Aurora University was founded as Mendota Seminary in Mendota, Illinois, in 1893. At that time, the school was focused on education and training rooted in the Advent Christian Church. Within a few years of its founding, the seminary changed its name to Mendota College, and broadened its programs into a traditional liberal arts curriculum.
In 1911, residents of the nearby town of Aurora raised funds to construct a new college, led by funding from businessman Charles Eckhart, who founded the predecessor company to the Auburn Automobile Company. Recognizing mutual benefits, administrators of Mendota College moved their operations to Aurora and the school became known as Aurora College.
In 1971, Aurora College separated from the Advent Christian Church, and in 1985, changed its name to Aurora University to better reflect the breadth of its academic programs.
In 1992, the school entered into an affiliation agreement with George Williams College, in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, which was followed by a full merger in 2000. George Williams College (named for YMCA founder George Williams) had been instituted in 1886 by YMCA leaders to create a summer school where young men and women would gather for learning, fellowship and reflection. With the merger, the one-time summer school, camp and conference center now serves undergraduate students in a variety of degree programs. Over the past decade, the historic George Williams College campus has been transformed through renovations to new structures including the creation of the Winston Paul Educational Center, Oak and Hickory lodges, the Beasley Campus Center and the Ferro Pavilion, where the annual Music by the Lake outdoor concert series takes place during the summer months.In November 2022, Aurora University announced “plans to end academic programming at the campus in December 2023” and continue operations as a conference center and as the host of Music by the Lake.
Aurora University added a third location in 2009 with the opening of the Woodstock Center. The center is located in Woodstock, Illinois, approximately 50 miles north of the university's main campus. In 2023, the building was sold to McHenry County College to become its University Center, "adding additional partner universities while continuing to collaborate with AU in offering their degree programs already in place."
Today, Aurora University and the GWC campus are operated by the Board of Trustees of Aurora University and presided over by a chief executive officer. Each site has a team of senior administrators who report to the president.
Aurora University offers 60 undergraduate majors and minors, a wide variety of master's degrees, several graduate certificates in education and social work, and online doctoral degrees in education and social work .
The College of Education and Social Work includes the School of Education and George Williams School of Social Work.
The College of Health and Sciences includes the School of Health Sciences, School of Nursing, and School of Natural Sciences, Technology, and Math.
The College of Liberal Arts and Business includes the Dunham School of Business, School of Humanities, and School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Academics at George Williams College of Aurora University (GWC) offers offers undergraduate programs in business management, environmental students and sustainability, nursing, psychology, and social work. 
Aurora University Online offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs, as well as endorsements in a completely online format.
The university states that its student-faculty ratio is 18:1, and that the average class size is 26 students.
Aurora University operates on a semester-based academic year. The school offers an international- and service-focused “Travel in May” program at the conclusion of the spring semester, as well as summer courses.
Aurora University also offers programming to support college-capable students with autism spectrum disorder through the Pathways program. The first class Pathways Collegiate Program freshmen and transfer students started in the 2022-23 academic year.
The George Williams School of Social Work is accredited by the Council for Social Work Education.
The Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor training program is accredited by the Illinois Certification Board.
The Aurora campus is based primarily around a traditional quadrangle and adjacent areas. In total, the campus is approximately 32 acres. All buildings constructed by the university have red tile roofs (with the exception of two, which continue the red theme on exterior wall panels), a stipulation of Charles Eckhart in his initial donation in the early days of Aurora College.
United States historic place
Aurora College Complex (Eckhart, Davis & Wilkinson Halls)
Alumni Hall: Includes the primary student dining hall, the University Banquet Hall, Thornton Gymnasium, athletic training room, athletic offices and a weight room. In 2010, construction began on a new wing for Alumni Hall, which opened in 2011 to house several academic programs and classrooms primarily for athletic training, exercise science, nursing and social work programs.
Centennial Hall: Houses freshmen and upper-class students in air-conditioned double rooms. The building is co-ed by floor with same-gender, community-style bathrooms located on each floor.
Davis Hall and Memorial Hall: Originally built in 1912 to house male students, Davis Hall was renovated in 2004. Memorial Hall was built in 1955 as a women-only extension to Davis Hall, and was renovated in 2002. Both buildings are now co-educational residence halls.
Don and Betty Tucker Hall: Built with universal design in mind to ensure all spaces are sensory friendly. Each floor is co-ed by room and has 6 single-user restrooms for a semiprivate bathroom. Tucker Hall is also home to the Betty Parke Tucker Center for Neurodiversity, which is home to AU’s Pathways Program for college-capable students with autism spectrum disorder.
Dunham Hall: Includes the university bookstore, Dunham School of Business, and classrooms.
Eckhart Hall: Includes central administration functions, classroom space and Lowry Chapel. Along with Davis Hall and Wilkinson Hall, Eckhart was one of the three original buildings of Aurora College.
Ellsworth and Virginia Hill Welcome Center and Schingoethe Center: The Center serves as a gathering place for campus and community functions. It features a small library, dining room, and Ethel Tapper Recital Hall, an 80-seat performance space. It is also home to the Schingoethe Center Museum.
The Institute for Collaboration: Includes classrooms, the Caterpillar Center for Teaching and Learning, and the 500-seat Crimi Auditorium, which includes a pipe organ that was dedicated in 2010. The Institute also houses the Scott Center for Online and Graduate Studies, which opened in 2023.
Jenks Hall: Built in 1957, Jenks Hall is a residence hall for freshmen and upperclassmen, and also includes the university fitness center and wellness center.
John C. Dunham Hall: Formerly the STEM Partnership School, John C. Dunham Hall includes classrooms, study spaces and updated labs for the School of Health and Sciences. The building was awarded Leadership in Energy Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Kimberly and James Hill Center for Student Success: The Hill Center includes study spaces, a large classroom, and the Career Services department.
