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Friday Letter Office of the President

The Friday Letter

The Friday Letter is a weekly e-newsletter from the President and focuses on various topics, news, features and announcements. It is sent to faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and other friends of the University of Idaho.

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  • Current Issue

    February 5, 2016

    Dear Friends,

    The University of Idaho is unique among colleges and universities in our state in that our teaching, research and outreach touch every corner of Idaho. From Priest Lake to Bear Lake, from Preston to Ponderay, and from Idaho Falls to Boise and beyond, Idaho is our campus. North Idaho, especially, is Vandal country. Our Coeur d’Alene center offers opportunities for students, outreach that meets community needs, and workforce development that trains citizens for the jobs of today — and tomorrow.

    The Coeur d’Alene center, located on the banks of the Spokane River not far from downtown, is a growing hub for outstanding educational experiences, including a complement of certificate options and bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Many offerings, such as our Executive MBA program, are ideal for adults seeking to continue their educations while working. The physical landscape of higher education in Coeur d’Alene is changing to meet new growth, as a new joint-use building in collaboration with NIC and LCSC will bolster support services and help students get the most from their experiences.

    The Coeur d’Alene center actively develops entrepreneurship and innovation. At our Post Falls Research Park, an emerging business incubator, we connect great ideas with the resources they need to accomplish big goals. North Idaho is embracing industries of the future, including cybersecurity. UI-CDA recently won a two-year state workforce training grant and has added private-sector support to launch the Cybersecurity Training and Operations Center. The Post Falls center will train the next generation of in-demand employees to succeed in a risk-filled online world, helping them secure a bright future in a thriving sector of our economy. Cybersecurity is an emerging area of excellence at UI, and this center leverages that expertise for the entire community.

    The Coeur d’Alene center also promotes tech savvy through the “Dign’IT” program, which includes coding camps for young people, a summer technology internship program for high school students, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) labs for all age levels. UI-CDA houses the Idaho Regional Math Center, focusing on teacher professional development; a nonprofit leadership program; and a Community Water Resource Center that partners with experts and community members on water quality, research and education. The sponsorship of a community makerspace, Gizmo-CDA, rounds out our multi-faceted commitment to supporting the interests and needs of the community.

    We’re lucky to have Charles Buck, associate vice president at the center, coordinating how we serve North Idaho from the center and from Moscow. He has built valuable relationships in the community, including taking a leadership role with CDA 2030, a collaborative project that helps groups and organizations work toward a common vision for a flourishing city. That work is a great example of the imaginative engagement our centers can bring to a community.

    As in areas throughout the state, UI research and outreach and Extension are exploring solutions to complex problems and helping meet community needs. Research on water and natural resources continues to be important. In each of our Extension offices across the region, 4-H and other youth development programs continue to help young people grow as leaders and thinkers.

    North Idaho is beautiful country. It’s also an area bustling with promise and opportunity. In the heart of Vandal country, UI is helping shape a bright future.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
  • January 29, 2016

    January 29, 2016

    Dear Friends,

    I would like to share some information on a complex issue: medical education in Idaho. Providing medical professionals to ensure the health of our citizens is an important educational mission. Healthcare encompasses many professions: physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and more. This letter will focus on physician training or the medical doctorate (M.D.), in which UI plays a critical role. Understanding how medical education is delivered is necessary for making informed decisions about the future of such programs in Idaho – planning for smart and sustained growth.

    The WWAMI program is the primary MD training program in Idaho. WWAMI stands for “Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho” – a partnership between the state of Washington, its top-rated medical school at the University of Washington, and the four, more sparsely populated nearby states that do not have their own public medical schools. Through this program, Idaho students receive the M.D. degree from the University of Washington, nationally ranked No. 1 for primary care, No. 1 for family medicine, No. 1 for rural medicine, and highly ranked in many specialties and in research.

    For three decades, Idaho had 20 WWAMI seats. Last year, that number rose to 35 Idaho students. And this year, UI requested state funds to enroll 40 students in the Idaho WWAMI program. That growth has contributed to success for students and to a healthier state.

