The Friday Letter Archive

A collection of the president's weekly messages to the Vandal family


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Friday Letter 2013-09-27

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September 27, 2013

Dear Friends,

This is our homecoming week.  It is a time of special nostalgia for me because -- as many of you know by now -- my parents attended the University of Idaho during the Great Depression. As I look around our beautiful Moscow campus, where the leaves are now beginning to display brilliant hues of red and yellow, I feel my parents’ presence. I see what they must have seen: the tree-lined Hello Walk, the clock tower of the stately Administration Building, the gargoyles of Memorial Gym, the grove of trees  planted by President Theodore Roosevelt and other distinguished visitors, and the view of Moscow Mountain shimmering in the distance. 

For all of us in the Vandal family, homecoming is about remembering our distinctive roots. The Vandal tradition of homecoming was born in 1909 -- the same year the first phase of the then-new Administration Building was completed. The iconic structure was dedicated with the placement of a stone marker reminding future visitors of the university’s mission: “...the training of Idaho’s citizens to their highest usefulness in private life and public service.”

Notably, in that same year, we also dedicated the College of Law and the Department of Forestry. Both would grow in prominence and outreach, along with the University at large. This growth is reflected in the 2013 homecoming theme: “Vandal Pride – Planet Wide.” With students from more than 100 countries coming to our university, and with Idaho students working across the world, the homecoming theme is an apt reminder of our global influence. 

Perhaps no individual has embodied our international identity more fully than the late Philip Habib, a Lebanese-American who left his Brooklyn home to learn forestry at the University of Idaho, where he graduated in 1942. He eventually entered the U.S. Foreign Service, becoming an ambassador and key negotiator in resolving conflicts in Korea, Southeast Asia, Central America, and the Middle East.  His success ultimately earned him international acclaim and a Presidential Medal of Freedom for bringing peace to troubled regions around the globe. The New York Times called him "the outstanding professional diplomat of his generation in the United States." Those who knew him said he remembered fondly his formative days at the University of Idaho. 

Our land-grant mission has global impact. American agriculture helps feed the world, and Idaho agriculture plays an increasing role with help from our College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The College of Natural Resources, which emanated in part from the original College of Forestry, has revitalized some of the world's most barren places, while making productive land even more productive. Today, this work extends beyond U.S. borders to include regular overseas exchanges and permanent programs like CATIE -- Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza or Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center based in Costa Rica.

If homecoming is a time to celebrate achievements, it is also a time for fun. This year’s homecoming promises plenty of that. Details are available here. Life on campus has been accentuated by many contests and events this week, with the biggest events coming tonight – the Serpentine, led by The Sound of Idaho marching band, which concludes with the pep rally, bonfire, and fireworks – and tomorrow with the Homecoming Parade and the Homecoming football game. 

Leading this year’s parade will be two remarkable Vandal couples – Jeff and Kris Stoddard and Sharon and Rich Allen. These dedicated Vandals have done many things for our university but most recently have led our Inspiring Futures Capital Campaign to nearly $200 million in pursuit of our $225 million goal. We look forward to achieving and surpassing that goal, culminating the largest such effort in Idaho history. 

In 1932, the editors of The Gem, the Vandal yearbook, captured the continuing nature of our remarkable university.

Older than the state itself…young in that indomitable spirit of the last great wave of Western pioneering which witnessed its birth…founded by far-seeing territorial legislators that future citizens of the great state that they foresaw might attain their highest usefulness in private life and public service…rich in its heritage of equality, resourcefulness and enthusiasm…as in the old era, so in the present Idaho, opportunities await those who would seek them and individual merit remains the lone measure of success.

On behalf of many generations of individuals whose success started at the University of Idaho:  “Go Vandals!” 

Don Burnett
Interim President

Idaho Geologic Map Honored for Design, Quality Science. The comprehensive, rainbow-hued geologic map of Idaho released in 2012 by the Idaho Geological Survey has received top honors from the Association of American State Geologists. Its authors won the inaugural Charles J. Mankin Memorial Award, which recognizes state geological survey publications that stand out for their uniqueness, design, high-quality science, and relevance to scientific and societal issues. “To be the first recipient of this award is exciting,” said Reed Lewis, an Idaho Geological Survey research geologist who led the map project. “These are our true peers who are evaluating our work and recognizing it.”  Read more. 

Predator Deprivation Study Earns National Award. A study performed by several University of Idaho alumni on the response of mule deer to the reduction of coyotes and mountain lions in Southeastern Idaho is receiving national attention. Edward O. Garton, professor emeritus at the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources, helped design the study and analyze data that earned The Wildlife Society’s 2013 Monograph Award. The award will be given at the organization’s annual conference in October. One monograph is selected each year from a large field of research. The study, funded primarily by Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife, began as a way of addressing the decline of mule deer in the Northwest. Read more. 

Daughter Boosts Gordon Endowment, Doubles Student Scholarships. Joyce E. Gordon recently doubled her contributions to the Glenn C. Gordon Scholarship Endowment, established in honor of her father, Glenn C. Gordon ‘41. Last year, the endowment funded four scholarships for College of Engineering students.  Now with the endowment balance at $500,000, the number of scholarships will double.“This scholarship has made all the difference in my college experience,” said Ashley Vincent, last year’s scholarship recipient. “Without financial aid, I wouldn’t have been able to put so much energy into academics. This scholarship support has allowed me to choose extracurricular activities, internships, and other incredible opportunities. I was able to accept my selection into the Fulbright summer program, as well as a prestigious internship in Washington, D.C.” “This major gift is transformative and touches every corner of the College of Engineering, said Joe Law, Engineering Associate Dean for Academics and Director of the Idaho Space Grant Consortium. "It allows us to promote excellence in our programs, recruit and retain the most deserving and brightest students. An endowment gift is lasting and provides support in perpetuity,”  For more information on giving to the College of Engineering, contact Mary Lee Ryba at (208) 755-4916 or

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