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.

If you would like to subscribe to receive The Friday Letter, please contact University Communications at (208) 885-6291 or

  • Current Issue

    August 21, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    Today young men and women from all over the world begin their educational journeys as Vandals. At Convocation this morning, our faculty and staff members gather to welcome our incoming freshmen and transfer students. We applaud them for making a momentous decision: By attending UI, they’ve taken a crucial step in achieving their American Dream.

    The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and upward social mobility for children and families – achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. Over and over again, in the lives of countless students and their families, that dream matures at the University of Idaho. Together with our faculty and staff, I am inspired to work at UI because we help build the future and continue the American Dream. Our incoming students will unlock their potential, discover new interests and absorb different perspectives – building blocks for a personally satisfying and financially stable life.

    UI, like other leading, national research universities, provides those building blocks in a very special way. Universities like ours provide real-world research and scholarly experience for students as well as instruction by faculty on the leading edge of their disciplines. The young men and women in the Convocation crowd this morning will have a chance to work directly alongside professors who are recognized experts in their fields. Maybe they’ll help rediscover a piece of Idaho’s heritage on an archaeology project. Maybe they’ll unlock the key to understanding the next Ebola epidemic. They will all grow as individuals, become experts in their fields, and acquire transferable skills to innovate throughout their lives.

    Students pursue those transformative experiences as part of a diverse cohort of students from around the world. At Convocation this morning, students sit beside colleagues from every state in the nation, and from more than 70 countries around the world. Students from big cities study with students from small towns and family farms. A student from Brazil or Saudi Arabia can exchange ideas and forge lifelong friendships with a student from Boise, or Idaho Falls, or Seattle. Students emerge from UI prepared not just with career skills, but with the global understandings they need to compete and collaborate in the 21st century.

    We’ll share these ideas with our students this morning. We’ll also share what they can look forward to after graduation, the success with which so many of our alumni, friends and supporters are already familiar. You read the stories, you hear it from your friends, and you experience it in your own life – Vandal alumni do great things. Whether it’s exploring the final frontier of space, reaching lofty heights in public service or creating a stronger future for agriculture, Vandals make the world better.

    As we begin this exciting new year, I encourage our alumni to be involved at UI. Join an advisory board, or engage with the alumni association. Reach out to a college or department – or our Career Center – and see how your company or organization can engage students at UI. Talk to young people still making decisions for their future about what your college experience meant to you. Our Vandal family is so important to the success of our university. It’s one key place where we distinguish ourselves from other universities. As Paul Joyce, Dean of Science, puts it, UI is “big enough to matter, and small enough to care.” That care shines through brightly in the passion and commitment of our alumni.

    We have big challenges ahead of us. I’m eager to watch this class of freshmen embrace the opportunities inherent in those challenges, and I look forward to seeing them achieve their American Dream through a Vandal education.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
  • June 12, 2015

    June 12, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    As Idaho’s leading, national research institution, the University of Idaho helps drive economic growth by taking on research in key areas and by preparing graduates for success in science, technology, education and math (STEM). As part of that mission, this week we were pleased to bring scientist, entrepreneur and policy expert Dr. Ed Penhoet to UI Boise. Dr. Penhoet is the founder of Chiron Corporation, a biotechnology company that developed the world’s first recombinant DNA-based vaccine (for Hepatitis B), isolated Hepatitis C and developed the test used to prevent contamination of blood transfusions with that virus. I was privileged to work at Chiron in 1985 and 1986. It was a formative time for me as a researcher, but the experience also provided valuable lessons on how one’s work can have an impact that benefits the world.

    Dr. Penhoet’s distinguished resume also includes service as dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health; leadership of the Gordon and Betty Moore (Intel) Foundation; and success as a venture capitalist. He is also an appointee to President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST. That group, comprised of some of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers, reports to the president with recommendations on how science, technology and innovation can inform policy and contribute to a robust economy. PCAST has published two reports on the role of STEM education to ensure our nation’s long-term economic success.

    Dr. Penhoet addressed education and community leaders during the closing event Tuesday for the UI-Micron STEM education conference. He described PCAST’s recommendations for improving STEM education, lauding the K-12 educators at the conference for their efforts, encouraging them to continue to work on improving math preparation and science engagement, and reminding the university community of our responsibility to keep engaging students after they enroll.

    On Wednesday in the Zions Bank meeting room, Dr. Penhoet gave a keynote speech to an audience of business and community leaders about developing our biotechnology industry. He drew on his experience with Chiron and with UC Berkeley, emphasizing to the audience the importance of academia’s engagement with industry, from research grants to workforce development to business incubation. Within the last year, UI has changed its approach to intellectual property and facilitated such interactions. We will continue to seek other ways, throughout the state, to engage with industry.