    Physician training is long, complex and requires a system of universities, medical schools and residency programs. An excellent resource from which I will draw much of my data is the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) 2015 State Physician Workforce Data Book and related material on their website.

    Preparation for Medical School – 4 years

    Most aspiring physicians begin preparation for medical education as undergraduates in a bachelor’s degree program. Few colleges offer pre-medical majors, and prospective medical students may complete any degree program provided the requisite coursework in chemistry, biology, mathematics, physics and English is successfully completed before admission. Just over half of all students entering medical school in 2015 had completed a biology major, but many other majors are represented. All of Idaho’s four-year institutions offer appropriate prerequisite coursework for applying to medical school.

    Medical School – 4 years

    Physicians may hold an MD or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. As the degree that designates entry into the medical profession, these degree programs are considered Undergraduate Medical Education among medical schools, an often confusing term for a professional degree that follows bachelor’s degree attainment. Traditionally, medical school was a four-year educational curriculum that began with foundational basic sciences, and then introduced clinical experiences in hospitals and doctor’s offices as the curriculum progressed. Increasingly, new curricular approaches are integrating clinical work throughout training, requiring medical schools to have access to clinicians and clinical sites to permit such experiences.

    Residency Training – 3-6 years

    After completing an MD or DO program, almost all physicians pursue Graduate Medical Education, commonly referred to as residency training, for the purpose of establishing a specialty. Primary care residencies (Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics) are typically three years of intense clinical experience in supervised settings. Other specialties, such as surgery or radiology, are typically six years and require even more specialized supervision. Many residencies are at academic medical centers, but they can also be at community hospitals. Idaho has residencies in Family Medicine based in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello; in Internal Medicine in Boise; and in Psychiatry in Boise.

    Physician Workforce Needs

    The AAMC is concerned that current physician training may not produce enough doctors to meet the United States needs in the 21st century. AAMC data clearly indicate that Idaho’s physician pipeline is very limited, which is why the University of Idaho has been working hard to increase physician training on multiple fronts.

    Idaho ranks 49th in physicians per capita. We have less than 20 percent of the national average of medical residents per capita, and reasonable estimates of medical students from Idaho – enrolled in programs across the U.S. – indicate that our state enrolls Idahoans in medical school at less than half the per capita national average. Idaho students applying to medical school are well-qualified, with MCAT test scores and grade point averages very similar to national peers, and they are admitted at rates similar to all premedical students.

    In sum, for its population, Idaho has a low number of practicing physicians and a small, but growing MD production pipeline. While we strengthen that pipeline, we can continue building upon the Idaho WWAMI program’s strengths and expanding capacity.

    The University of Idaho’s Current Role

    The University of Idaho plays important roles at all three stages of the physician pipeline. It is not certain how many UI students attend medical school after graduation, but we know that about 10 percent of all WWAMI students studied at UI. Clearly, UI plays an important role in pre-medical (bachelor’s degree) education, one we plan to expand.

    Second, the centerpiece of UI’s role in medical education is the Idaho WWAMI program. In this program, Idaho students, no matter where they attended undergraduate education, access the UW School of Medicine via the University of Idaho. They complete their first 18 months of physician training in Moscow and surrounding rural communities, facilitated by UI faculty and area physicians. That experience is followed by clinical clerkships in 178 locations across Idaho and other WWAMI states. Students then complete an eight-week clinical rotation in one of the University of Washington’s highly specialized quaternary care hospitals, and may choose clinical rotations throughout the WWAMI network. Fortunately, most Idaho WWAMI students complete the bulk of their MD training in Idaho.

    Last, WWAMI graduates, like most physicians, will complete residencies before practicing. WWAMI staff play an integral role for the residencies in Idaho. Residency is often the primary determinant of where a physician will practice. We are fortunate that despite the limited residency opportunities currently available within the state, 51 percent of all Idaho WWAMI graduates have practiced or are practicing in Idaho.

    I hope you see that the challenge of educating, attracting and retaining Idaho’s 21st-century physician workforce is a complex one. The University of Idaho is pleased to have a world-class partner in the University of Washington to help us meet that challenge, and we are proud to have rapidly increased the number of students admitted to pursue physician training.

