The Friday Letter Archive

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


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Friday Letter 2017-04-21:
Faculty and Staff Drive UI Excellence

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April 21, 2017
Letter from the President
Dear Friends,
The academic and program excellence at the University of Idaho is driven by our outstanding faculty and staff. These dedicated professionals are the primary reason UI delivers a transformative educational experience. They are the key to UI’s leadership in great outcomes for graduates, as well as for innovation and discovery that makes an impact across our state and world. As we approach the close of our academic year, I want to congratulate our faculty and staff and highlight their excellence.
Next week at our University Excellence Awards we are proud to present two UI professors with our highest faculty honor — the rank of University Distinguished Professor. Kim Barnes, professor of creative writing in our English department, joined UI in 1986. An acclaimed author of three novels and two memoirs, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated “In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown Country,” she is also a committed teacher who exemplifies the excellence of our creative writing program. Brian K. Johnson, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Endowed Chair in Power Engineering, has been a Vandal since 1992. He is a talented researcher, internationally recognized in the field of power engineering, and he is as dedicated to mentoring our students as he is to his field. Our Distinguished Professors have gone above and beyond in exemplifying the Vandal traditions of excellence in their fields, service to students and commitment to a caring community.
One example of our many deserving staff honorees is Jesse Martinez, recipient of our Arthur Maxwell Taylor Excellence in Diversity Award. Jesse first came to UI as a participant in the College Assistance Migratory Program (CAMP). Jesse came full circle to lead recruiting and to serve as associate director for CAMP, which helps students from rural and farmworker backgrounds succeed at UI. He now leads our Office of Multicultural Affairs and also serves on UI’s Latino Advisory Council and Diversity Council.
Next Wednesday, I’m pleased to attend our Staff Awards Luncheon, honoring our outstanding staff members who contribute to the programs and essential functions of our university. We also celebrate the staff who have retired after long service to UI, in many cases more than 30 years. Many staff have also contributed to an endowment to support aspiring Vandals with scholarships a “pay it forward” approach to support the next generation of Vandals. The passion of our staff is one of the university’s greatest assets.

Faculty and staff may enter higher education for many reasons, but people stay in this profession because they care. They want the best for students and for their university. Students and families looking to understand who we are and what we do at the university will find few better examples than these faculty and staff honorees.
Chuck Staben
Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben
P.S.: Our Student Achievement Awards in Leadership and Service ceremony is tonight. Awardees have not been announced as of this writing, but I look forward each year to recognizing these extraordinary students.

Vernon Burlison Memorial Fund Impacts Diversity

Human and social justice issues — diversity, empowerment, access to education, peace — matter to John Burlison ’76, just as they mattered to his late father, Vernon ’43. John established the Vernon Burlison Memorial Fund in 1997 in memory of his father, a professor emeritus in the College of Natural Resources. The fund offers scholarship and educational programming support for human and social justice issues, as well as underrepresented communities at the University of Idaho. “These resources are dedicated to making a difference in education and broaden understanding by bringing diverse and controversial ideas to the campus community,” said John Burlison. In addition to more than doubling his annual contribution, John also gave a generous current use gift this year — significantly increasing his giving for key resources in the name of his father. “John’s vision and support make a permanent difference for the LGBTQA community,” said Julia Keleher, director of the LGBTQA Office. For more information on supporting diversity at the University of Idaho, contact Jim Zuba at 208-885-4142 or

TedxUIdaho Returns to UI Campus

The University of Idaho’s student-led TEDx event will tackle the idea of “What’s NeXt?” for society at its third annual event, 1-5 p.m. Saturday, May 6, in UI’s Hartung Theater. The event features 11 speakers, including UI graduate and undergraduate students and faculty members. The talks will delve into topics including research on making better robots and video games, fascinating organic molecules in 3-D motion, and how we can build better and more responsive computers with artificial intelligence. Other topics include a 14-year-old’s opinion on the importance of societal labels, why failure is desirable for success from a highly competitive soccer coach, and a dissection of the age-old debate between religion and science. Tickets, which are $10 for students and $25 for the general public, are now on sale at More information about speakers will be posted online at

UI Research: Individual Glacier Shapes Influence Greenland Ice Loss

Thinning glaciers in Greenland play a major role in rising sea levels around the globe. An international team of researchers, including Tim Bartholomaus, an assistant professor of geography in the UI College of Science, have found that the glaciers’ shapes influence how quickly they thin and melt — allowing them to identify which glaciers are most likely to contribute to sea level rise. The Greenland Ice Sheet is the second-largest ice sheet on Earth and has been losing mass for decades, a trend scientists have linked to a warming climate. However, the mass change experienced by individual coastal glaciers, which flow out from the ice sheet and into the ocean, is highly variable. This makes predicting the ice sheet’s impact on future sea-level rise difficult. “The approach we demonstrate here allows us to identify which outlet glaciers are not yet changing rapidly, but might,” Bartholomaus said. “With that knowledge, we can anticipate potential sea-level rise and set up the observational campaigns in advance to understand these glacier changes.” This new knowledge of glacier melt also will help scientists refine the models used to predict sea-level rise.