The Friday Letter
The Friday Letter is a weekly e-newsletter from the president. It includes a message from the president, UI news, features and announcements. It is a subscription-based newsletter sent to employees, students, alumni, parents and other friends of the University of Idaho.
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This Saturday 634 Vandals cross the stage at our fall Commencement and take their place among the more than 116,000 graduates of our state’s leading national research university. We celebrate their accomplishments, their hard work, their persistence and their creativity. Our Vandals have spent long days, nights, weeks and years getting to the Kibbie Dome this Saturday. They are prepared for the great career and satisfying life that come with a University of Idaho degree.
Graduation is one of the pivotal moments we have in life. It’s a chance to reflect on who you are and who you will be.
During the holiday season, one timeless tale that touches on those themes of personal growth and reflection is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” This December, our Theatre Arts Department in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences is staging its fourth consecutive and final production of this Christmas classic, which offers universal lessons, transcending any particular faith or creed. I will draw on lessons from the story to share with our graduates tomorrow.
The story is familiar to many — Mary Beth and I enjoyed it with our children countless times. Ebenezer Scrooge is a wealthy but miserly man who receives visitations from a series of ghosts — specters from the past, present and future. The first shows him the love and warmth he forsook for greed. The second shows him the joy others experience in the holiday season, even amid the hardship faced by the Cratchit family. The last shows Scrooge a world where his death is not mourned, in contrast with the untimely passing of Tiny Tim.
It is a haunting vision, and Scrooge emerges a changed man. He’s received an opportunity that only occurs in novels and movies, unfortunately — the chance to see your future made real and change it before it comes to pass. That’s the important lesson I want our graduates to take away: retain the capacity to change, both personally and to impact the world around you.
Our graduates have the chance to be the person they want to be — thinkers, doers, leaders, friends and helpers. People who are both ambitious and generous. Beyond their own success, I’ll ask them to think about the impact they want to see around them. What challenges need their skills? What injustice requires their attention? What broader opportunity can come to life with their diligence? Vandals are leaders and successful in all walks of life — they are uniquely positioned to make the world around them a better place. In the words of “A Christmas Carol” co-directors David Lee-Painter and Daniel Haley, “Be the blessing.” One can think of that as “Be that future” — embody the future you want to see, and work to create it.
Those are chapters that our graduates start to write this Saturday. They are prepared with an outstanding education, with a network of friends and mentors, and with a Vandal alumni family whose passion is unmatched.
This has been an exciting year at the University of Idaho. Across our statewide campus, new programs, initiatives and facilities are making an impact. The hard work of our faculty and staff has been complemented by the commitment of our students, alumni and friends. Our 2016 Annual Report, released this week, captures some of those successes and lays the groundwork for future excellence.
The annual report is used to assess our progress and adjust efforts in the next year. It sets a baseline for gauging our impact in key areas — research and scholarship, teaching and learning, and outreach and engagement. In coming years, expect to see annual progress on our strategic plan goals documented here.
The annual report offers a chance for reflection and assessment. Where are we doing well? Where could we be stronger? Readers will also find a focus on the intangibles that make us who we are: our mission and vision, as well as our institutional principles and values of excellence, respect, integrity, perseverance and sustainability. These are concepts that unite us; they are not just words, but deeply held commitments to beliefs and practices.
The report also highlights the tangible excellence we achieved in the past year. We grew our enrollment, including bringing more Idaho students into higher education through the Direct Admissions initiative. We completed a total renovation of our College of Education building and a remodel of our Wallace Residence Center. We created a new Office of Undergraduate Research and spurred innovation with the Vandal Ideas Project. Our land-grant research footprint surpassed $100 million in research expenditures. And we set our sights on a market-based compensation system as part of our dedication to fostering an outstanding work environment. These are but a few examples — see the full report for more.
I have intentionally used the first person plural in discussing these successes. Individual efforts are important, but these accomplishments are not something any one of us does alone. We come together as a university community — and that includes our alumni and supporters — to build a better UI for our students and our state. We all have valuable roles to play.
That collaboration has our institution moving forward. We have made great progress this year, and we have outstanding success to build on in the years ahead. I say it often because it’s true: We are a brave and bold institution. So in the words of our fight song, let’s “all bear down for Idaho.”
Go mighty Vandals!
P.S. With a 7-4 record with one game left in the season, our Vandal football team is bowl eligible! We will have information to share soon about which bowl game we will be playing in. Congratulations to the Vandal football student-athletes, coaches and staff. The football team’s motto, “Expect to Win,” aptly describes the brave and bold way Vandals have approached this season on and off the field. It’s also a great attitude to apply to endeavors across UI life and work. You can help our student-athletes win off the field, too, with a donation to the Vandal Scholarship Fund. Go Vandals!
This holiday season, Idaho residents can share the pride of knowing the tree shining at the U.S. Capitol glows with a little extra silver and gold flair, cut from the heart of our beautiful state.
Known as “the People’s Tree,” this stately evergreen is telling the story of Idaho — and of us as the state’s land-grant university. This designation gives UI a distinct mission to provide access to higher education across our state, to conduct innovative research and to engage our statewide community.
This year's tree hails from the Payette National Forest near our McCall Field Campus. For more than 75 years, the McCall Field Campus has been a critical part of our effort to bring more students to college. UI’s McCall Outdoor Science School has delivered hands-on learning opportunities to more than 20,000 K-12 students from across Idaho. More than 1,000 teachers have participated in professional training that equips them to prepare our next generation.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree represents our historic role in research connected to natural resources, especially through our College of Natural Resources. Our ready access to facilities, forests and wilderness areas provide students unmatched opportunities to work in the field. Among those resources is the 10,000-acre UI Experimental Forest, just 20 minutes from our Moscow campus. The Taylor Wilderness Research Station in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is a home like no other for faculty and student research — 70 percent of UI natural resources students get involved in research. These assets and experiences have helped make the College of Natural Resources a top 10 natural resource college, according to USA Today.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree stopped at the University of Idaho in Moscow last week on its way across the country to Washington, D.C., and many UI students and employees added their holiday greetings to the truck. You can view photos of its visit to Moscow on my Facebook page.
As the tree continues its national tour, it symbolizes many things — the beauty of our state, the traditions of family and community, and a sense of national unity. We can be proud that this symbol of Christmas spirit came from Idaho, and proud of the role that the University of Idaho plays in studying, protecting and preserving our beautiful forests.
The tree symbolizes a promise of a bright future for our state, our nation and our institution. I am glad that our state, our Idaho, can help share that story.
Veterans Day is special at the University of Idaho. Our military tradition dates back to the famed “Chrisman Battalion” at the turn of the 20th century and continues to this day with our Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC and our commitment to veterans. Operation Education, a unique support program celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, exemplifies that culture of appreciation, respect and support.
Operation Education provides academic, social and financial support to those who have received service-related injuries since Sept. 11, 2011, as well as their spouses and families. In 10 years, the program has supported the educational aspirations of nearly 30 people. Operation Education scholars have graduated in a diverse array of undergraduate and graduate programs, in everything from public relations to civil engineering to natural resources to law.
We currently host six full-time students at UI. Read the story of Aaron Torres, a first-generation American who joined the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry in 2008, wanting to do his part for his country. That service took him to Iraq. With support from Operation Education, and thanks to his hard work and determination, Aaron is on a path to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and archaeology. I have no doubt he will go far.
Tonight we’ll celebrate this decade of commitment at our annual UI Veterans Appreciation Dinner. We are honored to be joined by Aaron and Bonnie Contreras, two of the first Operation Education scholars. Aaron, our guest speaker, graduated from UI’s College of Law in 2010 and is an active duty Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) captain. Bonnie is a 2010 College of Education graduate and a school psychologist. These two scholars epitomize the Vandal spirit, alongside Operation Education’s many other scholar alumni, current students and supporters.
When Mary Beth and I came to UI, Operation Education was one of the first programs in which Mary Beth became deeply involved, serving as honorary co-chair of the effort with Bonnie Amos, wife of UI alumnus and then-Marine Corps Commandant General James F. Amos. Our Operation Education advisory board, including chair Nancy Byers, co-chair Heidi Linehan, and other valued members, help this program thrive with their counsel and direction. Dan Button, our veterans advisor, helps so many veterans reach their goals, fostering a supportive environment at UI for our military.
This life-changing program is an important way UI can recognize and support those who have given so much for our country. Thank you to our military community — cadets, active-duty students and veterans — for making a sacrifice for something larger than yourselves. On this Veterans Day, we recognize how that service strengthens us all.
The University of Idaho is dedicated to serving all people. Our student body is more diverse than ever. This year's increase in enrollment includes more students who identify as Native American, reflecting on our strong partnership with regional tribes.
This fall saw a 9.8 percent increase in Native American students at UI. Contributing factors to that growth include our Tribal Excellence Scholarship, which extends the equivalent of in-state tuition to members of the 10 tribes with which UI has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and to tribal college transfer students. That program emerged through consultation with our MOU tribes, who have representatives on campus this week for annual meetings. Our Native American Education Advisory Board and Native American Advisory Council discuss issues and opportunities for enhanced work in many facets of our partnership. I appreciate the chance to connect with UI’s tribal partners to keep building on success for students at UI, at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and to see where we can continue to meet needs in the K-12 system and in the community.
Today we dedicate flags from our 10 MOU partners in a common area in the Bruce M. Pitman Center. The new Tribal Nations Lounge is a place of welcome. Thanks to Yolanda Bisbee, chief diversity officer and executive director of Tribal Relations, for her efforts to create a more visible place that shares some of the area’s tribal history, art and culture with the UI community. In dedicating this space, we recognize UI’s location on Nez Perce ceded land and demonstrate our deeply held commitment to serving Native American students with educational opportunities. We will have pictures of the dedication ceremony later today – please visit my Facebook page.