    We have a long history and exciting future in training Idaho’s next generation of physicians. We need to work collaboratively to find solutions for access to medical education. Together, we can overcome our state’s healthcare challenges and lead Idaho to a healthier tomorrow.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
  • January 22, 2016

    January 22, 2016

    Dear Friends,

    Next week I will present the University of Idaho’s budget priorities before committees of the Idaho Legislature, sharing the story of our success and how we can build on that excellence. As our state’s land-grant institution, UI conducts teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and Extension. Our ability to meet these responsibilities with effectiveness and strong fiscal stewardship means that public support of the University of Idaho is a sound investment in a great future.
    What do we mean by “investment”? The economic impact report I shared two weeks ago offers some insight. Across the board, UI delivers return on investment for our students, our citizens and our state. The report convincingly demonstrates that higher education is not a luxury, and it is not an expense. It is the foundation for our shared prosperity. At the legislature, I will explore the success of previous years of investments, and make the case for programs and initiatives that will allow us to do more.
    Last week, Governor Otter offered his budget recommendations as part of the State of the State Address. Though not directive, these recommendations often form the basis of legislative appropriations. The governor’s budget includes an increase in the Opportunity Scholarship, a new Completion Scholarship and an innovative Tuition Lock program.  These programs offer ways to expand access to higher education. The tuition lock program provides stability and predictability for Idaho students and families, and it is philosophically consistent with commitments we have made as a university to ensure access and affordability.
    The Governor also recommended a change in employee compensation of 3 percent, which will help us remain competitive in attracting and retaining outstanding educators and researchers, essential to the excellence of the student experience and our ability to do great work for Idaho.
    Specific UI requests focus on enhancing our teaching and research missions. Our Complete College Idaho: Go On initiative bolsters the advising, counseling and supplemental instruction that helps students succeed in college. The effort will help ensure on-time graduation and improved student retention. On each of those measures, UI is the state’s leader among public institutions, but expanded capacity means we can set the bar higher.
    The Governor also recommended five additional seats and increased funding for Idaho WWAMI — Idaho’s medical school. Through the Idaho WWAMI program, aspiring physicians from our state receive training in partnership with one of the best medical programs in the country, the national leader in family and rural medicine. With a shortage of physicians across our state, especially in rural areas, we’re fortunate to have a partnership that sees more than 50 percent of Idaho students return home to Idaho communities to practice medicine. Funding the Idaho WWAMI program is a much-needed investment in the health and well-being of our state.
    As a comprehensive research university, we have other areas of need for which I’ll advocate. Those needs include maintenance and operation funds for facilities, such as our new Aquaculture Research Institute laboratory that delivers research expertise for our state’s world-class trout industry and hands-on learning for students, and for the new Integrated Research and Innovation Center (IRIC) that will propel interdisciplinary problem-solving and discovery for all of Idaho. We advocated for, and the Governor recommended, investments in our Idaho Geological Survey, in Forest Utilization Research, and in agricultural research that support the backbone of Idaho’s economy.
    We appreciate the governor’s recognition of the excellence these initiatives help our university achieve, and how they help our state meet its short- and long-term goals for success and prosperity. The legislative process is a long process that usually culminates in March, but our first steps are promising.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
  • January 15, 2016

    January 15, 2016

    Dear Friends,

    Many of you have likely witnessed the proliferation of yearly college rankings, ratings and lists, all purporting to add information and insight. Instead of clarification, however, confusion is often the result. Why is an institution ranked in the top 50 of one list, but not in the top 50 of another, similar list? What methodologies are being employed, and how do they differ from list to list? What metrics are valuable for which user? As a student or parent, you’d almost have to make a part time job of sorting out and verifying competing claims and distinctions.

    That shouldn’t be the case, and it doesn’t have to be. I have found that the federal government’s new College Scorecard report offers clarity, based on credible data, about three critical measures: affordability for students and families, graduation rates, and earnings after college. The first measure, affordability, indicates the degree of access to a transformative education. The second and third measures, graduation rates and earnings, highlight two of the most important outcomes of a college experience.

