University of Illinois Chicago


More than a century of discovery and service

The University of Illinois Chicago traces its origins to several private health colleges that were founded in Chicago during the 19th century.

In the 20th century, new campuses were built in Chicago and later joined together to form a comprehensive learning community. In the last three decades, UIC has transformed itself into one of the top research universities in the United States.

U of I on Navy Pier

UIC: From Pier to Present

A 2019 video offers a look back at the history of UIC and how the university became an acclaimed research institution vital to the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the region.

A 2023 episode of “The College Tour” highlights the student experience at UIC, which is home to 16 colleges and almost 34,000 students. The episode spotlights 11 students, who share how UIC helped them fit in and find their passion through activities inside and outside of the classroom. 

1859 to 1945: Early medical roots

Old photo of a group of men performing an operation

As part of the University of Illinois, UIC grew to meet the needs of the people of Illinois, but its deepest roots are in health care. The Chicago College of Pharmacy, founded in 1859, predated the Civil War and is the oldest unit in the university. Other early colleges were the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Columbian College of Dentistry.

These Chicago-based health colleges became fully incorporated in 1913 as the College of Medicine, College of Dentistry and College of Pharmacy. The College of Pharmacy was the first pharmacy school west of the Alleghenies and emphasized laboratory instruction and research.

Dentistry became the first American dental school fully equipped with electric drills. The College of Medicine developed the country’s first occupational therapy program and grew rapidly to become the largest medical school in the U.S.

In the decades following incorporation, several other health science colleges were created. Together with the College of Medicine, College of Dentistry and College of Pharmacy, they formed the Chicago Professional Colleges of the University of Illinois. In 1961, the professional colleges became the University of Illinois at the Medical Center.

1945 to 65: Navy Pier years

Historical photo of University of Illinois Navy Pier campus

Following World War II, the University of Illinois increased its presence in Chicago by creating a temporary, two-year branch campus on Navy Pier. The Chicago Undergraduate Division primarily accommodated student veterans on the G.I. Bill. The program allowed all students to complete their first two years of study in Chicago before going downstate to finish their undergraduate degrees at Urbana-Champaign.

The lakeside location earned the Navy Pier campus the name “Harvard on the rocks.” The university shared the 3,000-foot pier with other tenants, including the Chicago Police Department Traffic Division and several military detachments. At that time Navy Pier was not the bright, attractive venue it is today as Chicago’s leading tourist attraction. The pier was a dreary, functioning port facility. Because the pier had only a single corridor along its half-mile length, students were able to see their peers each day.

Richard J. Daley

Richard J. Daley envisioned and established a public university for the city of Chicago. UIC’s Richard J. Daley Library holds the late mayor’s personal and family archive and the political papers of two other Chicago mayors.

1965 to 81: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (UICC)

Historical photo of amphitheater at Circle Campus

After the war, and after the wave of returning veterans seeking education benefits under the GI Bill had passed through, demand for a public university in Chicago remained high. The university made plans to create a permanent, degree-granting campus in the Chicago area.

The site was a 100-acre parcel at the junction of Greektown and Little Italy. To accommodate a planned student body of 32,000 in such a small area, famed Chicago architect Walter Netsch arrayed the campus buildings in concentric rings, like a droplet of water.

The University of Illinois at Chicago Circle — named for the nearby ultra-modern freeway interchange — opened in February 1965. “Circle,” as it was called, was a degree-granting institution, with ambitions to become a great university. A member of the faculty proudly noted it was the first university to be named for a transportation feature since Oxford and Cambridge.

Within five years of the campus’s opening — a period during which it was the fastest-growing campus in the country — enrollment grew from 5,000 to 18,000 and almost every department offered graduate degrees. Befitting the location of the campus at a crossroads of immigration, many of Circle’s students were the first in their families to attend college – as are many of UIC’s students today.


Stanley Ikenberry

Despite opposition fears that a merger would harm Circle’s urban mission or the reputations of the medical faculty, former university president Stanley Ikenberry signaled his support for unifying the Medical Center and Circle campuses by walking from one to the other. The new UIC was created in 1982 and within five years had attained the Carnegie Research I classification.

1982 and on: University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)

Aerial view of students on campus

UIC was born in 1982 when the Circle and Medical Center campuses consolidated to form a comprehensive university campus with seven health science colleges and an academic medical center. Consolidation helped UIC reach elite Carnegie Research I status.

In 1993, then-UIC Chancellor (and later UI President) James Stukel launched the Great Cities Initiative to join UIC teaching and research with community, corporate and government partners in tackling urban challenges. Renamed the Great Cities Commitment at its 10-year mark, the signature program integrates research with genuine community engagement.

In the 2000s, UIC’s South Campus development brought student housing, retail stores, restaurants and private residences to the historic Maxwell Street neighborhood. The influx of faculty and staff families and the expansion of student housing helped UIC change from a daytime commuter campus into a vibrant, 24-hour academic community. Today, one-third of UIC first-year students and about one-fifth of undergraduates live on campus.

In July 2019, UIC opened its newest campus living facility. The 10-story Academic and Residential Complex, which is part of a public-private partnership, holds 550 beds in a mix of traditional dorm rooms and suite-style units. Three large lecture halls, four classrooms, several small group study rooms, a tutoring center, computer stations and collaboration spaces are highlights of the facility’s academic areas.

The Engineering Innovation Building, which also opened in July 2019, is the first new academic building on the east side of campus since 1991. The 50,000-square-foot facility houses instructional space, research labs and faculty and staff offices. The building also includes the university’s first high-bay structural research lab, where researchers can carry out a wide range of tests on large-scale structural components.

Additional new campus construction projects are underway to support scholarship and research and improve the student experience.

In August 2019, UIC acquired the John Marshall Law School and formed Chicago’s only public law school. Formerly an independent private school, John Marshall was founded in 1899 and for over a century upheld a tradition of diversity, innovation and opportunity and provided an education that combines an understanding of the theory, the philosophy and the practice of law. The creation of UIC School of Law provides current and prospective law students with more affordable education, as well as enhanced student services, such as access to health care, recreational facilities, residence halls and college athletics. There will be opportunities to take interdisciplinary courses, and new joint-degree and dual-degree programs are in development. These courses and programs align with UIC’s strengths in disciplines such as the health sciences, engineering and technology, urban planning and public administration, the social sciences and business.

UIC mascots

Navy Pier’s athletic teams were known as the “Chi-Illini.” The move to Circle campus brought a new identity as the “Chikas” in homage to the Chikasaw nation.

When UIC was created, students selected the “Flames” as the team name, recalling the 1871 Chicago fire.

Sparky, introduced in January 2021, embodies the spirit, passion and grit of the UIC Flames and his hometown of Chicago.