University of Idaho Celebrates 60 Years in Idaho Falls

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University of Idaho Celebrates 60 Years in Idaho Falls

60 Years in Idaho Falls

The University of Idaho’s Idaho Falls location began offering courses in 1954, primarily to employees of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) national laboratory site. Classes were held in the evening at various schools in Idaho Falls. The UI Foundation accepted a visionary recommendation by Dr. Fred Tingey to purchase the former Intermountain Science Experience Center and the 26 acres of property that surrounded it in 1980.  UI now had a permanent location in which to teach courses, advise students, and manage the programs offered. Dr. Tingey became the Director of the new Idaho Falls Center for Higher Education (IFCHE) with a mission to deliver programs to meet the needs of the national lab and the community, primarily in science and engineering with an emphasis on graduate and selected undergraduate programs.

Although interaction between the College of Engineering faculty and employees of the site, known then as the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), had been occurring for many years, the college enhanced its presence in eastern Idaho in 1988 by placing the first resident faculty member in Idaho Falls. By 1995, UI faculty included chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical and nuclear engineers. A few years later computer engineering, computer science, systems engineering and engineering management classes had been added to mix. Industrial Technology moved to the College from its former location in Education in 2010. Currently the college has 12 faculty located in Idaho Falls. The resident faculty are complemented by the expertise of adjunct faculty from local industry. More than 2 dozen center staff members provide much needed support for students, faculty, laboratories, and infrastructure.


The State of Idaho constructed a 65,000 square foot classroom, laboratory and office building for University of Idaho and Idaho State University programs at IFCHE. This building was called Center for Higher Education (CHE) and classes were held there starting in 1995.  The same year, Dr. Fred Gunnerson, a UI mechanical and nuclear engineer was hired as Director of the Center to replace the retiring Dr. Tingey. 


In 1996 a fundraising effort began to build a new laboratory building to support and expand research and instruction.  The building concept was developed by Dr. Gunnerson and initially called the Center for Science and Technology (CST). A joint effort by UI President Hoover, Idaho State University (ISU) President Bowen, Idaho governors, the national lab, and the eastern Idaho community succeeded in securing approximately seven million dollars. However, economic downturns placed a hold on construction plans. 


In 1997-98, UI and ISU responded to a mandate by the State Board of Education to coordinate, combine and share educational facilities in Idaho Falls.  The two universities combined student services to aid students’ pursuit of degrees and professional development by offering more coordinated course and program offerings and joint services. The Idaho Falls campus name was changed to University Place.


The first formal Commencement ceremony was held in Idaho Falls in May 1998 to celebrate the degree achievements of students from all of the UI programs at the center. As the number of graduates increased, the ceremony was moved to the Colonial Theatre in downtown Idaho Falls where it continues to be held each Spring. In 1999 construction was started on an ISU Bennion Student Union building to serve the UI and ISU student population that was approaching 3,000 students actively pursuing a spectrum of degree opportunities. The building was finished in 2000 and is home to Student Services as well as numerous other student support programs. 


In 1999, under the direction of UI President Hoover, the Inland Northwest Research Alliance (INRA) established.  This was a partnership of seven universities in Idaho and neighboring states and was designed to support the mission of NRTS, now called Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab (INEEL).   There was a change in the prime contractor at INEEL (one of several in the lab’s history) to manage the lab for DOE.  The new managing company was BBWI (a partnership of Bechtel and BWXT). INRA was a contractual partner in this contract, holding 10 percent of the contract. Dr. Gunnerson was seconded to INEEL in a senior leadership role. Dr. Brad Eldredge, a member of the UI Chemical Engineering faculty in Idaho Falls, was appointed Acting Director for UI programs in Idaho Falls, a position he held until 2000.


Dr. Robert Stiger, a UI Mechanical Engineering faculty member took the leadership role as Director in 2000. He continued to serve as the role which was later advanced to be Dean, until 2005. During Dr. Stiger’s tenure, the old Science Center building changed names from University Place to Tingey Administration Building in honor of the first Director. Plans for the CST began again in earnest with a ceremonial groundbreaking in September 2001 but construction was halted after the devastating terrorist attacks a week later. ISU’s Foundation purchased the University Place property in 2004 and it continues to be managed cooperatively through agreements between UI, ISU and the State Board of Education.


Early in the century, as the country and region worked through recovery, the CST initiative continued to be a major goal. The name was revised to Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) to reflect its more focused mission and the future tenants, UI, ISU, Boise State University (BSU) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL, formerly INEEL) gave input on the design and construction. Ground was broken in February 2007 and tenants moved into the 55,000 square foot certified green research facility in Fall 2008. The formal dedication by Governor Otter and other public officials took place in February of 2009. Today, the 4 organizations share use of the state owned building and among other things, provide funded educational research opportunities for students.


Dr. Bob Smith, UI Distinguished Professor of Subsurface Science, was hired to the position of Dean in 2005. Soon after the title was changed to Associate Vice President/Center Executive Officer and the role expanded.  Dr. Smith’s job duties now include serving as the Associate Director of Research at CAES. Under his leadership, faculty and staff have recruited students, interns and post-doctoral scholars from other states and other countries to Idaho Falls to obtain graduate degrees as fulltime students or to engage in other research related activities. Grant proposal funding in support of the mission of CAES, UI and the INL increased greatly as did the need for additional infrastructure in the form of staff positions, new faculty, enhanced course delivery and other technological considerations.


In 2014, Dr. Lee Ostrom, Director of Industrial Technology, became Associate Dean of College of Engineering, a new position based in Idaho Falls. He is charged with oversight of all academic programs and student services offered in Idaho Falls, coordination of the UI educational contract with INL and other duties.