The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2013-10-25

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October 25, 2013

Dear Friends,

How often have you heard universities described – with more derision than reverence – as “ivory towers” disconnected from the societies they serve? 
It’s a common perception, perhaps borne of the notion that academic excellence cannot be nurtured in close proximity to the “real world.” The truth, however, is quite the opposite. Excellence and real-world relevance go together.
This connection is illustrated by the history of an extraordinary university – and, yes, of course, I refer to Idaho’s national land-grant, founding, comprehensive, constitutionally recognized, flagship university! 
During the summer of 1947, the aptly named Charles William Hungerford, a professor in our College of Agriculture, traveled to Twin Falls and began to deliver an address titled “What University Research Is Doing for the State of Idaho.” He was briefly interrupted, however, according to Rafe Gibbs’ history, “Beacon for Mountain and Plain.”
“We will be pleased to hear your speech, but you don’t need to tell us what the University of Idaho is doing,” said one of the farmers.  “If it weren’t for the university we wouldn’t be growing any beans.” And it was true. Nearly all varieties of beans grown in the state had been developed and made available to farmers by the University of Idaho. 
In that same year, 1947, the university’s relevance to Idaho was juxtaposed with a national accolade for excellence. Newsweek magazine published an article listing the American institutions that had produced the greatest number of Rhodes Scholars up to that time. 
Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Virginia occupied the top four slots on the list.  Brown and Dartmouth tied for fifth place. And in sixth place, tied with the University of Michigan, was … the University of Idaho.  
Our university had produced more Rhodes Scholars than any other institution of higher learning west of the Great Lakes. Excellence and real-world relevance continue to characterize our university. 
As recently noted in the “Friday Letter,” our entering first-year undergraduate class this fall gave us a record enrollment of National Merit Scholars. At about the same time, our university was named by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities as one of the nation’s top 16 institutions in promoting innovation and economic prosperity.
The university’s Entrepreneurial Task Force has developed a mission statement that expresses the spirit of relevance and excellence:
The University of Idaho's mission in economic development is to collaborate in creating a vibrant and sustainable economy that improves quality of life and benefits Idaho, the region and beyond. We do this by mobilizing resources to advance innovation, help employers grow and prosper, strengthen communities and regional economies, and create an educated workforce.
That mission translates into opportunities for our students, as well as faculty, to engage productively with businesses and governmental agencies. For example, the College of Engineering’s senior capstone design program has earned national recognition for bringing students together with Boeing, Avista, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, and smaller businesses as well as government agencies such as NASA and multiple Idaho counties and municipalities, and mid-sized businesses. 
A case in point: At Buck Knives in Post Falls, our engineering students recently made a distinctive contribution. In the fall of 2012, a major piece of Buck’s knife manufacturing equipment malfunctioned and had to be pulled off the line. Thanks to five Vandal mechanical engineering students the equipment now works and produces twice the number of knives. The students gained workplace experience and mentoring, while Buck benefited from the students’ energy and inventiveness.
Faculty-student engagement in economic development is also exemplified by the  College of Law’s small business legal clinic. The clinic helps entrepreneurs get new enterprises off the ground, and it provides this service in collaboration with  Small Business Development Centers operated by many of our sister institutions: Boise State University, Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College, and North Idaho College. 
Working under faculty supervision, third-year law students help the entrepreneurs develop and implement the legal components of their business plans, including the choice of an appropriate form of business entity. The students contribute to economic development while acquiring insights and professional skills that will make them the enablers of their clients’ prosperity in the future.        
At the University of Idaho, our “ivory tower” soars academically, but its foundation is solidly based in service to Idaho and the nation. The “real world” is not foreign to us.  After all, we helped invent it, and we continue to improve it every day.
Go Vandals!

Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
First-year, Grad, Diversity Enrollment Up. Despite a decline in overall student enrollment for the fall, there were slight increases in the number of first-year undergraduates and new graduate students, as well as an increase in international student enrollment. In addition, the UI enrolled a record 25 National Merit Scholars in this year's first-year undergraduate class. Read more.

Researchers Aid NASA's Cassini Mission To Map Saturn's Moon. Two UI physics professors, three doctoral students, and an undergraduate student have helped the world better see Titan, one of Saturn's moon, through visual and infrared mapping. Read more.
MOSS Video Wins National Award. A video telling the story of the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS), a program of the College of Natural Resources, won the People’s Choice award at the 14th Annual Conference for the Engagement Scholarship Consortium in Lubbock, Texas. Read more.
See more news and features.
Thomsen Stephens Law Renews Scholarship Support. The law firm of Thomsen Stephens from Idaho Falls has renewed its support for student scholarships in the College of Law for 2013. The firm started the Thomsen Stephens Law Firm Student Scholarship in 2012 to support a second- or third-year law student. As an eastern Idaho based law firm, Thomsen Stephens Law understands the need to train future lawyers in Idaho to serve Idaho clients. Thomsen Stephens Law handles a broad range of legal services including commercial and personal injury cases, business and estate planning, family law, and employment and commercial disputes. The two named firm partners are both University of Idaho College of Law graduates -- Curt Thomsen ’77 and Alan Stephens ’78. For more information about supporting the College of Law, contact Terri Muse, Development Director, (208) 364-4044 or email