    For students, for families, and for taxpaying citizens of the state of Idaho, these three measures get to the heart of the matter: Are we serving students and our public well? At the University of Idaho, the answer is a resounding yes. Look at the public, four-year universities in Idaho. UI’s average net cost is the lowest in the state, with the lowest net cost among all four-year public institutions for families with annual income under $48,000 per year. Our six-year graduation rate is the highest in the state. And for a UI graduate, earnings 10 years after graduation are much higher than other institutions. (UI fares similarly well when compared with private institutions.) In each measure, we outperform the national average.

    These easy-to-read charts showcase UI’s delivery of an excellent education at an affordable price – a value for our students and for our state.

    Beyond those comparisons, the scorecard offers a breakdown of University of Idaho performance on a number of valuable measures. Interested in freshman-to-sophomore retention as an indicator of “fit” and student support? Our retention rate is 79 percent, above the national average. (For Fall 2015, our data shows an increase to 80 percent.) Concerned about debt after college? UI students who take on debt successfully pay it down at rates well above the national average. I encourage students and families to explore the site, make comparisons, and assess what’s important for their individual and family circumstances. We welcome the scrutiny.

    Importantly, the data are based on students who received federal financial aid. That means those students who need and receive support in attaining a college degree – including many first-generation college attendees and students from rural areas – receive an outstanding return on their investment from UI. These students will experience firsthand how UI contributes to social mobility. They will go on to lives with greater financial stability, with greater satisfaction at work and in their personal endeavors, and with stronger rates of civic engagement. They will, in short, be on a pathway to realizing the American Dream.

    The College Scorecard showcases how the University of Idaho is focused on making an outstanding education accessible to more Idaho students. For other Idaho citizens, UI supporters and education professionals, insight into how their state’s leading, national research university is performing with taxpayer dollars is a down payment toward credibility and confidence. For affordability, for graduation rates and for success after college, UI stands out in Idaho and across the region.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
  • January 8, 2016

    January 8, 2016

    Dear Friends,

    Welcome to an exciting new year with the University of Idaho. Our family vacationed together, but I am glad to be back in Moscow, rested and ready for a great semester. I often speak to students about the value of a college degree in financial and personal terms, urging them to invest in themselves. Early in the New Year, I’ll speak to committees of the Idaho Legislature, and I’ll urge them to invest in the University of Idaho, as a way to ensure and enhance its many economic and societal benefits.

    I’d like to begin 2016 by sharing a new report by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), a leader in economic modeling based in Moscow, showing just how much UI contributes to the economic well-being of Idaho. The EMSI report gives us a global view of the university, showing that UI’s economic impact is varied and far-ranging. The university generates economic activity through research that benefits industry, through operations across the state and through delivering a transformative education to students. Our new report shows a strong surge in total annual impact – $1.1 billion. That amounts to 1.9 percent of Idaho’s economy, as measured by Gross State Product (GSP).

    What specifically drives this impact? Operations spending, including our 3,000 full- and part-time employees, is a part of the story, as is research spending. However, the majority of the impact, some $782 million, comes from Vandal alumni. That is the direct result of former students taking their skills, perspectives and experience to Idaho employers. Vandal graduates are earning higher wages courtesy of their UI degree, they are helping businesses reach new levels of output, and they are putting more money from those higher wages back into the economy.

    To understand the university’s impact in this way is essentially to assess our role in workforce development. That’s a key part of what we do as an institution, and this report shows that our performance should give us a lot of pride. Creating opportunities for students to live up to their potential and contribute to organizations and communities across the state is the central piece of UI’s economic impact. It’s also at the heart of our land-grant mission. While there is more to the university than a dollars and cents analysis shows, we should be pleased that the leadership and commitment that is our heritage and our future can be so convincingly demonstrated in economic terms.