Throughout November, UI is celebrating Native American Heritage month, just one of the many ways we honor our tribal members. Last month, I accepted an ASUI resolution to commemorate “Indigenous Peoples Day” at UI. I appreciated hearing from our guest speaker, Nez Perce elder Mike Penney, and appreciate the work put into commemorating this day by ASUI and our Native American Student Association. I hope Indigenous Peoples Day – like UI's annual Tutxinmepu Powwow each spring – becomes a widely celebrated part of UI's commitment to inclusion of Native American people, experiences and perspectives.
Outreach to Native American communities also informs our relationship with tribes. This summer we hosted high school students through our Helping Orient Indian Students and Teachers into STEM (HOIST) college-prep program, giving students a leg up toward college. This spring we won a National Science Foundation grant to bring more Native American students to the McCall Outdoor Science School and follow up in the classroom to create culturally relevant connections to STEM topics. Our College of Natural Resources, with help from University Distinguished Professor Lisette Waits, is leading the development of a Tribal Natural Resources Certificate. As a final example, our College of Education, led by associate professor Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, partners with the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene tribes to build reciprocal relationships and understanding between teachers and tribal communities through the Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Education Program project.
I have appreciated building relationships with our tribal partners. Those partnerships create a richer, more inclusive and more diverse UI for all students.Go Vandals!
This is an exciting time at the University of Idaho. Last week we announced the public campaign for a new arena for basketball and volleyball. The arena will enrich UI’s great residential experience and offer outstanding facilities to our student-athletes in all court sports. Our students want this facility, and have stepped forward to support it. Consider investing in this game-changing facility yourself.
We’ve also made enrollment gains — an important trend for UI and our state. Overall, our enrollment increased 3.6 percent, to 11,780. We realized a 6.5 percent increase in new Idaho resident freshman, amid a 4.5 increase in overall new freshmen. For in-state students, the Direct Admissions program, spurred by UI in partnership with our State Board of Education, is part of that success story. Direct Admissions offered automatic admission to qualified high school seniors and resulted in a 5 percent system-wide increase, according to 10th-day state board enrollment data, in addition to the gains at UI.
One Direct Admissions anecdote needs to be shared, from a new freshman from Boise whose high school career had been “up and down.” The Direct Admissions letter he received informing him that he was admitted to the University of Idaho was the first time he’d imagined our university was a possibility. He hadn’t thought he could get accepted. He’s now a freshman on campus in one of our fraternities, enthusiastic about his classes and taking every advantage of an opportunity he didn’t even know he’d earned. I know there are many students like him, including many first-generation college attendees who make up nearly one-third of our student body this fall.
We’ve also seen an increase in new transfer students, both from Idaho and beyond, 8.6 and 4.9 percent, respectively. Those Idaho students benefit from VandaLink agreements with North Idaho College, the College of Western Idaho, the College of Southern Idaho and Eastern Idaho Technical College. VandaLink provides a seamless transfer of credits and scholarship support for the many community college students who are ready to take on a four-year degree.
We are a diverse, inclusive and global campus. The percentage of students from underrepresented groups in our freshman class rose from 16 percent to 23.2 percent. That increase grows out of strong work by our diversity advisory groups, our admissions and recruiting teams, and special programs such as our Tribal Excellence Scholarship. This fall students come to UI from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., 79 countries, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.
I want to keep building on our success. We’re continuing to lead the charge in the Direct Admissions initiative. High school students across Idaho — maybe one you know, maybe your own child — may have already received notification of automatic admission to the University of Idaho, based on their academic qualifications. I encourage those students — and I hope you will, too — to take the next steps, save their spots at UI, and get started with financial aid at uidaho.edu/apply. Federal changes mean you can fill out FAFSA right now, using last year’s taxes. UI has moved its financial aid priority date to Dec. 1 so that students and families will know their financial aid awards by the holidays – more time to make the best decision for a great education. And as of this fall, we have waived the application fee for Idaho residents. We will forego about $200,000 in revenue — an investment we are making in the future of Idaho students.
For the two years of my presidency, my highest fundraising priority has been building a new arena for basketball and volleyball at the University of Idaho. Today I’m formally announcing the public phase of our campaign to build an arena in Moscow. This project is an investment in our student-athletes, a great student experience and an exciting campus environment for alumni, fans and the entire community. It is an investment in excellence.
Located on the field north of the ASUI-Kibbie Activity Center, the arena will be an outstanding place to build on our tradition of athletic success. Including a new practice court, office and conference space, the facility will alleviate the space constraints we face with basketball’s conflict with football in fall and with the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in spring. This adaptable, modern facility will help our basketball and volleyball programs compete for Big Sky Conference championships year in and year out. As Athletic Director Rob Spear puts it, “This will be one of the most impactful projects in the history of our athletic department. A new facility can transform and elevate our court sports to new heights.”
The impact on recruiting will be tangible, too. The Cowan Spectrum has done a wonderful job for many years, but it’s time to build a facility that helps us consistently recruit outstanding student-athletes and maintain the Division I excellence we have every right to expect as Vandals. Our women’s basketball team has been to the NCAA tournament three of the past four seasons. Our men’s team just had their best season in 20 years. Let’s use that as a launching pad for the next generation of successful Vandal athletes.
A new arena also enhances the student experience at UI. Students will be excited about heading to a game — or a concert, conference or lecture — in a space that is designed for those experiences. I’m thrilled that our student government at ASUI backs this plan. The facilities fee they originated and passed is the seed funding that will allow this idea to grow. We’ll see opportunities for faculty and hands-on student involvement in all phases of this project — from our art and architecture Design Lab, to our natural resources programs, to civil engineering. Upon completion, students in movement sciences, journalism, marketing and more will find the facility a practical place to exercise their emerging talents and skills.
This is a building that represents Idaho, and, accordingly, we’ve been working with Idaho’s forest products industry. Wood is a central design element in the building’s 4,700-seat, 70,000-square-foot design. As Idaho’s land-grant research leader, we plan to demonstrate what it means to build a cutting-edge facility with our state’s abundant renewable resource.
In total, we have over half of the project cost committed. Student support has been pivotal. I want to thank the Associated Students of the University of Idaho (ASUI) for recognizing the need for this project and stepping up with fee support that can be used to bond up to $5 million of the arena cost. We have other commitments from generous friends of the university. Our next steps are to ask for the support of all our alumni and friends. While completing our fundraising, we plan to ask the State Board of Education for approval to plan and bid the construction in February 2017. I know that ASUI President Cruz Botello and others share my hope that entering freshmen in fall 2017 will cheer on the Vandals in the arena during their senior year.
This is a game-changing project for our campus, for our athletics program and for Idaho. Together, let’s build something special at the University of Idaho.
Autumn means a season for changing leaves, football weekends and mid-term exams. It’s also a time when future college students closely examine their options for higher education. Students and families often rely on college guides and rankings to make college decisions. Rankings help guide a more nuanced approach to college selection than word-of-mouth or the impressions of friends, however well-meaning. But understanding the basis of rankings is important. Armed with that information, I hope that you will help friends understand the excellence of our premier research university.
Every year we see an abundance of rankings and comparisons, each with a unique combination of metrics and weighting. Some rankings weight reputation or the quality of the incoming student body. I put a higher value on the student experience and on student outcomes, especially real-world career success after college.
U.S. News and World Report is a widely-used, traditional ranking. The University of Idaho does well in this annual ranking – No. 171 among national universities for 2017, with highly ranked programs in business and engineering. Worth noting, though, is that US News weights reputation (assessed by a survey of college administrators) and student selectivity highly. Student selectivity is essentially how many qualified students an institution turns away. I feel that education should be accessible for all qualified students; we have a mission to expand access, not restrict it. If lower student selectivity at UI dents an otherwise strong ranking, we accept that because we want to be measured on how many great students we bring in the door and graduate, not how many we lock out.
This fall the federal government updated its College Scorecard – not a ranking, per se, but a tool for learning more about institutions and comparing them. Clear-cut, authoritative and fact-based, it allows one to compare institutions based on measures such as average annual costs, six-year graduation rate, and financial success after college. The data are drawn from those students who received federal financial aid – more than half of our students and a very important population for us to serve. The College Scorecard gets to the heart of three critical factors every family needs to consider – cost to them, probability of their graduation, and what their career outcome will be. UI scores better than the national average in all categories, and best among all four-year public universities in Idaho.
This summer UI was named one of Money magazine’s “Best Colleges” and the best school in Idaho. Quality of education, affordability and outcomes inform Money’s rankings. Some of their data come from the College Scorecard, and some come from PayScale. This very practical ranking helps students answer key questions: Is the academic experience excellent? Can I afford it? Will it pay off with a good job? Our success on this ranking offers a resounding “Yes” to all three questions.
The Washington Monthly ranking takes a data-driven approach – no survey where administrators offer at-a-distance opinions on intangibles – and dials down on accessibility to families with financial need and service to first-generation students. Washington Monthly also assesses student success, innovative research and public service (we score especially high on service – this week we made our sixth consecutive appearance on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, further proof of that commitment). UI is again one of America's top 100 national universities, No. 84, and clearly the highest-ranked university in Idaho. We're also a "Best Bang for Your Buck" college based on the return on investment a UI degree offers graduates.
Not all rankings are created equal. Nevertheless, as students look ahead to their own fall days at our great university, I hope they’ll take advantage of the many well-informed rankings that are out there to help guide their decision-making. Our rankings prove that the University of Idaho will serve them well, as we have for 127 years.
P.S. I want to congratulate our College of Law for its appearance on the cover of this month’s PreLaw magazine — we are the No. 8 Best Value Law School in the nation. The program is helping students reduce debt and prepare for employment. For affordability and career success, our Law program exemplifies Vandal excellence, and I’m glad it’s getting noticed.
