The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2015-03-06

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 Some images, links, and functionality may be broken or out of date.

Dear Friends,
Just over a year ago, I became president of our leading, national research university. One of my first public events was the state finals of the Invent Idaho competition, hosted here at the University of Idaho. It was a chance to watch the future of this state — its young people — imagine, design and build inventions that improve our world.
The imagination and ingenuity of the elementary and middle-school students who came to campus amazed me. Last year one of the “Best of Show” awards went to an elementary-school student who designed a “seed board” that protects seedlings in the ground. The other top award went to a middle-school student who designed a “fast cast” that can provide stability for an injured limb before a bumpy trip to a hospital — a fall from a horse and its uncomfortable aftermath proved the inspiration for that invention. Young inventors heard from Spokane’s Brooke Martin, who won a similar competition in 2012 as an eighth-grader, moved her creation to Kickstarter and now has her product on the market. (I am considering buying one to keep an eye on our three cats.) ICPooch is a video chat/remote feeder that improves pet behavior; it won second place in the 2015 Microsoft Small Business Contest.
Tomorrow the Invent Idaho competition is again held at the University of Idaho. Nearly 150 finalists from elementary and middle school, as well as high school finalists from a new track of the competition, will converge on our campus. By the time you read this, many will already be here, touring UI and getting a firsthand look at laboratories and research space, with educational demonstrations from faculty and staff. This is a great chance for students to see what work in fields relevant to their inventions and their commercialization — that means everything from agriculture to engineering, and from architecture to education, as well as business — look like at our university, and to picture their ideas taking further shape at our institution, as Vandals.
I’m especially interested in the theme of this year’s competition, asking students to solve real-world problems, with a focus on helping other people. While they are using their talents to improve the lives of others, students are developing higher-level thinking processes and improving written communication skills with an “inventor’s journal” that allows students to document the ups and downs of their journey in the competition. That’s valuable experience and preparation for any young person, regardless of what field or career they eventually pursue.
Tomorrow, one of the winners of Invent Idaho will receive a $1,000 scholarship to the University of Idaho, and another winner will receive a free patent search, courtesy of sponsorship support, to see if their invention is patentable. But all the participants are winners.  They’ll have done something difficult — given life to a new idea, and had the confidence and maturity to put it out there for the world to see.   Who knows? Maybe tomorrow we’ll be introduced to the next Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, or the future Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, a leading biotech company. Maybe one of our inventors is the next Vandal to take on space, like one of our own, Tom Mueller of SpaceX.
I can’t wait to see what these bright young minds have invented … and also see as many as possible come to UI to fulfill their dreams.

Chuck Staben portrait

Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben
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Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho

Making an Estate Gift to UI — Any Age is the Right Age
Emily Davis Arthurs ’07 wants everyone to know of her loyalty to the University of Idaho. Emily joined the Heritage Society before graduating, and at 30 years old, she remains its youngest member. Heritage Society members are people who have provided for UI in their estate plans. Now married with a new baby, Emily says it’s important to her that eventually some of what she’s earned will benefit UI. “I want to take care of my family, and Idaho is part of my family,” explained Emily. As the oldest member of the Heritage Society, Dorothy Zaring, 104, will be making her estate gift to UI in memory of her late husband's parents, Roy and Mary Zaring. Dorothy and husband Joe ’42 were career foreign policy analysts and have supported UI’s Martin Institute for decades. No matter your age, learn more about making a gift through your estate. Contact Sharon Morgan toll-free at 866-671-7041 or
Professor Receives National Research & Teaching Honor
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) named University of Idaho chemistry professor Tom Bitterwolf among its prestigious class of 2014 AAAS Fellows. Bitterwolf joined 400 other scientists from across the nation Feb. 14 to receive the honor at the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California. Bitterwolf, who has been with the UI Department of Chemistry since 1988, said he was “completely blown away” by being named a fellow, and noted that it reflects on the university as a whole. “One thing I feel passionate about is that as an institution, the University of Idaho does an extraordinary job of undergraduate education. I’ve always been very, very proud to be part of that,” he said. “I feel that this recognition is really a recognition of the university, because they’ve given me the chance to work with these kids, to do research, to do all these things.”
Invent Idaho State Finals Come to UI
Some of the most creative and imaginative young minds from across the state will show off their bright ideas at the Invent Idaho State Finals this week in Moscow. The winners of regional Invent Idaho contests will compete in the two-day finals being hosted at the University of Idaho Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7 in the Bruce M. Pitman Center. Invent Idaho challenges students in first through 12th grade to identify real-world problems and then come up with creative solutions. Student inventors from across the state compete for the grand prize, a $1,000 scholarship to the University of Idaho, and an invitation to display their inventions in the Idaho State Capitol Building for Invent Idaho Day on March 16.

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