Sam Houston State University, (known as SHSU and Sam, for short) founded in 1879, is a public university located in Huntsville, Texas. It is one of the oldest purpose-built institutions for the instruction of teachers west of the Mississippi River and the first such institution of its type in the State of Texas and the southwestern United States. It is named for one of Texas' founding fathers, Sam Houston, who made his home in the city. The university is part of the Texas State University System and is a comprehensive, doctoral granting university enrolling approximately 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
When the university first opened, students received a certification to teach in the state's elementary and secondary schools, but after 1919, the university began to award bachelor's degrees. In 1923, the school was renamed the Sam Houston State Teachers College. In 1936, the school awarded its first post-baccalaureate degree. In 1965, the school was renamed, again, to Sam Houston State College, and, finally, to Sam Houston State University in 1969.
The university celebrated its 125th year in 2004.
In 2007, a proposal was briefly considered to change the school's name to Texas State University - Sam Houston (intending to associate the campus more with the Texas State University System of which it is a member). However, In April, 2007, Texas House Bill 1418 passed without objection in the Texas Legislature; the bill prevents the Texas State University System’s board of regents from changing SHSU’s name.
Sam's programs in criminal justice are particularly strong given the school's long relationship with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, headquartered in Huntsville, and the local state prison. Recently, the Department of History and School of Music are experiencing growth, the latter attracting performers to its reputable music education program. Additionally, many students choose to go to Sam because of its traditional academic strength, its education program.
Currently (as of 12/2006), the university offers:
Sam Houston State's colors are orange and white and their nickname is the Bearkats. Sam Houston State sports teams participate in NCAA Division I (Championship Subdivision for football) in the Southland Conference. SHSU's primary rival is Stephen F. Austin State University and tensions between the two schools can run high before major sporting events that pit one against the other.
Early references to "Bearkats" spelled the name either "Bearcats," "Bear Cats," or "Bearkats." A bearcat is said by some to be a kinkajou, a small, golden, carnivorous mammal that resides in the jungles of South America. It is doubtful those who coined the "Bearkat" nickname had either a kinkajou or a binturong in mind. However, more likely, the name came from a popular local saying of the time, "Tough as a Bearkat!" Since the animal in the saying was thought more mythical than real, the spelling settled upon was "Bearkat."
In the late 1940s, then SHSU President Harmon Lowman attempted to change the Sam Houston mascot from Bearkats to "Ravens" (after General Sam Houston's Cherokee nickname). Mrs. Vernon Schuder reported that the alumni were polled, she voted for the raven but that "all those old Bearkats beat us out!"
The current Sammy Bearkat mascot character began appearing at Sam Houston State sports events in 1959.