This week I delivered my third State of the University address as a Vandal. I shared with our faculty and staff, along with our supporters and friends, the success we’ve had in the past year. I also shared the goals and initiatives of our Strategic Plan, the basis of an exciting future for our students and our state.
We set ambitious goals for innovation at UI – the research, scholarly activity and creative work that makes an impact in Idaho and beyond. As a broad institutional goal, we have our sights set on R1 “Highest Research Activity” status by 2025, a standard for comparing institutions published by the Carnegie Classification. UI is already Idaho’s only R2 “higher research activity” university. Joining the research elite by becoming R1 is an exciting prospect, but really just an indicator for enhanced impact. Initiatives like our Rock Creek Ranch partnership and our dairy/cattle initiative present interesting research opportunities and meet needs for Idaho. We are on our way – this year, for the first time ever, we have crossed $100 million in research expenditures.
We’re also going to deepen our engagement within Idaho. The Direct Admit program that offers automatic admission for qualified seniors will continue to make strides in changing our college-going culture. We’re going to renew our “Vandal Ideas Project,” an internal investment in UI creativity. Last year our focus was interdisciplinary scholarship and research. This year, the Vandal Ideas Project will tackle the “Engage” goal, working to help Idaho’s “go-on” effort. As the statewide higher education leader, we are well-positioned to apply our strengths to improve the Idaho we are proud to call home.
We want to continue to transform lives at UI. That means increasing our enrollment, improving our retention, and ensuring our curricula evolve to best prepare our students for the dynamic and fast-changing world after graduation. We are making strides, with encouraging enrollment projections for our incoming freshmen and transfer students, for underrepresented groups, and for residents of Idaho. Our Idaho resident enrollment has increased 7 percent this year; underrepresented groups by 14 percent. Progress will be gradual as we build on successive classes in the years ahead, but it has started.
We also want to cultivate a valued and diverse community for students and for faculty and staff. We have some work to do in making our organization the best it can be for our employees. But we are tackling that issue head-on, and we will see progress. I want our institution to have a growth mindset, and as we turn the corner on enrollment, as we continue our excellence in research, teaching, and statewide engagement, we’ll connect better with our institutional excellence. We have the capability to solve any problem when we work together.
Last, this is an exciting time on campus. New facilities are expanding our capacity and capabilities. We’ve ushered in the new College of Education building, a revamped Library, and will open the Integrated Research and Innovation Center soon. We have plans for a renovated home for our WWAMI program, which has grown to meet Idaho’s medical education needs. A new court sports arena is on the horizon, about which I will be saying more in this letter later this month.
Our success starts with our hardworking faculty and staff – I am grateful for their commitment to excellence. And I appreciate that our alumni and friends support UI’s work and share the Vandal success story far and wide. That makes a difference. You make a difference. Thanks for a great year, and I look forward to our brave and bold future. Go Vandals!
At our 108th Homecoming this weekend, our “Joe for the Gold” theme nods at this summer’s Olympics and UI’s excellence in preparing graduates for success. It has been a fun week filled with spirit competitions, our 67th annual blood drive, the annual Serpertine tonight and more. I’m looking forward to joining Vandals from near and far tomorrow at the parade and football game.
As I have worked at UI, I have been struck by the passion of our alumni. In particular, for many alumni, the Vandal spirit is handed down through generations — a family tradition of an outstanding academic experience that leads to great careers and great lives. I want to highlight three stories that exemplify that multi-generational Vandal success story.
Being a University of Idaho Vandal is a point of pride for Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and his wife, Teresa Soulen Little. The Littles are both native Idahoans and second-generation Vandals who followed in their parents’ footsteps to attend UI. Brad earned his degree in agribusiness, then put that degree to work helping to run his family ranch in Emmett. He and Teresa are proud that their two sons carried on the family tradition and also became Vandals. The Littles have served on several UI boards and participate in UI activities; in fact, it isn’t unusual to see the family together in Moscow cheering on the Vandal football team. Brad will be back in Moscow — his “home-away-from-home” — to participate in this weekend’s Homecoming activities, including the parade through downtown. The Littles are hoping to see their five grandchildren one day make their way down Hello Walk on their own journey toward a UI diploma.
Patty and Mike Fery, from Boise, are also multi-generational Vandals who care about giving back to UI. Patty, a communications graduate, has worked in marketing for high-profile Idaho companies. A dedicated Vandal volunteer, she helped reinvigorate our Parent and Family Association, offering information, resources and support for Vandal families. Her mother and father were UI graduates, in accounting and architecture, respectively. Mike serves on the Foundation board, and their children are following their example as Vandals, with one joining the ranks of our alumni and another soon to follow. Having had the good fortune to get know the Ferys, I especially admire Patty’s strong interest in helping students with learning disabilities succeed in school, and am glad we share that interest in helping all students flourish.
One more multi-generational success story, appropriate for this weekend. Flip Kleffner was our director of Alumni Relations for 15 years; he and his wife, Jo, were named “Idaho Treasures” in 2007. Vandal football fans recall that Flip, an Athletics Hall of Fame member, kicked an 82-yard punt against Washington State University in 1953. The Kleffners have generously supported the College of Education building renovation. They have also seen their five children and six grandchildren attend UI. I’ve met the Kleffners and am proud of their friendship and grateful for their continued support of UI.
Vandals, of course, who are the first generation in their family to attend UI, or to attend any institution. A UI degree positions graduates for long-term success, so I welcome all our new Vandals to start a family tradition of their own. For Vandals old and new, this will always be a place to come home to.Go Vandals!
P.S.: Are you a multi-generation Vandal family? Share your story with us, we’d love to hear it. We may post it at my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/uidahopresident. Go Vandals and happy Homecoming!
There is no place quite like the University of Idaho. We have a special story to tell as an outstanding institution with a proud history and a bright future. A new book, "University of Idaho: The Campus History Series," by Erin Passehl-Stoddart, head of Special Collections and Archives at the UI Library, and Katherine G. Aiken, a history professor in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, offers a photographic exploration of our institution’s history and current life. Vandals familiar with histories like “A Beacon for Mountain and Plain” by Rafe Gibbs or “This Crested Hill” by Keith Petersen will find this new effort a worthy companion.
The photos showcased span the 127 years of Idaho’s leading national research university. You’ll view a journey across the rich student life, research and scholarship, academic excellence, and Athletics success at UI. You’ll recognize the people and the places that are an indelible part of who we are. You’ll discover anew the story of a university with modest beginnings on its way to great things.
I was honored to write a foreword for “University of Idaho: The Campus History Series.” Let me reiterate here my appreciation for the history and mission of this institution, so thoughtfully highlighted in the curation and writing of this book. And again I extend my gratitude to Erin Passehl-Stoddart and Katherine Aiken for a fine work that is a great addition to the story of our university.
Below are a just a handful of images from the book. Visit this site for an even larger sample, and head to the UI Library’s Special Collections for more background and ordering information. Worth mentioning right here, though, is that you can contact Jennifer Mylan or Sammantha Green for help with orders.
The University of Idaho has always stood out for having a distinctive residential campus. Among our historic buildings and modern facilities, students find a living and learning environment that facilitates growth and success. To reach that potential, a safe, supportive environment is paramount. Safety is a consideration at all our locations across the state, but with the majority of our students coming to live in Moscow, the residential campus requires a particular focus.
In the upcoming week, we affirm our values as a caring community and renew our commitment to look out for our new and continuing students. This Sunday, UI's Safety Week and Hazing Prevention Week begins, connecting students with tools and resources, expert advice and best practices, and an understanding of the support offered by UI faculty and staff, as well as fellow students. For the fourth consecutive year, new full-time students will complete our “Think About It” course, a mandatory orientation seminar that provides an interactive examination of relationships, substance abuse and violence. Two additional events — the Katy Benoit Safety Forum and a keynote address on hazing — are just a couple of examples of the opportunities to come together and focus on critical safety issues. I encourage our students to take advantage of these learning experiences.
Our participation in the national Green Dot program offers techniques and training for realistic bystander intervention in situations with potential for interpersonal violence. On Sunday, UI is joining 50 other institutions nationwide in a simultaneous Green Dot training. I want to also highlight the annual Take Back the Night rally, hosted by the Women’s Center. Mary Beth will participate in that event and is looking forward to sharing her experiences as a physician and discussing solutions with UI students and staff – women and men alike. Safety Week events key in on the “I Got Your Back” concept and affirm that we Vandals support and take care of each other.
A safe campus also requires a modern and dependable infrastructure. Last year, we made an investment in new cameras across our public spaces and at the entrances to some of our shared spaces. These cameras complement our existing security, and are investments in deterrence and accountability for our entire campus community.
The practices, perspectives and emphasis on resources and support goes beyond Safety Week. This is a commitment we must live out every day, continually assessing and improving our efforts. I can speak from personal experience as a parent, having delivered two sons and a daughter to college, that safety is a weighty consideration. As a president, that perspective keeps me focused on making sure all our students have an outstanding educational experience, and that the best residential campus in Idaho is also the safest residential campus in Idaho.
Janet Nelson joined us this month as our new vice president for research and economic development. She was most recently the associate vice chancellor for research development at the University of Tennessee and has more than 30 years of experience in scientific research and administration.
Over the next few weeks she will be touring Idaho to visit agencies, industry partners and UI locations. I interviewed Janet this week to capture firsthand her thoughts on the role of research, on the importance of expert teams, and on moving to Idaho and returning to her roots in the West.
Why did you want to work at the University of Idaho?
Every time I visited the University of Idaho, I became more impressed with the opportunities at the university, the beauty of the region and the warmth of the people. I was actually born in Bozeman, Montana, and I spent many summers at my grandfather’s ranch in Dillon. It is fun to be out West again. The opportunity to join the senior leadership in place here was also a key part of my decision.