    The University of Idaho, our state’s public, land-grant institution, offers outstanding return on investment. For students, the increase in lifetime earnings they’ll see with their degree is more than $844,200, an impressive 14 percent annual rate of return. For taxpayers considering the merits of supporting our public university, consider that “for every $1 of public money invested in UI, taxpayers receive a cumulative value of $2.40 over the course of the students’ working lives.” The annual return rate taxpayers will realize is 8.2 percent, “a solid investment that compares favorably with other long-term investments in both the private and public sectors.” Lastly, one must consider the social perspective of having more educated citizens – better health, less crime and more employment. These social savings and added income pay off for the state many times over the initial investment.

    Graduates of the University of Idaho know well how their lives were changed. I have met many who have described the new perspectives, attitudes and maturity forged at UI that shaped who they are today. For Vandals, it’s about more than dollars and cents. But we shouldn’t shy away from touting the economic benefits the university brings to citizens and to the state as a whole. In fact, I think that for too long we’ve undersold our critical role in workforce development and in the economy.

    Our public university is not an expense, nor is it a luxury. It is an investment, and an absolutely critical foundation for prosperity. We will work hard to strengthen that foundation in the year ahead.

    Chuck Staben

  • December 11, 2015

    December 11, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    This week nearly 700 Vandals approach the commencement stage as students, cross it as graduates and leave it as proud, degree-holding members of the Vandal family. Students have earned degrees at the baccalaureate, master’s, doctoral and specialist levels, across a broad spectrum of disciplines, as you’d expect from a comprehensive research university like ours. It’s another chapter in the story of the University of Idaho, one written by each student — in some cases, literally.
    I have presided over a few of these ceremonies now, but it is still rewarding to see students achieve a goal for which they worked long and hard. If you’ve attended commencement, you might be familiar with the train of graduates, segmented by college, that enters the building at the start of the ceremony — a processional. The banner for each college is held by what we refer to as a highlight student, a graduate who has demonstrated the diligence, initiative and expertise to represent his or her college. I congratulate these students on their accomplishments.
    As one example of this Vandal excellence, the processional highlight student for the College of Natural Resources is rangeland ecology and management major Justin Trujillo. Justin is a non-traditional student who came to UI to complete his bachelor’s degree and further his career. During his time with the Rangeland Center, he noticed that there was no field guide for grasses. Instead of waiting for someone else to make one, he spent his undergraduate career taking photos, finding the funding and working with others to create a reference book.
    In this day and age, of course, a book needs to find a way to fit on our phones, so Justin is now working with a partner to build a phone app. Picture hiking in Idaho, and being able to identify pieces of the diverse landscape around you, with just a glance down at your phone. Landowners, management professionals and recreational users can all benefit. That breakthrough is a testament to problem-solving, teamwork and leadership.
    It’s also proof positive of what a college experience can do. Vandals crossing the stage today have exercised similar initiative in countless settings, in the classroom and outside of it. They’ve opened their minds to new ideas, and engaged in hands-on research, scholarly activity and creative work alongside expert professors. They’ve practiced discipline and honed the self-efficacy that will guide them in their careers. They’ve learned about issues and concerns outside of their own interests, giving back to communities near and far through service.
    I know our students will take those experiences with them after tomorrow. They’ll contribute their skills and passion to making the world a better place — indeed, they already have.
    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben

