The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2015-10-30:
Changing Our College-going Culture

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October 30, 2015

Dear Friends,
Two years ago tomorrow, I was on my way to Boise. I’d just interviewed for the job of president of the University of Idaho, and was traveling to meet with the State Board of Education. Stopping in Grangeville for lunch at a diner, I struck up a conversation with our server, a high school senior. Asking him about his college plans, I learned that he didn’t have any. He’d not thought much about college. Neither had many of his friends.

Unfortunately, that’s an all-too-common story. As many as 5,000 qualified high school students in Idaho don’t “go on” to higher education every year. For these students, that’s a tragedy, and for our state, that is a missed opportunity. While a college degree is not for everyone, for many more students, it can be the path toward a better life with more financial stability, increased personal satisfaction, and stronger civic engagement. In short, a college degree is a road to attaining the American Dream.

Working with the State Board of Education and other stakeholders, UI is posed to make that road to the American Dream that much easier. The first step in getting to college, of course, is applying. That task is more complex than it may seem, something I discovered when testing out our application procedures. Now, there are many hurdles on the way to college, but students shouldn’t be tripping over the first one. We needed to make some changes.

As a state with the nation’s only united K-20 system, we’re in a position to make quick, straightforward changes to our processes. The State Board of Education has just mailed out a letter to qualified high school students, letting them know which Idaho institutions of public higher education they have been already been conditionally admitted to based on their track record of achievement in high school. We’re following up on that letter with proactive communications of our own, saying to many of those 5,000 students and their parents: You can succeed at the next level, you belong in college, and we want you to take that next step (link) .

We’re going even further, meeting the students where they live by hosting informational Enroll Idaho events at 43 locations across the state (link) on Tuesday, Nov. 10. (To stay in the know with timely updates, join our Enroll Idaho event page (link) on Facebook.) We’re going to showcase the value of higher education (link) in general, and let students know how to take the next steps toward their college dream (link) . I’ll personally head back to Grangeville to meet with students there before going up to Coeur d’Alene for the Enroll Kootenai County event that night.

Following up on those steps, I’ve asked our James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research to study the transition from high school to college. Their Idaho at a Glance report on the subject will come out in January, and will help us design policies and practices that promote postsecondary enrollment and attainment. We’ll also reach out again to students across Idaho with FAFSA-completion workshops and other recruitment events.

There is no single solution to increasing the go-on rates in Idaho. UI can and will be the leader in that effort, though. We will hold the door to the American Dream open for more Idaho students. For students in Coeur d’Alene, in Boise, in Grangeville and in communities large and small across Idaho, we must change the college-going culture to one that asks not “Should I go to college?” but “Where should I go to college?” It will take commitment by all stakeholders, on behalf of all of Idaho, but we can succeed.

Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben


CDC Grant Supports Study of Logging Safety

The UI Experimental Forest will be the test site for technological advancements to keep loggers safer. An $825,000 grant from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention will allow GPS technology to be installed on heavy equipment. This technology will help equipment operators track the locations of fellow workers without leaving the equipment cab. Logging is among the most dangerous professions in the United States, and this grant allows the University of Idaho to lead the way in safety improvements. The grant is an example of how the College of Natural Resources uses state money through the Forest Utilization Research budget to leverage further competitive funding for relevant research impacting Idaho’s economy. For more information on supporting the College of Natural Resources (link) , contact Steven Hacker, assistant dean for outreach, at (208) 885-7400 or (link) .

UI Professor Named to Top Women in STEM List

Higher education magazine INSIGHT Into Diversity has named Holly Wichman, a University of Idaho Distinguished Professor of biological sciences, among its 2015 100 Inspiring Women in STEM (link) (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Wichman, who came to UI in 1988 and earned the rank of Distinguished Professor in 2012, was recognized for her outstanding research, commitment to collaboration, and role as a mentor to faculty and students in her department and across campus. Wichman’s areas of research expertise include viral evolution and unusual DNA sequences known as transposable elements. She’s a founding member of the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies, known as IBEST, and led the formation of UI’s new Center for Modeling Complex Interactions, which earned a $10.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in May 2015.

UI Partner in $1.2 Million Food Safety Grant

The University of Idaho will lead efforts across Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Alaska through a newly funded $1.2 million food safety center (link) to help small and midsized farms and food processors improve food safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a national initiative to help farmers and food and animal feed producers comply with requirements established under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The virtual center, based at Oregon State University, is one of four new regional hubs across the country. UI, Oregon State and other universities across the 13-state western region will train others to teach food safety and regulatory compliance. They also will conduct workshops for small and midsized farms, beginning farmers, small-scale food processors, wholesale produce vendors and others. “This center will assist small farms and food processors with technical assistance in complying with the FSMA rules by providing approximately two dozen lead trainers and about 200 other people as certified trainers across the region,” said Barbara Petty, UI Extension interim director.

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