How has your experience in science and research administration prepared you for this role?
Like the University of Tennessee, Idaho is a land-grant university and a flagship university. The research and development aspects of this position will be quite similar to what I’ve been doing the past few years at UT. For example, to grow the NIH portfolio, I worked with the faculty to strategically go after NIH funding. I also have extensive history at DOE national labs, from my postdoctoral training at Los Alamos National Laboratory, to five years at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, to fostering partnerships between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. I really enjoy building relationships and helping the academic, government and industry continuum leverage their different research strengths to attack a problem in a common way.
One of UI’s goals, as spelled out in our new Strategic Plan, is to become a Carnegie R1 “Highest Research Activity” institution. What will that take?
I’m very excited about the university’s new strategic plan. It’s very aggressive, but I think it’s achievable. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, but a lot of the resources are currently in place. However, we will need improvement in infrastructure, in laboratory space and in cluster hires in areas of expertise. We’re going to have to work at growing different sources of research funding, and not just relying on federal expenditures. One thing to be careful about is that we can’t be the best at everything. We’re going to have to be selective about where we focus.
Why should the general public care about research? What does it mean for an Idahoan?
Research is key to the mission of a land-grant university. I see a tight integration between education, research and economic development. I think research comes down to understanding how things work and then applying that knowledge to address a common problem. People in Idaho, just like people in the rest of the nation and the rest of the world, all have common problems, whether it’s health disparities, energy shortages or food issues. So the research we do at universities, and the work we can take to the next level and commercialize, is important in helping solve and address these challenges.
Your description of research seems to go beyond the laboratory. Do you have a broad definition of research?
Yes. I embrace all research, scholarship and creative activity, and I’m going to make a point to address that intensely. I’m a chemist by training, but I’m very proud of having a BA from a liberal arts college. We have to understand that the standards for excellence for each discipline is different. For instance, a Guggenheim fellowship is as prestigious as an NSF CAREER Award. Part of my responsibility is to celebrate excellence in each of the fields and help all the fields progress.
What themes do you see emerging in research?
One of the things that I’m really passionate about with research is the emerging national theme of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. We have a great opportunity at UI to embrace this approach to tackle problems that one discipline alone can’t solve. For example, the food, water, energy nexus is going to bring together many disciplines and require a team effort. I really like team building, and it is important to understand that an expert team is not the same as a team of experts. I want to help build expert teams to help solve important problems.
You brought your family here. How are they feeling about this move?
I have a grown daughter in North Carolina, but I brought my husband and my young daughter here, and they are very excited about the move and we are all enjoying Moscow and the region.
Thank you, Janet, for your time, and welcome again to our national research university.
The University of Idaho remains committed to bringing more students — especially Idaho students — into the life-changing, career-shaping experience of higher education. That has been a central goal of my presidency. This fall we are rolling out ways to make getting to college easier and paying for college more affordable.
First: We are eliminating the application fee for Idaho residents. This $60 charge typically accompanies completion of the necessary paperwork to claim one’s spot at the university. But I want to continue streamlining the application process to ensure Idaho students have access to the best university in our state. While $60 may be a small hurdle, it is a hurdle nonetheless. We don’t want students to trip up on those critical first steps toward a college degree, a rewarding career and a great life.
Second, we are excited about the state’s Direct Admit program, offering high school students automatic admission to Idaho’s public colleges and universities, based on their academic qualifications. Students should expect a letter soon from the state informing them of their choices and next steps. The University of Idaho will follow up with those students, offering guidance on how to complete the process and get started with a Vandal education.
Those steps are about getting to college. What about paying for college? An important change students and parents should be aware of is the ability to take advantage of the new Oct. 1 FAFSA date. This has important ramifications for financial aid. Instead of waiting until next spring’s tax filing deadline, families can now complete the 2017-18 FAFSA starting October 1, using their previous year’s (2015) income information. (You may see this change referred to as “early FAFSA” or “prior-prior year” reporting.) Families will have more clarity, sooner, about what to expect in financial support.
Our university is moving its priority date for financial aid up from February 15 to December 1. Students who have completed the application process (and Idaho students who have completed the Direct Admit process) will begin to receive notice of their financial awards as soon as mid-December. While students can still qualify for scholarships and financial aid after December 1, we want as many families as possible to be aware of their financial aid packages before the holiday season.
Each student and family should have as much information as possible, and as much time as possible to digest it, to make a good choice about college.
The University of Idaho is our state’s leader in educational quality and in college affordability: value that makes UI a great choice. UI awarded $25 million in scholarships this fall, more than any other public institution in the state. More than $8 million of that support came from gifts and endowments thanks to the contributions of Vandal alumni and friends. Scholarship support helped families across the income spectrum make college a reality – for instance, we helped more than 4,000 Idaho students with family incomes averaging $41,000 afford tuition and fees, room and board, and books.
The best ambassador for the value of a Vandal education is the success of our graduates. Getting in to college and making it affordable can be daunting, but we know that it pays off for students and is essential in today’s world. Vandal alumni, please help us spread the word about these exciting changes and the value of your experience at UI.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, our Vandal football season kicks off at the Kibbie Dome. I've often referred to our Athletics program as the “front porch” of the university — the place where we come together to celebrate our heritage, our current work and our bright future. I’m confident we’ll also get to see a great game as the Montana State Bobcats come to town.
A lot has happened since our last football game. I made the difficult decision to affiliate our program with the Big Sky Conference after the 2017 season. One exciting factor in the conference change was the opportunity for regional rivalries. As a current Big Sky team, our neighboring land-grant, research institution across the mountains in Bozeman provides an example of the regional match-ups that we hope will create enthusiasm among our fans and make the University of Idaho's story more visible.
Our student-athletes are ambassadors for that story of excellence. As the father of two NCAA athletes myself, I have seen the dedication and commitment it takes to be successful. Juggling academics and athletics is not an easy proposition, especially at the Division I level, but our Vandal athletes work hard to maintain excellence on and off the field. Last year, 24 football players made either the Academic Honor Roll or the Commissioner’s List for their conference. Across other sports in fall and winter, 55 student-athletes earned Big Sky Conference All-Academic honors, with more to come when the spring results are tallied.
For student-athletes, that hard work pays off. They are highly valued by employers for their work ethic, ability to focus and commitment to task completion. Our Vandals who don’t go pro in their sports — plenty do, I should point out — join the rest of the Vandal family in contributing as leaders and innovators in industries and organizations across the nation and the world.
Our faculty and staff contribute to that success. In appreciation for that service, my office has collaborated with the Athletics Ticket Office to offer two free tickets to the Sept. 1 game for our Vandal employees. Additional tickets can be purchased for just $5. Thank you to all UI employees for contributing to the excellence of the University of Idaho.
I hope to see as many Vandals as possible in the Idaho Fan Zone, coming together to root on our student-athletes. We will set up on the SprinTurf just east of the dome with live music, great food and plenty of activities for kids. The Vandal Marching Band will offer its customarily rousing, occasionally irreverent routine to get us energized. Admission to the Fan Zone is free — just come ready to have fun and cheer on our team as it heads into the season, representing the best of the Vandal spirit.
This morning, a brand new class of Vandals comes together at Convocation, the annual tradition marking the beginning of our academic year and the start of each student’s educational journey. It can be a time filled with trepidation for students — and for parents. Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet students and parents moving into our residence halls. I saw young women and men wondering what college is all about. I also saw students excited to embark on an adventure, ready to take charge of their futures with a college degree.
There is no better way to take charge of your future than to join the Vandal family.
Recently, Money magazine named the University of Idaho the “Best College” in our state, based on our winning combination of affordability, academic excellence and outcomes after college. The publication notes our broad range of academic offerings, in everything from agricultural research to natural resources to music and the arts. Money joins the College Scorecard in highlighting our success for students: outstanding educational opportunities, robust financial aid and graduate earnings that are the highest of any institution in Idaho.
I’m highlighting post-graduation outcomes — that might seem like a long way down the road for our Convocation attendees. But career success is top of mind for many, as increasingly students are focused on college as a way to get a well-paying job. That’s a smart outlook, as studies show a college degree is the key to earning $1 million more over a lifetime than those with only a high school degree. Some 95 percent of all new jobs created since the Great Recession have gone to those with at least some college experience. University of Idaho graduates lead the way among our state’s institutions when it comes to mid-career salaries — it’s not even close. That financial stability underpins a great life for UI grads.
On their way to graduation, though, I hope students will treasure the unique experiences they have to grow as thinkers, as leaders, and as members of a caring community. Many Vandals have the chance to participate in hands-on research. They learn and receive mentorship from the best and brightest faculty members. They have unparalleled access to outdoor adventure. In our student organizations, in Athletics, and in our sorority and fraternity systems, they find support networks and form lasting friendships. As I’ll tell our students this morning: A lot happens here on the way to the rest of your life. Take advantage of every minute of it.
We’re proud to be joined at our Convocation by Hattie Kauffman, an award-winning journalist who will share her inspirational story. Ms. Kauffman, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, was born in Idaho and has deep roots in the area. She is a trailblazing journalist and author, and a great example of the success one can have through higher education. I’m grateful that Ms. Kauffman could be with us in Moscow today, and I hope the newest members of our Vandal family gain a better idea of what is possible in college and in life — as a student, as a graduate and as a person.
Summer is a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of our students. We take pride in providing opportunities for student success through access to a comprehensive, high quality education. While I can’t highlight every deserving student, I want to mention a few whose achievements embody the excellence of our university.
Vandals are leading the way in distinguished, national awards. This spring Alyssa Ertel, a third-year Honors program student from Kennewick, Washington, earned a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. That award supports careers in science, mathematics and engineering. Alyssa, a student of chemical engineering and chemistry, is one of only 252 new Goldwater scholars nationwide this year. UI has had 11 students earn this award over the past decade.