    Biotechnology is just one example of a potential growth industry for Idaho and the nation, a future UI is forging through education and research. Successful economic development requires a broad range of skills and degrees. Over the last two days in Boise we highlighted STEM education (though we also saw a great example of UI’s extraordinary business education). Preparing STEM graduates begins with engaging K-12 experiences and continues through doctoral degrees, and UI is involved in all phases of STEM education. Dynamic STEM learning experiences provided to K-12 students include our Engineering Design Expo, the McCall Outdoor Science School and many more. Once students come to UI, they find great STEM courses and the opportunity to work in research labs. UI’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant, led by Trish Hartzell, aims to enhance the engagement and interest of students in introductory science courses, a key PCAST recommendation. UI leads Idaho in producing STEM doctoral degrees, as well. But STEM graduates alone cannot fuel a business. At Wednesday’s breakfast, Mario Reyes, Dean of the College of Business and Economics, shared a great video of a recent “elevator pitch” competition that is part of entrepreneurship education, earning applause from the audience and from Dr. Penhoet.

    The Micron Foundation has joined UI to support a STEM Educational Research Initiative, exploring the complex factors that spur interest and learning in the fields. We must use that knowledge to find innovative ways to increase STEM performance and competitiveness and to increase enrollment at UI. Micron’s STEM conference included speakers, presentations and the participation of Dr. Penhoet. That work dovetailed with Wednesday’s State Board of Education STEM summit, which brought together stakeholders from education and industry to discuss how we can move STEM forward in our K-12 system.

    UI also shapes the future by leading the state in research, doubling the research expenditures of all other universities combined. We also head several statewide research initiatives, including the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, or INBRE, and two COBRE projects from the National Institutes of Health, all very relevant to the biotechnology industry.

    With support from the state and our K-12 and higher education partners, UI is a leader in STEM education and research for our state. Idaho’s future demands our excellence in these areas, and consultation with thought leaders like Dr. Penhoet helps UI rise to the challenge of leading Idaho forward.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
  • May 8, 2015

    May 8, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    Nearly one year ago today, I happened to be at the airport in Louisville, Kentucky, more than 2,100 miles from Moscow. I had been president of the University of Idaho for a little over a month, and was decked out in a still-new Vandals cap. From behind me, I heard someone sing a refrain that had already become a favorite of mine: “Came a tribe from the North, brave and bold. …” I’d been spotted, by a stranger, one who was unafraid to break into the Vandal fight song in a crowded airport. It was a stirring welcome to the unabashedly passionate Vandal alumni family.

    The Vandal alumni network of more than 100,000 people may be separated by years, professions and sometimes many miles. But all are united by a passion for the University of Idaho. The energy and enthusiasm of our alumni help our university continue to thrive, and their personal and professional distinction verifies the transformative impact of a Vandal education.

    Next week we honor several outstanding Vandal alumni. Kristin Armstrong Savola receives our rarely bestowed Distinguished Idahoan award, recognizing the great distinction she has brought to the state and to UI; Kristin won two Olympic gold medals in cycling, most recently in the 2012 London summer games. We also honor Keith Riffle, a gifted technology entrepreneur, who receives the President’s Medallion; Patricia Riffle, a longtime participant in many Vandal causes, who earns an Alumni of Distinction Award; and Brent Keeth, a leader in the computer technology industry and co-principle developer on Micron’s Hybrid Memory Cube, who receives an honorary degree.

    We’ll also induct three very deserving members into our Alumni Hall of Fame. Richard Dahl has had a remarkable career, including a tenure as president of Dole Food Company. David Poe, as CEO of financial services firm Edgar Dunn and Company, helped develop e-commerce and mobile payment solutions. David is joined by Michael Hunter, who has an accomplished career as an energy sector executive. All three offer their service on the University of Idaho Foundation Inc. board of directors.

    One of the fun things about the end of spring semester is that it is packed with chances to connect with our alumni, seeing them come back to campus as speakers, as award winners, and as parents of Vandal graduates. I’ve had the opportunity to watch fifth- and even sixth-generation Vandals receive degrees. That’s a powerful statement about our role in the state of Idaho, our continued vibrancy as an institution, and our forward-looking vision for the future.

    As one final note, we tragically lost a Vandal family member this week when Sergeant Greg Moore, a 16-year veteran of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, was killed in the line of duty. Sergeant Moore was a member of the Vandal class of 1997. We mourn his passing, and respect and honor his selfless dedication to public service and to the city of Coeur d’Alene. Our thoughts are with his family and the Coeur d’Alene community.