  • December 4, 2015

    December 4, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    Our state is filled with a remarkable abundance of mountains, canyons, rivers and wide-open spaces. With nearly unlimited opportunities for exploration, there is no better launching pad for educational and inspirational adventure than the University of Idaho. That’s a discovery I’ve been fortunate to make, alongside students, faculty and staff, alumni and community members from across the state.
    Last week, while many of us were staying warm over turkey and other holiday favorites, a UI Outdoor Program group was braving the elements in the Owyhee Canyonlands in southwest Idaho. The 10 hardy souls — students, student leaders, program staff, an alumnus and a visiting professor — hiked and camped throughout this new wilderness area in a remote part of the state, exploring the sagebrush steppes and the austere river canyons. The multi-day trip was one of many “Iconic Idaho” recreational opportunities through our Outdoor Program that showcase the unique and diverse natural splendor of Idaho. The 40-year-old Outdoor Program office at UI, led by Director Trevor Fulton, is nationally recognized. You couldn’t ask for a better guide to Idaho’s wild spaces.
    Those programs do more than offer recreation, though. They help students build a foundation of technical skills that they can apply to future endeavors. They offer opportunities for students to practice leadership. Student leaders work with staff to plan and execute trips, helping others cultivate a passion for the outdoors. Other skill development includes problem-solving, critical thinking and good decision-making. Not all student participants are recreation majors; in fact, many if not most are pursuing other disciplines, from business to engineering and more. Faculty members, UI staff, and alumni can also participate in trips.
    It’s important to dispel a few myths when discussing our Outdoor Programs. First, none of us are born adventurers or explorers, so most of the programs are designed to serve the absolute beginner while still offering value to more experienced participants. Affordability is another concern, no doubt. But whether it’s a trip or the rental of equipment from our well-stocked Outdoor Rental Center — one of the largest such rental shops in the country — the Outdoor Programs office runs on a strictly non-profit basis, with costs that students will find within their reach. (A simple overnight trip might be $25, and a weeklong trip under $200, for instance.)
    I bring up that commitment to accessibility and affordability because I know that students and other adults might find pursuing new skills and experiences — whether it’s skiing, kayaking, backcountry camping and more — a little daunting. But pushing yourself with new experiences is what higher education is all about. There is more to college than what you’ll find between the walls of a classroom or laboratory. Taking a facilitated trip, renting equipment to explore on your own, or even just using the climbing wall at the Student Recreation Center are great ways to relieve stress and begin developing into the person you want to be, physically and mentally. It’s all part of a well-rounded college experience.
    We have another holiday coming up, and a winter break. Want a break from cabin fever? The Student Recreation Center is open, with many opportunities for families and community members. Climb a wall. Tune up a pair of skis. Learn more about a winter or spring trip with Outdoor Programs — sign-up begins the first day of spring semester. Get out and discover this great state we’re lucky and proud to call home.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben

  • November 20, 2015

    November 20, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    Last week was a remarkable week for education in Idaho – for our K-12 schools, and for our higher education system. High school seniors across the state, and their parents, received letters of acceptance to Idaho public colleges and universities directly from the State Board of Education, a measure intended to smooth the transition to postsecondary education. The University of Idaho followed up by leading a statewide “Enroll Idaho” initiative, fanning out across Idaho to spread information and awareness about options for life after high school.

    At Enroll Idaho on November 10, UI delivered a strong message about the value of going on to higher education to more than 420 students and 330 parents, from Boundary County in the north to Bear Lake County in the southeast and all points in between. I had the pleasure of returning to Grangeville to talk with high school seniors there and then visiting Coeur d’Alene that night.

    You’ll find a lot of information about the value of postsecondary attainment in this video we made for the event, but here’s a little bit of what we told people about going on to college: We know that a high-quality college education, the kind you find at UI, is transformative for people’s lives. To be clear, a college degree is not right for everyone. But for many, it is a critical ingredient in the recipe for a great life. Through higher education, students unlock the talent and creativity that inform a life of purpose and initiative. It’s an opportunity to make life-long friends, to see the world, and to grow as a leader.

    Students who graduate from college emerge as critical thinkers and problem-solvers, qualities that are in-demand for employers, no matter what field you enter. The lifetime earnings difference among those who have a college degree and those who do not was recently estimated at $830,000 by the Federal Reserve, a wide gap this is only getting wider. The great jobs of today and tomorrow increasingly demand a college degree and the skills and perspectives that come with it. Beyond financial stability, though, a well-paying job leads to increased well-being in professional life, in personal satisfaction and in civic engagement. In short, doors open for college graduates – pathways to an exciting future.

    Postsecondary education also unleashes a bright future for our state. A vibrant economy starts with an educated workforce, as our economy moves in a knowledge- and information-based direction. Those are the jobs that will build prosperity for our communities, and will provide opportunities for young people ready to start careers and families.