UI also had numerous recipients this year of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, a competitive scholarship given to only 2,700 recipients nationwide. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the scholarship supports international study and internship opportunities. In the fall, sophomores Emily and Jordan Kizer used their scholarships to live and learn in Peru. Samuel Hermann, a senior international studies major from Genesee, Idaho, participated in a research project in Senegal. This spring junior Clarisa Lopez, a clothing, textile and design major, went to France. Joshua Warnick from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, went to Morocco. We’ll have two more Gilman scholars this summer: William Juarez-Tapia, from Filer, Idaho, is going to China, and Lauren Hirsch from Fair Oaks, California, is bound for Russia. I’m excited about the academic and cultural opportunities they’ll experience, and the perspectives they’ll be able to share with their classmates when they return to UI.
We also applaud the work of Katey Huggler, a senior in wildlife resources from Priest River, Idaho, who earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a great step toward future study and an exciting career. Two Vandals have won Fulbright U.S. Student Awards: Anna Cantrell, from Bruneau, Idaho, will travel to Nepal for an English teaching assistantship, and Anthony St. Claire of Coeur d’Alene will travel to Senegal for an English teaching assistantship.
Our University Honors Program takes the lead in connecting students with many of these scholarships. Approximately 500 students, in all colleges and undergraduate majors, participate in the program. There are many opportunities for mentorship, peer support and involvement in everything from undergraduate research to volunteerism. The program is an invaluable part of the academic life of our research university.
These honors show the high caliber of students we have here at UI. We once again led the Northwest in the number of National Merit Scholars who chose UI as freshmen, with 23 of Idaho’s 24 scholars. These students are in the top 1 percent of high school students and pass a rigorous course of tests to become National Merit finalists. In addition, we’ll be joined next fall by a new Gates Millennium Scholar, Enrique Gutierrez from Parma, Idaho. It is a point of pride that these talented students choose the University of Idaho to prepare them for life and work. They enhance the academic vitality of UI for all students on their way to further distinction in the paths they take as Vandals.
We also have many students who are accomplishing great things in other ways. That includes the many students who volunteer in their communities and through programs like our Alternative Service Breaks. It includes those who take leadership roles in student government and in fraternity and sorority life. It includes those who excel in scholarship and creative work. And it certainly includes the many students who have overcome challenges of all kinds and found their way forward through higher education at the state’s leading, national research university. I congratulate our students on their success, and wish them well in their future as graduates and as citizens.
This week and next, we celebrate the accomplishments of students across our state, as more than 1,500 Vandals cross the stage as graduates. Each has contributed greatly to the vibrant cultural and academic climate of our university. We know that whether they’ve earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, these students are better prepared to live outstanding lives. Our graduates today take their place in a proud history and a forward-looking mission, as alumni of Idaho’s leading, national research university.
Over the course of their UI experience, graduates took on new experiences, met difficult challenges and made the most of life-changing opportunities. They have practiced critical inquiry and opened their minds to new ideas. They have engaged in hands-on research, scholarly activity and creative work alongside professors and mentors who are leading their disciplines. Our students have also offered leadership and service that makes a difference and lives up to our ideals as Vandals.
I encourage you to visit our website to learn and share our graduates’ stories. Among our graduates today is Kelly Christensen, who has used her time at UI to engage deeply with academic work, to learn about herself, and to discover her potential for life and work filled with purpose and inspiration. She’s currently finishing an undergraduate research project that takes an interdisciplinary route to use math to understand and fight disease — fascinating work on the precipice of a promising career. Kelly is a student ambassador for the College of Science and she participates in UI Science Outreach, bringing the excitement of science to area elementary and middle school students. I’m proud of how she’s represented science and the University of Idaho to future scientists — and future Vandals.
Tomorrow we’ll also congratulate Joe Vandal on his graduation. Joe, our beloved mascot, is not actually walking across the stage, but the person who has brought him to life for four years is. Behind the mask, you’ve seen graduate student Rob Gibson at countless events, celebrations and gatherings over the years, bringing energy and enthusiasm to our school. Also the drum major for the Vandal marching band, Rob helped stir life and passion for our institution. Rob epitomizes what it means to be a member of a tribe from the North, brave and bold.
Each of our graduates has a story of success — challenges met, obstacles overcome and aspirations realized. As I have been telling our graduates, that experience positions them to succeed. Our global economy needs critical thinkers, innovators and risk takers. Employers need skilled, creative, diligent, conscientious people — and they look to our university to find them. Communities need leaders and volunteers, women and men committed to the public good.
In short, the world needs Vandals.
Where can a Vandal education take you? Just about anywhere on Earth — and in some cases, beyond. In April, we celebrated a “Month of Innovation” at UI, culminating with the College of Engineering Design EXPO last Friday. Each year at EXPO, we celebrate the capstone projects of our engineering students, invite high school students to campus, and connect with alumni and industry leaders who give their time as judges and advisors.
This year, UI welcomed back Tom Mueller, a graduate of the College of Engineering and a co-founding employee of SpaceX. If you’ve watched the news recently, you’ve likely heard of SpaceX and seen their work in action. This company is pioneering reusable rockets, seeming to make a major advance with each rocket launch.
Tom is from St. Maries, Idaho, in Benewah County, and the son of a logger. St. Maries is the gateway to the beautiful St. Joe River country, and a long way from SpaceX’s headquarters in Southern California. Yet, the University of Idaho was the launching pad for Tom’s career.
During EXPO, about 500 visiting high school students experienced a weekend that showcases life and work at UI and in the College of Engineering. They visited locations around the Moscow campus, met with students and faculty, and engaged in hands-on activities.
In addition to getting a taste of college life, these visiting students also got to see a UI engineering education in action, as more than 60 engineering teams, over 250 seniors, presented their capstone projects with booth presentations and technical presentations. Imagining, creating and refining a project is valuable, but so is the ability to communicate the importance of that work. The presentations are similar to TED talks, judged by industry and academic evaluators. Many evaluators were alumni who volunteered their time and insight and we appreciate their particular expertise and encouragement to our students.
Other Month of Innovation programs, events and initiatives included a student-organized TEDx event; an Undergraduate Research Symposium; the UI’s first Three-Minute Thesis competition and the Innovation Showcase through our College of Graduate Studies. The College of Business and Economics hosted Idaho Pitch and business plan contests, during which more than $30,000 was awarded to student-conceived business enterprises.
The entire month served to highlight that at UI, our students encounter new ideas and are encouraged to find fresh approaches across disciplines, and to have opportunities to refine those ideas through presentation and competition.
These experiences are critical elements of a transformative education. They help current students — and our future students — get a better picture of the possibilities and opportunities that come with a college education: the great heights a world-class education can propel them to. They, like Tom Mueller, can reach for the stars.
Yesterday we announced that the University of Idaho Vandal football team will accept an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference, pending State Board of Education approval, starting in fall 2018. UI Athletics Director Rob Spear and Head Football Coach Paul Petrino respect and will implement this decision.
This is the right decision for our students, for academic excellence and long-term success and stature of the University of Idaho. We are, first and foremost, the state's leading residential and research university. The experience of our students and growing our capacity to educate and innovate must be the focal point for all of our actions.
I want to remind everyone what our choices, which we have evaluated over many months, were. We could:
- Remain in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of Division I as an independent after 2017, waiting for an invitation to join an FBS conference; or
- Join the Big Sky Conference, in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of Division I, gaining full membership in that conference.
The key factors in making this decision were whether UI could realistically expect to become a competitive FBS team that would be asked to affiliate with a stable FBS conference, versus the value of joining the Big Sky.
UI has always been one of the lowest-resourced FBS football teams and has struggled to win. To become successful enough to affiliate with any FBS conference would entail unjustifiable, unsustainable expenditures with only a marginal chance of success. Enduring the significant challenges of competition as an independent weighed against an extremely uncertain future would be irresponsible when we have the alternative of joining one of the most stable FCS conferences that also allows us to renew traditional rivalries and offers our student-athletes the opportunity to excel at an appropriate level of competition, just as they do in our other Big Sky sports programs.
We are very proud of this year’s Big Sky Conference championships: women’s basketball, women’s soccer and women’s golf. Our men’s and women’s tennis teams and men’s golf team are playing for championship titles this weekend. Our overall athletic program, under Rob Spear’s leadership, has excelled and will continue to do so.
We believe in the young men and the coaches on our Vandal football team. They have competed at a high level in the Sun Belt, and I know they will play well this coming fall and the next. Coach Petrino has done an outstanding job, and I am pleased that he is committed to staying with our program. But long-term, having no FBS conference affiliation option is problematic for recruitment, for rivalries that students and other fans get excited about, and poses little to no financial advantage. Continued instability will not help us build a program, and it holds back the university as a whole. Full membership in the Big Sky conference means we have a voice in all conference decisions and a seat at the table next to similar institutions in our geographic region. It is time to make this move.
I understand some alumni and supporters do not agree that an FCS affiliation is our best option. Many passionate Vandals view our place in FBS as a mark of our institution’s “prestige” and “relevance.” The University of Idaho is our state’s land-grant university, the unquestioned statewide leader in higher education. Success on the football field should complement the prestige and relevance of our academic institution, but not define it. Rather, the impact of our institution will define us, as measured by the entire experience for our student body, including student-athletes; by academic excellence across the university; by sustained research, scholarly activity and creative success; and by deep engagement with communities and partnerships with industry.
