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

    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
  • October 23, 2015

    October 23, 2015

    Dear Friends,

    This is a special time of year. On campus and across the state, we bundle up in Vandal gear, as the October days get chillier. In our arboretum, fall colors are on full display. Midterms have come and gone, to the relief and satisfaction of students and professors alike. Our Vandal football team, fresh off a hard-earned road victory, returns to the Kibbie Dome — just named one of the Top 10 football stadiums in the nation by USA Today, by the way. It is Homecoming at the University of Idaho.

    This year’s Homecoming theme is “A Hero’s Homecoming.” It’s a special week where we come together to honor the heroes in our lives and focus on the hero in all of us. In keeping with this year’s theme and with long traditions, the week has been filled with festivities and service to others. Vandals participated in school spirit competitions and decorated downtown, UI offices and living spaces. Vandals have also been busy this week meeting needs in our local community. On Thursday, students collected food for local foodbanks, and supplies for a local violence and abuse prevention and support organization. They also organized and participated in UI’s annual blood drive, a time-honored tradition. Rafe Gibbs notes in “Beacon for Mountain and Plain,” a history of the University of Idaho, that campus blood drives started on behalf of wounded servicemen in the Korean War, and Vandal students “became nationally famous as blood-donating champions.”

    I am glad that spirit of service, these small acts of heroism, continues with today’s students. Tonight we’ll rally around the bonfire after the serpentine to crown this year’s Homecoming Royalty. These events are fun, but they’re also a lot of work to organize, so we should give thanks to the many student leaders who take their time to help create lasting memories we can all share.

    Tomorrow, the Homecoming parade will pour through downtown Moscow, one of the best college towns in America. We are proud to have the four ROTC units on campus — the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — as our Grand Marshalls this year. Vandal ROTC members serve their university and their nation with commitment, courage and sacrifice. As we enjoy meeting friends at the tailgate or in the Fan Zone, and as we watch our Vandals compete on the gridiron, we can be grateful for our Grand Marshalls’ example of heroic service.

    Many Vandals return to the Moscow campus during Homecoming. Our alumni set the example for current and future generations. Some have sons and daughters forging their own Vandal legacies. I look forward to renewing acquaintances and meeting new friends this week, saluting our heroes in the Armed Forces, and being reminded that there can be a hero in all of us.

    Go Vandals!

    Chuck Staben
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