The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2014-01-17

Please note: this is an archived email message and may not display as originally intended. Some images, links, and functionality may be broken or out of date.

January 17, 2014
Dear Friends,
We teach what we know. That seems self-evident, but it carries an important corollary: the knowledge we transmit to our students -- or share beyond the academic community through scholarly exchange and community outreach –- is either generated by ourselves or acquired from others. A great university does not rely solely upon acquired knowledge; it contributes new knowledge through research and creative activity worthy of a place of distinction among academic institutions.
I have such a university in mind. You will not be surprised to learn that it is Idaho’s founding, comprehensive, constitutionally established, national land-grant research institution! It is a flagship propelled by the spirit of discovery. It is the University of Idaho.
Consider a few recent examples of research and creative activity by our faculty, staff, and students:
  • A majestic panorama the of the planet Saturn and its satellite system, as it would be seen by human eyes, was unveiled last fall in a new mosaic from NASA's Cassini mission. It sweeps 404,880 miles across Saturn and its inner ring system, extending out to the E-ring. In the words of UI physics professor Matt Hedman, a participating scientist (along with four UI students), the Cassini spacecraft provides “a completely different perspective than we could ever get from Earth. Basically, it is an eclipse of the sun by Saturn, so we are seeing light filtered through the planet's atmosphere and the rings…. Seeing Saturn and its rings backlit by the sun like this not only provides us with unique scientific information, it makes for an exceptionally beautiful image.”
  • Closer to home, UI researchers are studying the ways society and landscapes are interconnected, thanks to a $20 million grant announced last year by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Over the course of five years, researchers will investigate the patterns and effects of growth in three of Idaho’s mid-sized urban areas near sagebrush, forest and agricultural landscapes: Boise/Treasure Valley, Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls and Pocatello/Idaho Falls. The research is a collaborative effort of faculty at the UI together with colleagues at Idaho State University, Boise State University, and other higher education institutions. “A major benefit of this project will be improved public understanding of ecosystems and their public benefits,” said Peter Goodwin, Idaho NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) project director. “A greater ability to provide science-based information to support policy and management decisions will help protect and improve quality of life and the health of our ecosystems in Idaho.”
  • Late last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had  awarded nearly $10 million to an academic, industry, and government consortium -– including researchers at the University of Idaho -– to study the major challenges limiting the use of insect-killed trees in the Rockies as a sustainable resource for bioenergy. “The key idea in this project is to create a new industry,” said Jay O’Laughin, the University of Idaho team leader on the project and director of the Policy Analysis Group in the UI College of Natural Resources. “It’s very exciting, because we’re going to take something that’s basically a waste and turn it into a resource.”
  • In 2013 the National Institutes of Health awarded the University of Idaho a five-year grant for $5.1 million in continued support of the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies (IBEST). The grant will fund a number of projects within IBEST, which encompasses multiple research and education programs, along with students, faculty, staff and facilities, related to real-time evolution. “This will enable us to network with scientists from other institutions and strengthen our research programs.” said Larry Forney, IBEST director and University Distinguished Professor of biological sciences at U-Idaho. “You collaborate with the best people you can, wherever you are.” 
  • In a similar spirit of collaboration, a team of plant researchers including UI biologist David Tank has assembled the largest dated evolutionary tree, using it to show the order in which flowering plants have evolved specific strategies, such as the seasonal shedding of leaves, to move into areas with cold winters. The results were published last month the journal Nature.
  • Discovering ways to reduce energy consumption by using renewable resources, University of Idaho architecture students have earned recognition for their “Best Use of Idaho Wood” research. The students have developed designs for wood-based structures that meet net-zero energy criteria, such as producing electricity on site with photovoltaics and capturing enough water from the roof for plumbing and covered vegetation.
  • Whether investigating vehicle crash risks, making streets safer for pedestrians, or engineering low-emission snowmobiles, researchers in the  University of Idaho’s National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology are designing the transportation systems of the future. The institute, known as NIATT, received a boost last September with a $570,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The award is part of a $3.4 million grant to the Northwest’s USDOT-funded Regional University Transportation Center at the University of Washington.
  • And … earlier last year, the UI Library announced the release of Digital Initiatives' latest collection, “The Turning of the Wheel Collection: A Digital Collection of Humanities Events.” The Turning of the Wheel Collection is a compilation of videos, photographs and transcripts documenting over 30 scholarly presentations and events that took place as part of the Turning of the Wheel Humanities Colloquium Series, a "Humanities Exploration of the University of Idaho." The series was directed by Rodney Frey, director of general education and professor of ethnography, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
As noted in previous Friday Letters, “making the world a better place” may be a
time-worn phrase, but at the University of Idaho we have people doing exactly that every day. Their work advances human progress, informs our teaching, and shapes our outreach to communities in Idaho and elsewhere. Most fundamentally, it expresses the spirit of discovery that puts wind in our sails.

Go Vandals!
Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho

University Kicks Off 125th Anniversary in Boise. Idaho’s founding university, the University of Idaho, will start the yearlong celebration of its 125th anniversary next week with a series of events in Boise. The University of Idaho was founded in 1889 to fulfill the land-grant university mission: opening the doors of higher education to the citizens of Idaho. Since then, the University of Idaho has grown into one of the nation's top research institutions, becoming an engine for educational innovation and economic growth. “The University of Idaho has a unique identity, not only as the state’s land-grant institution, but also as the state’s founding, comprehensive and constitutionally established university,” said Interim President Don Burnett. “These elements, taken together, define the university’s flagship heritage. They underscore the university’s role as a collaborative leader in advancing Idaho higher education and promoting the state’s economic prosperity.” Read more.
Library Releases Campus Photographs Collection. To commemorate the University of Idaho’s 125th Anniversary, the University of Idaho Library's Digital Initiatives department has released a new collection of images documenting the history of the main Moscow Campus buildings and programs. The Campus Photographs Collection presents over 3,000 digitized images that depict the campus from its beginning in 1889 to the present. The collection can be browsed by building, map, and/or timeline. A mobile version of the site also has been created to allow browsing for images nearest to the current location of the user’s smartphone.
Read more.
Generous Donor Creates Global Education Opportunities. To honor his family’s longstanding relationship with the University of Idaho and the importance of learning at a global level, J.D. Rowell recently established an endowed scholarship that will allow agricultural economics students to take their studies beyond our national borders. “The J.D. Rowell Scholarship Endowment for International Studies with Agricultural Economics creates a unique opportunity to integrate overseas studies into our program, giving our students great experiences that will make them more competitive in today’s global marketplace,” said Dean John Foltz. During his long career with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Rowell spent time in Brazil, inspiring a passion for international work. His recent gift was funded through a gift from his IRA and by establishing a charitable remainder trust. While he is not a UI graduate himself, Rowell’s family has strong ties to the university. His brother and both of his parents were alumni and his grandfather took classes before the university was officially organized. “I feel a deep connection to the University of Idaho and want to give back to honor my family name,” said Rowell. For more information on ways to create your legacy in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, contact Kim O’Neill at (425) 359-2411 or; Jen Root at (208) 885-4087 or; or Shea Saralecos at (208) 885-9056 or