Over the past year, we have carefully considered our options, listening to alumni and other stakeholders, gathering input through face-to-face conversations, emails and letters, social media and more. We’ve conducted thorough due diligence through internal review and through a report conducted by an independent third-party analyst. We’ve estimated the costs and benefits of independence as they relate to positioning ourselves for the conference affiliation essential for our university to participate at any level of college football. These estimates are both monetary and in terms of the total football experience for our university. Ultimately, that analysis suggests that the University of Idaho — our Athletics program, our student-athletes, our student body and fans, and our friends and supporters — are best served by a move to the Big Sky. We choose not to follow the faint hope of conference reorganizations, but to provide our athletes fair competition and the opportunity to succeed each time they step on the field.
This decision is without precedent in the modern era of college football. I see that a leap into new waters alarms those who care deeply about our university. But the Big Sky Conference is hardly unknown; we have a long history of success in the conference. Big Sky football is exciting and nationally competitive, and our fans will enjoy seeing familiar uniforms from around the region: Montana, Montana State and others. We are fortunate to have this option available. It is a change, though, so let us promise that together we will build a top-tier program that competes for championships. We will create an outstanding student-athlete and community-wide experience around our program, a vibrant football culture that provides a great front porch for Idaho’s leading, national research university, a draw for future students and a continued source of pride for current students.
I recognize this letter can’t answer all questions about this topic, and the move to the Big Sky entails many moving pieces, which we will address as they become clearer and as we have final plans. I also recognize the magnitude of this decision and the strong opinions that surround it, both for and against, but I am confident that joining the Big Sky Conference is the best possible course for our Athletics program and for our university. Of course, changes in the college athletics landscape may occur, and we will always seek the best opportunity for our students, student-athletes, and fans.
The university’s impact is felt every day by our 100,000 Vandal alumni. These women and men lead lives filled with meaning and opportunity. They exercise leadership in their communities and in their work. They are proud of their alma mater and give back so that others can have the same transformative experiences. I know some alumni will be disappointed by this decision. With the passionate support that separates the Vandal family from others, we are committed to a winning program in the Big Sky conference. I want all Vandals to experience success and pride, as part of a total University of Idaho experience that does right by its heritage, its land-grant mission and its future aspirations. That is the best formula for UI to assert its prestige and relevance — an impact that we will continue to grow in the years ahead. Today more than at any time during my presidency, I need your support, and I know that, long term, I can count on it.
As Idaho’s statewide research institution, the University of Idaho is in a special position to be responsive to the economic aspirations of our state. We live and work in a complex economy that includes vibrant agricultural, natural resources, technology and health care sectors. UI leverages expertise and resources to create a stronger Idaho for students, for employees, and for businesses who want to succeed with innovation and excellence.
Computer science is an area of strength at our university. We’re partnering with North Idaho College to allow students to transition from NIC to a four-year computer science degree at UI Coeur d’Alene. Cybersecurity, software development and computer engineering are critical in the technology sector and across industries. This program is an important investment being made by our legislature in the workforce needs of our state, and we will carry it out effectively. For North Idaho, this transfer option follows on the creation of the Cybersecurity Operations and Training Center in Post Falls. Funded with an Idaho Department of Labor grant, the new center will train up to 350 people, including those currently in the workforce, in the next few years.
Our faculty at the College of Engineering’s Center for Secure and Dependable Systems, led by Jim Alves-Foss, can attest to cybersecurity’s importance. Alves-Foss and his teammate Jia Song, a research assistant professor, are competing in the DARPA Grand Cyber Challenge, having already bested some of the top experts and institutions in the world on their way to the finals later this year, with a $2 million grand prize at stake. We are proud to lead with expertise in this field.
In southeastern Idaho, we have historically worked closely with the Idaho National Laboratory to train the workforce of this economic engine for southeastern Idaho. We train employees and others toward bachelor’s degrees in industrial technology, environmental science and advanced degrees in STEM fields. Cybersecurity is an important component of this work, too. We also partner with INL to conduct research in everything from nuclear engineering to geothermal energy – research that will fuel growth and opportunity.
Lastly, I want to point out new work serving the agricultural teaching and research component of our land-grant mission for Idaho. Last week in Moscow, Idaho State Board of Education members heard a presentation about our Western Initiative for the Dairy Environment, a developing initiative that will support dairy production and processing in Idaho. Our state is third in the nation in dairy production, and the industry represents 30 percent of our agricultural economy. We have an opportunity to support a critical industry, but also to ensure a stable and sustainable supply of protein for our world.
We are a comprehensive university, and each of our academic and research functions engage directly and indirectly with the workforce and economic needs of our state. We will continue to look for opportunities to serve our state and the students who are our future employees, entrepreneurs and community leaders — in our farm fields, in our business offices and behind our computer screens.
I invite you to watch the video below, from our 2016 Research Report, to see more of our research impact for Idaho and the world.
“Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood." – Daniel Burnham
Several years ago, a friend of mine described the importance of sharing a vision when pursuing an important objective. His analogy was the stone breaker working in a quarry. If one views that job as breaking rocks, it's difficult to imagine being inspired or innovative about the day’s work. It’s hard to see how one would get up in the morning with enthusiasm to go break rocks. But if those rocks are headed for the Parthenon, you are no longer a stone breaker, but a temple builder, anxious to see how the next stone fits into a beautiful structure. This is the attitude that I believe each of us who loves the university must have, whether student, faculty or staff member, alumni or friend. And this is the attitude that can sustain us through difficulty and frustration.
Yesterday we shared our Strategic Plan for 2016-2025 with the State Board of Education. This plan, thanks in large part to the energy and innovation of Provost and Executive Vice President John Wiencek, has been developed with unprecedented collaboration and input. The plan puts forth a shared vision of what the University of Idaho can become if we all work together, as well as metrics for us to measure success.
This plan was not intended as a blueprint, but a conceptual sketch on which we can agree. A sketch in which everyone can see what we do, why we do it and how to contribute. Further detail will be developed at the college and division levels, and we have resolved to a yearly progress assessment and adaptation as the university evolves. But the key piece for our university to tackle its next 10 years with vision and intentionality is in place with this plan.
The strategic plan calls for UI to innovate and engage, to transform and to cultivate. No one could call our goals little. For instance, we plan to become Idaho's only Carnegie Foundation “R1” university for “highest research activity,” joining the very top 100 universities nationwide. Our plan also calls for enrollment growth to 17,000 students, while maintaining the outstanding experience for which UI is known. Enrollment growth is a key driver for resources needed to fuel institutional plan objectives, and it’s also important for meeting Idaho’s Complete College Idaho goals for 60 percent postsecondary attainment.
Over the next nine years, I view our job as building one of the nation’s great public research universities. A university that excels in its broad, land-grant mission of transforming lives through education and scholarship. A university that leads Idaho in building a college-going culture that transforms the lives of individual students, assures the prosperity of families, and strengthens Idaho communities. A university that takes its place among top research universities, not because we seek a particular label, but because we seek excellence and impact for our scholarship. A university that engages deeply with its constituents across the range of university activity. A “Beacon for Mountain and Plain.”
We are not stone breakers. We are Vandals, and we are building something big.
You’ve heard me mention the “Friendship Families” program at the University of Idaho, something Mary Beth and I have gotten involved with over the past two years. We’ve come to know students from overseas who have chosen UI as the right place to pursue a transformative education. The Friendship Families program has helped us get to know talented individual students, but also learn more about the international experience at UI.
One such student is Pavan Penkey, a master’s student in electrical engineering. Pavan is the president of the Indian Students' Association, a group of students and faculty members interested in celebrating and sharing Indian culture. This month I hope the UI community joins me in attending their annual India Night celebration. With great food, music and attire, this is quite an experience, one that can be fun and enriching for all students and faculty and staff.
India Night showcases a particular culture, but it is also a great example of the vibrancy that international students from 80 countries around the world bring to our campus and our community. They are drawn to UI by our reputation for excellence. Growing up and studying as an undergraduate in India, Pavan knew little about Idaho and less about UI, but a mentor knew of the excellence of Professor Brian Johnson in our College of Engineering, and recommended our institution. That’s the kind of word-of-mouth that we can be very proud of — the kind that travels over oceans and continents. We want to tell the world: This is a place where you can succeed, and where you can find a globally competitive academic experience.
The reputation is well-earned. One of our distinguished guests at India Night this year is Dayaldas Meshri, a doctoral recipient in chemical engineering who went on to found a successful chemical research company. (I’ll just say that if you use a cellphone, you use this company’s products.) We’re fortunate to have alumni like Dr. Meshri stay involved at UI, and come back to share their experience and perspectives. They are proof of how a Vandal education makes our country and our world a better place.
Our global connections offer a number of different programmatic opportunities. The Indian Student Association is one of many international student organizations that contribute to a rich campus culture. Our Confucius Institute is expanding cultural and language instruction across Idaho. Our Martin Institute offers programs on international themes and events like this week’s Borah Symposium, as well as degree paths for students in interested in international work. (All three of the latter examples are housed in our College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.) UI students can travel and explore interests through Study Abroad programs organized by our International Programs Office.
There are many doors that UI hold open to the world. These are programs of depth and caliber only found at Idaho’s leading, national research university. As we continue to find new areas of growth and build upon current success, our reputation will continue to grow here and abroad.
The place where you attend college matters. Sounds obvious, right? Just find the right school. But I want to concentrate on more expansive definitions of place and “matters.” Where you attend school is not just about the name of the institution on your sweatshirt, but about the community you discover, the setting for your growth as a person in these important years.
Where you attend college is where you’ll grow as a person, work toward your professional future and forge lifelong friendships. Students won’t find any place quite like Moscow. This town is not just the backdrop to a university experience, it’s a special setting in which to learn and live. It’s a vibrant community, filled with opportunities for entertainment, recreation and culture; it’s also an unrivaled gateway to outdoor adventure. No surprise that Moscow has been named one of America’s top college towns.