Parolini Music Center: Named for alumni and supporters Roger and Marilyn Parolini, the facility includes a music ensemble room, art studio, two teaching studios and music practice rooms.
Phillips Library: Built in 1962, the library's collection includes more than 99,000 books and 7,000 multimedia materials. The building includes a computer lab, the Center for Teaching & Learning and study rooms.
Stephens Hall: Houses the Fox River Valley Center for Community Enrichment, Perry Theatre, and the “Spartan Spot” student commons area.
Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action: Located in a restored modern home designed by the architecture firm Keck and Keck, the Wackerlin Center is the hub for campus ministries, community service and leadership studies.
Watkins Hall: Watkins Hall houses freshmen and upperclassmen in air-conditioned double rooms and suites. The building is co-ed by wing, with same-gender, community-style bathrooms located on each floor.
Wilkinson Hall: One of the original residence halls on campus, Wilkinson Hall was built in 1912 and houses upperclassmen.
Beasley Campus Center: Originally built in 1980 and named for the Beasley family, the center was expanded in 1996 and remodeled in 2007. It currently houses the campus dining facilities, space for concerts, banquets and receptions. Housed within the building are the Elliot Frank Activities Center and the Sir George Williams Room, a replica of YMCA founder Sir George Williams' room in London where he held meetings.
Brandenburg Hall: Designed by Emery Stanford Hall and built in 1916 this building includes offices for Music by the Lake, a summer concert series held annually. It is named after former GWC trustee and Associate General Secretary of the YMCA National Council, Earl Brandenburg.
Coffman Residence Hall: Named for past GWC president Harold Coffman, this building was built in 1960 and includes single rooms for student housing.
Emery Residence Hall: Built in 1998 and named after the Emery family, this student housing includes double and triple rooms and large gathering spaces.
Ferro Pavilion: Home to summer music series Music by the Lake, the permanent outdoor facility was built in 2008 and named in honor of lake residents Michael and Jacky Ferro in recognition of their generous leadership gift. Presented by George Williams College of Aurora University, Music by the Lake is an outdoor entertainment series that features big band, classical, musical theater, family shows, opera and classic rock concerts throughout the summer months. The Ferro Pavilion provides concertgoers an up-close open-air performance experience complete with views of the lake. On select nights guests can also pack a picnic and enjoy the music on the open-seating lawn areas.
Hamlin Welcome Center: The welcome center is home to the Office of Admission where representatives greet prospective students. It is named in honor of former GWC president Richard E. Hamlin.
Ingalls Children's Building: Designed by Emery Stanford Hall and erected in 1926, it was built in memory of Ruth Ann Ingalls.
Lewis Hall: Designed by Emery Stanford Hall, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, the building was constructed in 1898 as a dining hall and named for YMCA secretary William Lewis. Today it houses the newly redesigned College Inn, an a la carte restaurant for students and the public open year-round and a space for student activities. The building also includes a college gift shop.
Lowrey Hall: Named in honor of Lucy Eva Lowrey, this building provides year-round space for groups.
Mabel Cratty: A 1926 gift to the campus from the national YWCA the Mabel Cratty Building was designed by Emery Stanford Hall and created as a place for reading and contemplation. Named for the YWCA secretary, the building was renovated in 2012, an effort which was celebrated by the Wisconsin chapter of the American Institute of Architects with an Award of Merit. Inside Mabel Cratty, is Duncan Hall, named in honor of retired GWC Senior Vice President Bill Duncan and wife Laverne. Today it serves as a gathering space for the campus and lake communities.
Meyer Hall: Named for former trustee Frank Meyer Jr., this hall was built in 1957 and renovated in 2007. It is home to faculty offices and a learning center.
Oak and Hickory Residence Halls: Completed in 2003, these two adjacent buildings are used for student housing and include double and triple rooms.
Weidensall Administration Building: Named for Robert Weidensall, one of three founders of the campus, the building was constructed in 1910 and designed by Emery Stanford Hall. The Conference Center, which organizes campus space for business meetings, social gatherings or over-night retreats, is also located in this building.
Winston Paul Educational Center: Built with funds from the Winston Paul trusts and dedicated in 2004, the Educational Center is the main academic building on campus with classrooms, computer lab and meeting rooms.
Schingoethe Center of Aurora University
Aurora University is home to the Schingoethe Center of Aurora University, a museum best known for its collection of Native American artifacts. The museum was founded when Herbert and Martha Schingoethe commissioned the building of Dunham Hall, which opened to the public in 1990 and which housed their donated collection of 6000 artifacts.
Aurora competes in 24 intercollegiate varsity sports: Men's sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, track and field (indoor and outdoor), volleyball and wrestling; while women's sports include basketball, bowling, cross country, golf, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, track and field (indoor and outdoor), volleyball and wrestling. Club sports include women's cheer and dance, men's ice hockey (ACHA D2 & D3) and women's ice hockey (ACHA D1).
The home athletics facilities are Thornton Gymnasium, Spartan Athletic Park, Stuart Sports Complex, Fox Valley Ice Arena, Oakhurst Forest Preserve, Aurora Country Club, and Vago Field. The Vago Field grandstand seats 600 people while Spartan Athletic Park seats 1,150. Spartan Athletic Park is located less than a mile from the main campus in Aurora. "The complex houses...venues for football, lacrosse, soccer, and softball as well as a multipurpose indoor facility with [a] wrestling room and [a] weight room."
Aurora University athletic teams have captured 209 conference championships in school history. Since joining the NCAA in 1982, AU men's and women's teams have won 186 conference championships and appeared in 171 NCAA tournaments.
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