majors provide opportunities for part-time employment and internships and research assistantships which provide the opportunity to apply theory to practice and also provide relevant career orientation.

The 1988 WASC self-study also noted the changing demographics of the USF student population. Once drawn predominantly from San Francisco, the student population was increasingly coming from a wider geographical area covering many states and countries. An increasing number of international students were entering the university, especially in the sciences. Looking into their educational crystal ball, the writers of the 1988 self-study predicted an increase in the number of students coming to the United States from the Pacific Rim countries, especially from China. “China is opening its doors to the Western world and is seeking increased trade and education for its people,” the self-study asserted. “With an educational system far behind that of modern industrial societies, China will be seeking help from U.S. colleges. With the long history of Jesuit involvement in China, USF is prepared to assist China in achieving increased levels of education for its people.”

In the fall of 1989, there were 612 international students studying at USF, representing ten percent of the total student population of 6,028. Among the international students that fall semester, only 22 were from China. By the fall of 2013, there were 1,569 international students studying at USF, representing 15.5 percent of the total student population. Within the international student population in the fall of 2013, 934 students, or 59.5 percent, were from China. The writers of the 1988 WASC self-study were indeed prescient in their forecast.


The administration of John Lo Schiavo, S.J., is documented in a large selection of primary documents (letters, photos, reports) kept at the Jesuit Community at USF, furnished by the late Edward Stackpoole, S.J., former rector of the Jesuit Community. Information about Fr. Lo Schiavo’s presidency at USF can be found in numerous publications, including the USF Alumnus, spring 1990; the USF Monday Bulletin, January 26, 1987; University of San Francisco Magazine, summer 1999; USFnews Online, June 1, 2004; the San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1982, January 9, 1983, April 7, 1983, November 29, 1983, February 2, 1990, and March 10, 1998; and the Chronicle of Higher Education, June 6, 1983 and April 4, 1990. The author taped three interviews with Fr. Lo Schiavo during 2002 for his book Legacy and Promise: 150 Years of Jesuit Education at the University of San Francisco, pages 335–337. Enrollment data from 1976 to 1991 was supplied by Fred Baldwin, associate director, USF Center for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness. Biographical information about Carl Naegele, Stanley Nel, Benjamin Wells, Jeff Buckwalter, Jeff Curtis, Tristan Needham, Peter Pacheco, and Tami Spector is found on the University of San Francisco’s Online Faculty Biography Section ( Notes on faculty members who began their careers at USF during the 1980s appear in numerous other publications, including the USF Monday Bulletin, published throughout the decade. The general catalogs of the University of San Francisco, beginning with the 1979–80 issue and continuing through the 1989–1991 issue, have been helpful in understanding the College of Arts and Sciences during the 1980s. Also useful was the University of San Francisco Report to the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges & Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, September 29, 1988, pages 13–19.

Alan Ziajka, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and University Historian