This weekend admitted students have a chance to experience that for themselves during our UIdaho Bound weekend. Tonight is “Moscow Friday,” a downtown celebration with music and food. Mary Beth and I will join our city and community leaders in welcoming students to the lively downtown. With new restaurants and businesses, and more on the way, it’s an exciting time for our town. I can’t wait to show that off to our prospective students, and hope as many Moscow people as possible come out and join the fun.
On Saturday, UIdaho Bound participants get an extended opportunity to picture themselves as Vandals. They’ll take tours of our historic campus, where new facilities are coming to life. They’ll learn more about the hundreds of student activities and organizations on campus, see our residence halls and fraternity and sorority living options. Sessions on the logistics of college are critical, too, in everything from money management to registering for classes. We have late-night activities planned at our nationally recognized Student Recreation Center, as well.
We’ve changed how we approach this weekend. Previously, we asked students to come up for “Moscow Thursday” and take their campus tours on a Friday. That schedule represents a significant difficulty for parents and guardians to take off work. We wanted to improve access and minimize time off, so we moved the events to Friday and Saturday. Many students and families are taking advantage of the change to join us this weekend, and we have another great UIdaho Bound weekend on April 22-23, for which admitted students can still register.
I’m grateful to our faculty and staff, who are working to make Saturday a special day for prospective students. The close connections our students make with supportive staff and with faculty on the leading edge of their disciplines separates UI from other institutions. At UI, students aren’t just faces in the crowd — they’re engaged in hands-on learning opportunities with outstanding educators who are invested in student success.
Weekends like this help students still deciding on a school really understand what we mean when we say that UI — and our town of Moscow — are big enough to matter, and small enough to care.
Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. Access to libraries and the collection of scholars in one place with students were the foundation of universities in the Middle Ages, the early origins of our modern higher education system. Reading remains central to what we expect of students at the University of Idaho. It’s also central to the work of a president.
All freshmen and transfer students embark on a “Common Read,” a book selection that promotes a community-wide intellectual experience around a topic of relevance. Last year I joined our students in reading “All the Light We Cannot See,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in World War II. It was a great thrill to join our university community in hosting the author, Boise’s own Anthony Doerr, to give a presentation about the book.
Reading is an invaluable way to get information. I was told several years ago, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to lead.” If you’re not staying informed by reading widely, you might not be making the best possible decisions. So, aside from the inescapable world of email, what do I, as president, read?
Each day, of course, I scan the local news: the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, The Lewiston Tribune, the Idaho Statesman, The Spokesman-Review and more. The Argonaut, our student media outlet, is part of my steady diet, and I check the Idaho Business Review for a state business perspective. Our family shares a subscription to The New York Times, but most often, my expert “clipping service” of Mary Beth and our children send me articles. Facebook friends also direct my attention to articles of interest, albeit at the cost of too much Facebook time.
I am a higher education junkie, so the Chronicle of Higher Education, University Business Magazine and Inside Higher Education electronic briefings are daily rituals and great entrées to timely reports on higher education policy and innovation. Higher education books are on the list: “Designing the New American University,” by Arizona State University President Michael Crow; “The Innovative University,” by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring; and “Locus of Authority” by William Bowin and Eugene Tobin. Crow’s book, in particular, has influenced my thinking on the critical roles of public research universities in social mobility as well as in interdisciplinary research.
I don’t set as much time aside as I should for recreational reading, and my Kindle Reader reflects some eclectic interests, running from detective fiction to history – everything from John Grisham and Janet Evanovich to books like “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough. My occasional mention of the book “Warrior to Dreadnought” by David Brown has elicited some snarky comments about my tastes, but in my defense, 1865-1905 was a time of immense change in naval architecture, and the book highlights interesting engineering and change management issues. That’s reading, though – you nurture existing interests, cultivate new ones and share what you learn.
Writing this letter may give you some insight into my interests as president. It certainly increases my resolve to expand my reading. We’ll be announcing our 2016-2017 Common Read soon, and while I can’t give it away, I assure you that it looks like a very compelling book that will give us a lot to think about. I look forward to coming together as a community to read it, share our understandings, and engage with ideas that matter through reading.
Have you read any good books lately? Share them with me on Facebook.
What would March be without a little “madness”? The NCAA basketball tournaments are an action-packed time for colleges, student-athletes and fans across the country.
Having delivered a Big Sky Conference championship to the University of Idaho, today our Vandal women take the floor on college basketball’s biggest stage. They have drawn a tough opponent in Baylor, but I know Coach Jon Newlee will have them "ready to play," as he says. Our Vandals play exciting, team-oriented basketball, and they will give a determined effort in Waco, Texas. The game will be televised, and Vandals can come together across the Northwest to watch and root on our student-athletes. This is their third trip to the NCAA tournament in the last four years — an impressive run of on-the-court excellence.
The men’s team had a 21-win season and went to the CBI tournament. Though they had a tough loss Wednesday night, they played with heart and determination all season. We are all proud of how they represented our university and our state.
This weekend we are getting an up-close-and-personal look at NCAA Tournament action in Spokane. Thanks to Rob Spear’s vision, the University of Idaho is the host for this weekend’s festivities at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. That means that you’ll see UI people in Spokane, ready to talk about the tournament and the University of Idaho. You’ll see the UI name splashed across the court, and you’ll see Vandal banners proudly waving in Spokane.
Spokane, Eastern Washington and North Idaho are a vital part of our university’s footprint. More than 12,000 Vandal alumni call the area home. Many students from Spokane and nearby are currently pursuing a great future through a transformative educational experience at UI. They are discovering a top-tier academic environment; a community with abundant opportunities for service, recreation and leadership; and a nationally ranked value for affordability and return on investment. We are a higher education leader in the Northwest, and the UI reputation is strong and getting stronger.
Athletics are an important window into our university. We appreciate the opportunity to let the rest of the country learn more about our special institution. Join me and the rest of the Vandal family in enjoying the ride, and rooting for our Vandal women and for a special weekend of basketball in Spokane.
The University of Idaho serves the students of Idaho; that is a central part of who we are. But our impact does not stop at the state line. We are also a premier destination for students from across the United States. Those students find UI an excellent choice for a transformative experience and a great value from a national research university.
Last fall, 30 percent of UI students joined us from across the nation, representing all 50 states. The Vandal impact has national reach. Why? Simply put, we offer out-of-state students something they cannot find in other places. That means outstanding degree programs, unique experiences and a connected Vandal family that is like no other. Students from outside Idaho give back to the university, too, contributing perspectives and life experiences that create a vibrant living and learning community.
Our student body president, Max Cowan, originally hails from Portland, Oregon. He is in his second term as president of the Associated Students of the University of Idaho (ASUI). I’ve enjoyed working with Max president-to-president. I’ve seen him lead the executive branch of our student government with openness and integrity, valuing the input of others, designing smart policies and making tough decisions. Max is an environmental science and chemistry major. When he graduates this spring, he’ll have a bright future ahead of him, and he’ll leave behind a lasting legacy.
We have many students from even farther afield, including Sarah Rose, a National Merit Scholar from the Chicago, Illinois, area. I met Sarah nearly two years ago during a visit Mary Beth and I made to the Taylor Wilderness Research Station. A double major in ecology and conservation biology and rangeland ecology and management, for her senior project Sarah designed and built a garden at Taylor that supplies fresh produce to visiting students and professors. As profiled in the latest issue of our College of Natural Resources magazine, Sarah found Taylor and our Semester in the Wild program a chance to dive deep into a unique interdisciplinary educational experience, learning more about herself in the process. We’re grateful for the contributions she’s made that will live long after she graduates and heads into an exciting future.
Service, recreation, special programs — those are points of excellence that attract outstanding students like Max, Sarah and many others, and they are invaluable. But as a parent of students who have attended out-of-state institutions, I’m also sensitive to the price tag that accompanies that proposition. So I must point out that we are an option that many out-of-state students find affordable. Our net cost for non-Idaho students often compares very favorably to other states’ in-state net cost. That affordability helps our students graduate with less debt, positioning them for a stronger financial future.
We’re proud that so many students from across the U.S. join Idaho students in finding a place to flourish at UI. They’re discovering something we hope is no secret — that the University of Idaho is a unique institution. It is a place to explore new possibilities and to find the mentorship and hands-on experience that helps one forge a bright future. Just as it is a great place to be from, it is a great place to go … on your way to the rest of the world.
This week you heard news about the discontinuation of our football team’s affiliation with the Sun Belt Conference after the 2017 season. While the timing of the Sun Belt’s decision was unexpected, we face the future with options, and with confidence that we will choose the right course for our university.
Athletics is an important part of the University of Idaho. It serves as the “front porch” of our university and a place to build community. Athletics also provides opportunities for our student-athletes to excel in competition and in the classroom.
I doubt that many institutions can match the loyalty and enthusiasm of our Vandal family. Football brings us together, something I enjoy every football Saturday in the fall. We created the Fan Zone — an iteration of which you’ll see again next fall — and set a course to build an arena for our court sports, because we know that a university’s excellence is measured in part by the quality of its Athletics programs, and we must invest in Athletics if we want to see positive results.
I understand how important the conference affiliation decision is for our university. Over the course of the past year, in settings public and private, I communicated the value UI brings to the Sun Belt conference, and that our football program is on the upswing. Stability is very important in terms of finding a good conference fit for our university. And uncertain conference affiliation has challenged our ability to build the best possible program.
I know that our alumni, students and fans have passionate opinions about the right place for Vandal football and that there is a good deal of disagreement about where we should be going forward. There is strong support for each of our two current options after 2017: 1) play as an independent member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) until we can stably affiliate with an appropriate FBS conference, or 2) accept an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference. No other option exists nor can we depend on other opportunities arising. The Big Sky has asked UI to join them, setting a May 4 deadline on their invitation. A decision whether to accept that invitation, subject to State Board approval, is forthcoming, and we will be open and straightforward in how and when we communicate our decision.
