The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2013-12-20

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December 20, 2013

Dear Friends,
I was born on third base.  Please let me explain. 
If life were analogized to baseball, we might characterize a career as “circling the bases” in an effort to reach “home” successfully. I make no claim of success in my own career, but I do know that I have enjoyed a huge head start on the bases. I was nurtured and guided by parents who were college graduates and role models for the value of education.  They came to the University of Idaho, during the Depression years, children of mining families in which no one ever had attended a university. They started their lives at home plate. They enabled me to start on third base.
First-generation college students like my parents have always embodied the American dream. Their upward mobility has helped shape a society defined by opportunity rather than by status. Moreover, first-generation students, on average, enhance the socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic diversity of higher education. Because students learn from each other, as well as from our faculty, diversity of backgrounds and perspectives enriches the educational experience for all students. 
Enrollment of first-generation students is important for economic development reasons as well. The Idaho State Board of Education, after reviewing studies conducted by Georgetown University and the Lumina Foundation, has determined that approximately two-thirds of jobs expected to become available in Idaho by the year 2020 will require at least some post-secondary education (and about half of those will require a baccalaureate or advanced degree). Yet just over one-third of Idahoans have attained this educational level.
Consequently, Idaho has a work force imbalance: an oversupply of workers with education levels of high school or less, and an undersupply of workers with post-secondary education. An oversupply at the low end depresses wages and attracts businesses paying minimum wages. An undersupply at the high end discourages businesses that pay higher compensation and contemplate locating or expanding in our state.
For all these reasons –- upward mobility, diversity, and economic development -- the University of Idaho actively recruits first-generation students. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many first-generation students –- women as well as men -– found the doors of higher education opened to them by military training programs (precursors to our present ROTC programs). Today, one of our most visible recruiting efforts is the STEM Access Upward Bound program, designed to attract low-income and first-generation college-bound teenagers who have exhibited an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Our Bridge Idaho program provides further support for these and other first-generation students when they come to our Moscow campus. 
First-generation students as a group are cost-conscious. Consequently, the affordability of a University of Idaho degree and the availability of University-based financial aid are important factors in decisions by these students and their families on whether to commit to college in Moscow. We are grateful to donors who have established scholarship funds to help the University secure this commitment.

Our efforts are producing results. The University’s enrollment management office has reported that first-generation students comprised about 35% of our most recent entering undergraduate class –- a figure that compares favorably to a nationwide average of about 30%. Our aim is to establish Idaho as a place of opportunity for all –- especially those whose lives begin at home plate!  
Go Vandals!

Don Burnett
Interim President

NOTE:  During the holidays, the “Friday Letter” will observe a caesura (which, as poets and musicians know, is a pause, followed by a resumption). Our next letter will be distributed on January 10, 2014. Warmest wishes of the season to all of our readers and their families!

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
Students Earn "Best Use of Idaho Wood" Awards. Reducing energy consumption and using renewable resources, University of Idaho architecture students are earning honors for the “Best Use of Idaho Wood” in design as they earn an education. Taking top honors in the competition was Kevin Noble, of Evergreen, Colo., who earned a first place trophy, a certificate and $500 with his winning design. Bryan Kamin, of Pittsburg, Penn., and Clay Reiland, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, earned second place certificates and split the $250 award. Wesley O’Brien, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Meghan Craig, of Carson City, Nev., claimed third place and were awarded certificates and split a $250 prize. Read more.
Dean Encourages Graduates To Seek Lifelong Learning. Graduating University of Idaho students traded in their classroom learning environment for a degree at the Saturday, Dec. 14 Winter Commencement, but they will continue to learn in the less formal setting of life experience. “Some of the lessons I’ve learned from my hopscotch of a life have been more formal ones — occurring within the four walls of classrooms — what I call ‘schooling,’” said Corinne Mantle-Bromley, commencement speaker and dean of the College of Education. “Other learning has been less formal, happening outside the classroom — what I call ‘education.’ You leave the University of Idaho with both.” Read more.
Researchers Teach and Collaborate in Haiti. Louise-Marie Dandurand, director of UI’s Pale Cyst Nematode Project, and Guy Knudsen, professor, spent three weeks last month in Jérémie and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as part of UI’s Haiti Initiative. They taught laboratory and field courses while also developing a distance mentoring program and developing online books in French for those studying tropical agriculture. Read more.

See more news and features.
INSPIRING STAFF: “Without students, there wouldn’t be a University…” Since 1988, Alan Odenborg, shop foreman for UI Facilities, has been giving to the University of Idaho, primarily supporting student-athletes through the Vandal Scholarship Fund. A university employee since 1973, he contributes to the VSF through payroll deduction. “I like to attend athletic events, and my support of student-athletes is important to help them make their studies a bit easier,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the students, we wouldn’t have a university or jobs here.” Many employees also join Alan in supporting the University with contributions to the Inspiring Futures Campaign. In fact, in fiscal year 2012, faculty and staff giving increased from 14 to 22 percent, an all-time high. Alan joins other faculty and staff who are members of the Inspiring Futures Faculty and Staff Giving Committee, employees who support and promote the campaign. Like Alan, employees can choose what they support from thousands of giving opportunities. Donations can be made annually or through a recurring payroll deduction. In addition to tax deductions for charitable giving, Idaho residents may be eligible for special state-of-Idaho tax credits to help gifts go even further. For more information, contact James Brownson, director of annual giving, at (208) 885-5369 or see more here.