The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2016-05-06:
Where a Vandal Education Can Take You

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May 6, 2016

Dear Friends,
Where can a Vandal education take you? Just about anywhere on Earth — and in some cases, beyond. In April, we celebrated a “Month of Innovation” at UI, culminating with the College of Engineering Design EXPO (link) last weekend. Each year at EXPO, we celebrate the capstone projects of our engineering students, invite high school students to campus, and connect with alumni and industry leaders who give their time as judges and advisors.

This year, UI welcomed back Tom Mueller, (link) a graduate of the College of Engineering and a co-founding employee of SpaceX. If you’ve watched the news recently, you’ve likely heard of SpaceX and seen their work in action. This company is pioneering reusable rockets, seeming to make a major advance with each rocket launch.

Tom is from St. Maries, Idaho, in Benewah County, and the son of a logger. St. Maries is the gateway to the beautiful St. Joe River country, and a long way from SpaceX’s headquarters in Southern California. Yet, the University of Idaho was the launching pad for Tom’s career.

During EXPO, about 500 visiting high school students experienced a weekend that showcases life and work at UI and in the College of Engineering. They visited locations around the Moscow campus, met with students and faculty, and engaged in hands-on activities.

In addition to getting a taste of college life, these visiting students also got to see a UI engineering education in action, as more than 60 engineering seniors presented their capstone projects with booth presentations and technical presentations. Imagining, creating and refining a project is valuable, but so is the ability to communicate the importance of that work. The presentations are similar to TED talks, judged by industry and academic evaluators. Many evaluators were alumni who volunteered their time and insight and we appreciate their particular expertise and encouragement to our students.

Other Month of Innovation (link) programs, events and initiatives included a student-organized TEDx event; an Undergraduate Research Symposium; the UI’s first Three-Minute Thesis competition and the Innovation Showcase through our College of Graduate Studies. The College of Business and Economics hosted Idaho Pitch and business plan contests, during which more than $30,000 was awarded to student-conceived business enterprises.

The entire month served to highlight that at UI, our students encounter new ideas and are encouraged to find fresh approaches across disciplines, and to have opportunities to refine those ideas through presentation and competition.

These experiences are critical elements of a transformative education. They help current students — and our future students — get a better picture of the possibilities and opportunities that come with a college education: the great heights a world-class education can propel them to. They, like Tom Mueller, can reach for the stars.

Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben


TRIO-INSPIREs the Future for Idaho’s Students

Growing up in a rural southern Idaho county where only 26.5 percent of residents hold at least an associate degree, the odds were against Robin Miller making it to college. At age 11, she became involved in TRIO-INSPIRE (link) , an outreach program committed to providing educational opportunities for Americans regardless of race, ethnic background or economic status. Her involvement continued as a high school freshman when she joined the Upward Bound Math Science program, one of seven TRIO programs offered through the University of Idaho. “Without TRIO’s help, I wouldn’t have been able to attend college, or even know how to fill out a FAFSA or a college application,” said Robin. Now a successful college graduate working in computer science, Robin gives to UI’s TRIO Excellence Fund to support the program that made the critical difference in her life. To make a gift to TRIO, contact James Brownson at 208-885-5369 or (link)

Alumna Makes National Case for a UI Education

In a HuffPost College article published Tuesday, (link) UI alumna Elaine Ambrose ’73, a former national president of the UI Alumni Association and Foundation board member, joined the national debate on the rising costs of a college education, student loans, and the value of degrees earned in-state compared to Ivy League institutions: “Most states have excellent universities and trade schools that offer less expensive choices, especially for the first two years when students take required core classes. Parents who own property are paying the taxes to support those schools, so why pay out-of-state tuition somewhere else? Often, the state universities have excellent job placement records, and isn’t that the reason students attend? … My college experience gave me freedom and opportunities that changed my life as I focused on one main goal: work at a rewarding job, support myself and use my talents to live the best life possible. Go, Idaho.”

Faculty Members Earn National Recognition

Two University of Idaho faculty members have received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early career scholars. Tara Hudiburg, an assistant professor of forest science in the UI College of Natural Resources, and Craig McGowan, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the UI College of Science, earned Faculty Early Career Development (link) (CAREER) awards, and through them a combined $1.7 million in research funding. According to the National Science Foundation, CAREER awards support faculty “who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.” Faculty propose projects and apply for the award.

1,556 Students Statewide Eligible to Graduate

Approximately 1,556 University of Idaho students (link) statewide are eligible for graduation this spring, earning a combined 1,615 degrees. Commencement ceremonies will be held across the state (link) this month: In Coeur d'Alene on Monday, May 9; Boise on Monday, May 16; and in Idaho Falls on Tuesday, May 17. The Moscow and College of Law ceremonies are Saturday, May 13. Congratulations to all of our graduates!

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