The decision I make on behalf of the Vandal Family will be informed by what is best for our student-athletes, for our students and fans, and for our university. That means positioning our student-athletes to excel, securing the stability and autonomy we need to build a successful program for the long-term, and ensuring the very best student and fan experience possible.
I went to 10 of 12 football games last season, so I’ve had a firsthand look at how hard our student-athletes compete and the progress that they are making. I’ve seen the positive fan experience that a good crowd and a victory brings to the Kibbie Dome (a top-10 college football venue, according to USA Today), and I’ve appreciated the vibrancy on campus and genuine uplift in university-wide morale that results.
I will study our options and make the best decision for our university. We will build a future of football excellence at UI. We will build an arena to be an outstanding home for our court sports. I will count on our Vandal family to support that progress. No matter where our “front porch” is located, we will gather on it as Vandals — brave and bold.
This week marks the 49th anniversary of the University of Idaho’s acclaimed Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, an example of Vandal excellence in arts and culture and educational outreach. This signature UI event highlights some of the strengths of our university: our ability to bring culture and community together, our commitment to outreach and engagement with young people, and our opportunities for students to learn and excel through an experience they’d find no place else. It’s an exciting time filled with nearly 100 student-artist workshops, some 400 student performances and entertainment from leading lights of the music world.
The workshop and seminars over the course of the week give K-12 and UI students a chance to study with accomplished professionals, receiving mentorship and hands-on instruction. Secondary students visiting us this week also experience the college environment and have the opportunity to picture themselves succeeding at the University of Idaho. Not all of them will be music majors, of course, but we hope this experience opens up their idea of how accessible a college education is and how they can and should succeed in it.
This year the Jazz Fest experience has also come directly to high schools across the region through our Jazz in Schools program. More than 8,000 students in dozens of schools participate in the program. It’s an outreach program that only a university of our reach and mission can and or would attempt, and of which we can all be justly proud. Those students in our small towns and larger cities are gaining a window into a uniquely American art form. Jazz is about improvisation and collaboration — as music, it perfectly embodies the “Pathways to Discovery” theme. Those lessons go well beyond music, of course, and can be applied to a wide range of endeavors both academic and personal.
This year we’re excited to welcome a diverse array of professional performers to the Palouse, including many Grammy winners. It’s a broad range of music, from jazz funk to big band, to swing, to blues and more. Already this week we’ve seen our talented performers from UI join nationally recognized musicians for two nights of concerts. This weekend will bring another two nights of exciting music from well-known performers — I hope you’ll join Mary Beth and me in attending these events. We enjoy the buzz of activity in the Moscow community around this special week.
The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival is a remarkable, multifaceted event. I want to thank the faculty and staff members, students, and volunteers who make it possible year after year. We have a passionate and committed advisory board and other alumni who care about this festival and appreciate both the music and the opportunity to showcase our university.
The past half-century of music festivals offers us a heritage and history that we can draw from to invigorate the festival in coming years. The Jazz Fest has enriched our community and opened up new pathways for students for many years now — I look forward to the festival to come this weekend, and to the bright future we’ll discover together.
In the early 1950s, the first lights powered by nuclear technology flickered to life in the desert of southeastern Idaho. The region has grown and thrived ever since, and the University of Idaho has played a key role in that development. In Idaho Falls and southeastern Idaho, UI carries out an ambitious and exciting research agenda, in partnership with organizations such as the Idaho National Laboratory and others. We also provide an array of educational opportunities, especially advanced education, and engage with communities through our Extension network.
The Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) is a unique facility in Idaho Falls, promoting research that seeks solutions for renewable energy and training the next generation of experts. In partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory, UI is a leader among four institutions that come together to offer timely and innovative research, education and policy resources that have impact and benefits for our state. For example, the competitive Frontier for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) grant examines the feasibility of establishing a geothermal laboratory in Idaho — a potentially very valuable resource for the entire region’s energy future. The Food, Water and Energy (FEW) nexus is also an important upcoming area of research, looking at the criticality of those resources in a changing world.
In most of these endeavors, the Idaho National Laboratory is a key player. The INL is a research and economic success story in the high plains of southeastern Idaho, and UI is proud to be an active partner in their efforts. Nuclear engineering is central to the work at UI-Idaho Falls. Rich Christensen joined UI in September as the director of nuclear engineering. With decades of experience at Ohio State University, Christensen and his team are fostering collaboration and responsiveness to industry needs, as they study everything from small nuclear reactors, to heat exchange, to the safety of nuclear systems and hybrid nuclear systems. We also serve the needs of the workforce in the region, including INL, offering their employees (and others) bachelor’s degrees in industrial technology and environmental science and master’s and doctoral-level education in multiple engineering and science-related disciplines.
Computer science is an area of excellence in southeastern Idaho. We have outstanding faculty in this area, including joint appointments with INL, who are seeing the needs of industry firsthand and are able to bring that perspective to students. New faculty member Michael Haney’s background in cybersecurity enables research collaboration with INL employees and gives students the best possible training they’ll need to take to employers, helping industry stay ahead of the game in this critical space.
We’re lucky to have the leadership of Executive Officer Marc Skinner at UI-Idaho Falls. Marc had previously worked at UI before serving as a faculty member and administrator at BYU-Idaho. He rejoined the Vandal family last summer, having forged great connections in the community and an understanding of the region’s educational offerings and needs. He’s involved with regional economic development, and recognizes how fast-growing and dynamic the region is — and how UI can serve that continued success. I’m excited about seeing the direction he’s able to take our research and education.
Lastly, I want to highlight our community engagement in southeastern Idaho. Through Extension, UI meets community needs in places like the Fort Hall Reservation, developing leaders there and across the region through programs such as 4-H. This is the often unseen work that is part of everyday life in town after town. We also recently hosted a community concert in Idaho Falls with the Lionel Hampton School of Music’s Jazz Band, Wind Ensemble and Idaho Brass Quintet. More than 500 people, including area high school students, attended the concert.
We’re proud to have an impact on the fabric of communities. UI employees don’t just have a passion for the land-grant mission of service to Idaho. We are community leaders, volunteers and dedicated citizens — wherever we are in this great state.
Idaho is our campus, we often say at UI. It is also our home. And we are proud to do all we can for the success of Idaho — our state, our home.
In “Beacon for Mountain and Plain,” historian Rafe Gibbs describes a mid-1870s effort to create a university in the Idaho Territory. In an address to the legislature, the governor noted that citizens, “inspired with a commendable zeal for the furtherance of the cause of education in our Territory, have inaugurated a movement for the establishment of a university at Boise City, to be called the University of Idaho.” History had other plans, though, and higher education had to wait until 1889, when the University of Idaho was established amid the rolling hills of the Palouse in beautiful Moscow.
Still, for more than a century the University of Idaho has maintained a robust presence in Boise and southwestern Idaho. An agricultural extension program was the first Vandal flag planted in the city in 1910. Exciting research, dynamic extension services and outstanding educational offerings have flourished in southwestern Idaho ever since.
UI-Boise offers educational opportunities for students at all stages. Our VandaLink transfer program, recently bolstered with an additional $185,000 in need-based support, creates a smooth pathway between area community colleges and UI four-year options. Students can pursue a bachelor’s degree in areas such as dietetics, education and psychology, or advanced degrees in engineering, fire ecology and management, bioregional planning and community design, and many more. Our new Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center, in the former Ada County Courthouse, is home to second- and third-year law options, with a first-year program planned for 2017.
Research is another piece of our statewide mission. At the UI Water Center, the Center for Ecohydraulics Research anchors a thematic commitment to the study of water, natural resources and the environment in Idaho and the west. The Integrated Design Lab helps design high-performance, energy efficient buildings, an important goal for 21st-century sustainability. Our Confucius Institute is expanding to Boise to offer Chinese language and cultural instruction, a boon for students and business leaders alike. Our James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research publishes policy briefs and other items; its recent “Life After High School” report has attracted notice to the challenges Idaho faces in achieving its postsecondary education goals. There are many other valuable programs and initiatives, part of a commitment to exploring ideas that matter for Idaho.
The University’s research impact extends beyond Boise. In Caldwell, the Food Technology Center provides resources, space and expertise to facilitate entrepreneurial successes like Zacca Hummus. The Parma Research and Extension Center assists agricultural producers with research on everything from plant pathology to soil sciences. (The public can taste fruits of this labor at Parma’s annual Fruit Field Day in August.) You’ll also find research excellence in the Twin Falls and Kimberly Research and Extension Centers and at the world-renowned Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station.
UI also contributes to entrepreneurship and innovation with involvement in projects such as Trailhead, a community-based nonprofit that helps startup organizations and businesses; Tech Help, which offers manufacturing support and is Idaho’s affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership; and the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, which works to bring new businesses to the area. Our regional center director, Mike Satz, joins other UI-Boise leaders in getting involved with community and educational organizations, including the Treasure Valley Education partnership, the Educate Idaho Network, the Idaho Nonprofit Association and special projects such as Neighbors United.
The Vandal flag is waving high and proud in Boise and beyond. Nearly 16,000 Vandals in the area can attest to that. In the coming years, we’re going to keep leveraging our strengths as Idaho’s leading, national research university, and continue to grow our presence in Idaho’s political capital and economic center.
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. UI President Chuck Staben
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.
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.
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.
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.
P.S.: This semester the President’s Office has joined Facebook! Follow me there for updates about the success of our students and faculty members, the progress of initiatives and programs, and the trends that impact higher education and Idaho.
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.
P.S.: This semester the President’s Office has joined Facebook! Follow me there for updates about the success of our students and faculty members, the progress of initiatives and programs, and the trends that impact higher education and Idaho.