By Duane Nellis and Sam Chafe
We recently embarked on a statewide Leadership Tour to share some time with family. Our “family” is the University of Idaho’s statewide network of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends. This Leadership Tour was an opportunity to share the university’s vision, discuss opportunities, and articulate what the university has done in response to the needs and desires of our constituents around Idaho.
Over the tour’s 1,450 miles, we met hundreds of people in communities ranging from our state's largest – Boise, Coeur d'Alene and Idaho Falls – to some of its smallest, such as Arco, Ketchum and Salmon. And we saw the beauty, dynamics and spirit of the state.
As with all of higher education, and our state and nation as well, we’ve had some challenging times in recent years, particularly related to the economy. However, our university takes challenges and turns them into opportunities. This is Idaho's pioneer spirit: if we're going to do something, we need to make it happen.
The University of Idaho continues to build on the strength of 150 years of the Morrill Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, which established land-grant universities and brought about the democratization of higher education. Until that time, only the elite were able to go college.
The University of Idaho is one of these "people's universities." Established before statehood, our mission was written into Idaho's constitution. The University of Idaho has a statewide mandate for openness, accessibility and service to Idahoans; we're woven into the fabric of this state, and we're working in every county to provide a rich tapestry for the future.
On our tour, we heard about the university’s impact in communities; the feedback came from ranchers, farmers, business leaders, alumni, parents and other citizens. They affirmed that the university contributes to the economic vitality and the quality of life in Idaho.
Our faculty bring in nearly $100 million in competitive research funding annually, which is more than 70 percent of the research funding that comes into the state's institutions. Our research provides solutions to issues that face the people and businesses of this state.
In Rexburg, we're looking at livestock issues, crop production and horticulture. In northern Idaho, we're addressing water quality and using geospatial systems to identify forest management and control measures, energy reserves and more. We've helped numerous communities on issues relating to affordable housing and community development, nutrition and poverty, alternative energy sources and small business needs. And we're educating Idaho's next generation of leaders.
Our Extension and outreach programs impact some 400,000 Idahoans each year, benefiting their quality of life every day – and that impact is not lost on our legislators.
We’ve forged business partnerships with Schweitzer, Simplot, Wells Fargo, Agri Beef, Coeur Mines and Hecla Mines, Micron, Avista and many others. They want our quality graduates – the top Idaho students, and national leaders such as Goldwater Scholars, Udall Scholars and National Merit Scholars – who have made the University of Idaho their choice.
The University of Idaho has nearly a billion dollar economic impact on the state – we return more than $9 for each dollar the state invests in us. What other state agency can provide such a strong return on investment?
We recognize that the state has limited resources, but also incredible potential. How we leverage our asset base and mutual areas of concern and opportunity will impact the state's future. There is a sense of urgency; the time is now. We need your help to move things forward. Please join with us to grow Idaho!
M. Duane Nellis is president of the University of Idaho – the state's land-grant university. Sam Chafe, a 2011 graduate of the University of Idaho, joined Nellis on the statewide tour and blogged about his experience: http://presidentialtour.uidaho.edu.
This editorial piece was submitted to the following media outlets for consideration: Boise Weekly, Coeur d'Alene Press, Idaho Business Review, Idaho Falls Post Register, Idaho Press-Tribune, Idaho State Journal, Idaho Statesman, Lewiston Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Rexburg Standard Journal and Twin Falls Times-News.