    Chuck Staben
  • May 1, 2015

    May 1, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    My first visit to a university was when my father took me to an engineering expo at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The experience left a lasting impression. My eyes were opened to a world of innovation, imagination and problem-solving — all available and accessible through higher education. Here were people working on real solutions to real challenges … and I could be one of them. Eventually, I attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate, and I did become a STEM graduate.

    Today middle- and high-school students from across the Inland Northwest are descending on Moscow in search of similar experiences at the College of Engineering’s 22nd annual Engineering Design EXPO. This year more than 900 students — a cohort three times the size of previous years — have come to our campus to participate in the day’s events. They’ll see firsthand the exciting research and designs created by more than 250 Vandal students collaborating in more than 50 interdisciplinary teams.

    Expo serves as the capstone for graduating seniors in the College of Engineering. This year our Vandal engineering students have again been working on amazing projects, everything from improving wastewater systems, to enhancing the rehabilitation of stroke victims, to guiding payloads back from space. In those and many other cases, students work on projects that directly impact industry, searching for new or better solutions to specific challenges. Projects are often further developed for real-world applications.

    At the expo, students also practice skills essential in any endeavor: putting an idea out there and effectively communicating its function and value. More than 60 judges representing industry and other professional sectors are on hand to contribute valuable feedback. Their participation and the support of the Micron Foundation, the event’s presenting sponsor, and many other sponsors and partners makes this day possible.

    Recently, the UI College of Engineering became the only engineering school in Idaho to join the “Grand Challenges” project. Our school has pledged to do its part to help train 20,000 engineers nationwide who can take on critical goals such as clean energy, advances in medicine and cybersecurity. Today’s Engineering Design EXPO puts us in position to show we’re addressing some of these issues.

    But for prospective students, this is an opportunity to see how they can make an impact in the world. If our visiting secondary students are anything like I was at their age, they’ll come away from the day energized about their futures. Not every student will go on to study engineering, of course, but they’ll have a glimpse of the stimulating work that occurs at UI, and they’ll see a campus where they can find their own path forward among friends, dedicated faculty and supportive staff, and abundant opportunities.
    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
  • April 24, 2015

    April 24, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    As we approach the end of another great academic year, it’s worth reflecting on the excellence achieved by our Vandal students. Our first priority, after all, is facilitating student success. Though we celebrate each student’s graduation or achievement, some of our students have received national recognition for their efforts. In this letter, I would like to specifically recognize several recent winners of prestigious national scholarships.

    This year, again, the best and brightest from across the region made the University of Idaho their choice to pursue their dreams, as 23 new freshman National Merit Scholars enrolled at our state’s leading national research university. They joined a cohort that matches last year’s school record of 76 total National Merit Scholars. Earning a National Merit Scholarship is a rigorous process. We can be proud these students have chosen our university to prepare them for career and life success.

    Many Vandals have been honored with national scholarships this year. Recently, Benjamin Anzis, a sophomore from Marshalltown, Iowa, and Elyce Gosselin, a sophomore from Boise, received prestigious Goldwater Scholarships, supporting research careers in science, mathematics and engineering. Since 2005, 12 Vandal students have received this award. This year’s winners are already contributing to the discovery and application of knowledge in new and exciting ways, and I congratulate them on having their success recognized.
    Benjamin Anzis, a sophomore from Marshalltown, Iowa, and Elyce Gosselin, a sophomore from Boise
    Pictured: Left- Benjamin Anzis, Right - Elyce Gosselin

    Other students are contributing to UI’s global impact as recipients of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, given by the U.S. Department of State. These competitive scholarships — only 800 are awarded nationwide — allow students the opportunity to study and intern abroad with financial support. Our two students, Marley Monroe and William Humble, studying psychology and civil engineering, respectively, will be exposed to enriching academic, social and cultural experiences, and they’ll return to UI able to share that information and understanding.

    I congratulate the University Honors Program at UI for facilitating many of these scholarships. The Honors Program offers a stimulating academic experience and the advantages of an enhanced learning community to approximately 500 students from all colleges and undergraduate majors. The Honors Program provides enriching classes; a motivated, challenging and scholarly peer group; and mentoring for getting involved in undergraduate research, leadership development, volunteerism and personal development. In addition, we have recently added specific staff support to further mentor students toward prestigious national awards.

    Undoubtedly, I’ve failed to mention some outstanding students, programs and accolades. That’s a testament to the abundant talent and initiative of students across disciplines at UI. I also want to make it clear: We value the achievement of all students at UI. There are many contributions to the classroom environment, to student organizations, to valuable programs and to the community that aren’t always measured with awards. But I know that Vandals across our campus — across the state of Idaho, that is — are embracing achievement in many ways, and preparing well for rich and full lives within their professions, their communities and their families.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
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