    Taking the next steps toward college may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. I encourage students and families to examine resources about how to go to college, as well as how to assess which institution and which course of study is right for them. UI is going to follow up the Enroll Idaho effort with outreach – FAFSA workshops, recruiting events and more – that help us reshape the college-going culture in our state. I encourage students and families to ask questions and explore. We’re here to listen and answer questions. The way forward for a great life may be closer than you think.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben


    P.S. I’ll return with the next Friday Letter on December 4. Continuing an annual tradition, our School of Family and Consumer Sciences students have put together a list of Vandal recipes for Thanksgiving. Mary Beth served as a judge – a delicious honor, I’m sure. Try them out if you can next week while you’re with your family for the holiday. And on behalf of the entire Vandal family, Happy Thanksgiving!

  • November 13, 2015

    November 13, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    This morning, perhaps as you’re reading this, I have the pleasure of speaking to an All-Advisory Board gathering here in Moscow. This is part of an annual event we call Leadership Weekend at the University of Idaho, a chance to keep our closest alumni and friends in the loop about UI life and activities, benefit from their wisdom and experience, and, in the midst of a busy semester, get a dose of refreshment and renewed energy from this group.

    We have many advisory boards at UI, representing each of our colleges and our University Foundation. Each of those boards is entirely comprised of volunteers. These are alumni and others who are passionate about the excellence of each college, and who in many cases had transformative educational experiences here at UI. They are giving back their time and talent to making sure our programs are robust and forward-thinking for future generations of Vandals. You might not always see their names and faces out in front, but these women and men are championing the UI experience every day, and striving to make our university all that it can be.

    At the board gathering this morning, I’ll offer a look into the state of the university, and try to answer questions about how UI is performing and where it is headed. We’re in the process of developing our new strategic plan, an effort led by Provost and Executive Vice President John Wiencek, so it’s an opportune time to hear the insight of alumni and friends close to UI. We are committed to building a stronger university over the next 10 years, and a solid plan is central to achieving that goal.

    On the subject of committed Vandals, Friday night marks our annual Recognition Gala in Moscow. This is another occasion to reconnect with supporters of the University of Idaho – the donors who help make transformative educations possible for students, and who make a commitment to ideas that matter in innovation and discovery. No university in this day and age can succeed without a dedicated network of private support. This year, even with the end of our Inspiring Futures: Invest in the University of Idaho campaign, we have realized a record fundraising total. That support, in the immediate future and in the long-term, will make a profound difference in the lives of students and for the exciting work that addresses issues and challenges in our lives.

    Thanks to all alumni and friends to the university. For those students reading the Friday Letter, we hope you see in the leaders on campus this weekend a role model for success, for integrity and dedication, and for lifelong commitment to the Vandal family.

    Chuck Staben
  • November 6, 2015

    November 6, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    How many times have you had this happen? You find a couple pennies, or nickels or quarters on the ground. They wind up at the bottom of your washing machine, or stuck in the seat of your car, or at the back of a drawer. Wherever they are, maybe they come in useful now and again, but they’re probably not serving a greater good. That’s okay. It’s just spare change, after all, right?

    Not at UI, though. If you haven’t heard of the “Found Money Fund,” it’s one of the quirky, creative traditions that are such a part of our university. The idea started with Terry Armstrong, a longtime Vandal administrator and professor, and staff member Carolyn Yenni Wilson. Both were Vandals through and through, dedicated to students and to the university. Walking by a fraternity house on campus one day in 1981, Terry found three pennies on the ground and put them in a jar. Others dropped loose change in the jar, as well. Soon, a campus tradition was born.

    Needing a place to deposit all those nickels and dimes and stray bills, the Found Money Fund endowment was created. It has been added to through the years by contributions from alumni, faculty, staff and students the world over, who occasionally mail in loose change and bills — a small but appreciated gesture that complements a great spirit of donor generosity. Terry passed away last year, but the Found Money Fund is one way in which his legacy lives on. I actually first heard about the fund from a colleague with whom I worked at the University of South Dakota, and who wanted to start such a fund at that institution — proof that a good idea travels far.

    Per Terry Armstrong’s wishes, the fund will mature in 2089. When it does, it will be used to enhance the university — its programs, its students, its faculty and staff — in ways that we might not imagine from our vantage point today. Now, 2089 offers a long horizon for adding to the fund and for watching interest accrue. With about $344,000 in the fund already, with steady contributions and a reasonable interest rate, we estimate that the fund will generate many millions of dollars after 73 years. That’s not such small change anymore, now is it?

    Recently, we’ve relaunched the Found Money Fund. We actually have a fleet of little piggy banks that are hoping to find homes across campus. I encourage faculty, staff and students who are interested in supporting this project to learn more, and maybe adopt a piggy bank of their own.

    The Found Money Fund will mature long after many of us are gone. That’s part of the point, though. Little by little, with each nickel and each dime, we have a chance to express a belief in a better world for our students, for our children and for all those who come after us. So don’t feel silly about bending over to pick up those pennies. That spare change can and will add up to something special for the world to come.
    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben

    P.S.: Speaking of traditions, I had started my own with a racquetball contest. Beat me in racquetball, and I’ll buy you lunch, I’ve been saying to undergraduates. I hadn’t had to spring for lunch since coming to UI – until this week. Cristobal Ramos Salazar, a key part of our men’s tennis team last year and an assistant with the team this year, beat me two games to none. The first game was close, the second, less so. My hat’s off to Cristobal for a great match. As a member of our Athletics staff mentioned, “Dr. Staben might consider training” if he wants to win. That’s probably a good lesson for all of us. Until then, I look forward to buying lunch for Cristobal and any other undergraduates who feel up to the challenge.
  • October 30, 2015

    October 30, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    Two years ago tomorrow, I was on my way to Boise. I’d just interviewed for the job of president of the University of Idaho, and was traveling to meet with the State Board of Education. Stopping in Grangeville for lunch at a diner, I struck up a conversation with our server, a high school senior. Asking him about his college plans, I learned that he didn’t have any. He’d not thought much about college. Neither had many of his friends.

    Unfortunately, that’s an all-too-common story. As many as 5,000 qualified high school students in Idaho don’t “go on” to higher education every year. For these students, that’s a tragedy, and for our state, that is a missed opportunity. While a college degree is not for everyone, for many more students, it can be the path toward a better life with more financial stability, increased personal satisfaction, and stronger civic engagement. In short, a college degree is a road to attaining the American Dream.

    Working with the State Board of Education and other stakeholders, UI is posed to make that road to the American Dream that much easier. The first step in getting to college, of course, is applying. That task is more complex than it may seem, something I discovered when testing out our application procedures. Now, there are many hurdles on the way to college, but students shouldn’t be tripping over the first one. We needed to make some changes.

    As a state with the nation’s only united K-20 system, we’re in a position to make quick, straightforward changes to our processes. The State Board of Education has just mailed out a letter to qualified high school students, letting them know which Idaho institutions of public higher education they have been already been conditionally admitted to based on their track record of achievement in high school. We’re following up on that letter with proactive communications of our own, saying to many of those 5,000 students and their parents: You can succeed at the next level, you belong in college, and we want you to take that next step.

    We’re going even further, meeting the students where they live by hosting informational Enroll Idaho events at 43 locations across the state on Tuesday, Nov. 10. (To stay in the know with timely updates, join our Enroll Idaho event page on Facebook.) We’re going to showcase the value of higher education in general, and let students know how to take the next steps toward their college dream. I’ll personally head back to Grangeville to meet with students there before going up to Coeur d’Alene for the Enroll Kootenai County event that night.

    Following up on those steps, I’ve asked our James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research to study the transition from high school to college. Their Idaho at a Glance report on the subject will come out in January, and will help us design policies and practices that promote postsecondary enrollment and attainment. We’ll also reach out again to students across Idaho with FAFSA-completion workshops and other recruitment events.

    There is no single solution to increasing the go-on rates in Idaho. UI can and will be the leader in that effort, though. We will hold the door to the American Dream open for more Idaho students. For students in Coeur d’Alene, in Boise, in Grangeville and in communities large and small across Idaho, we must change the college-going culture to one that asks not “Should I go to college?” but “Where should I go to college?” It will take commitment by all stakeholders, on behalf of all of Idaho, but we can succeed.
    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
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