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President’s Letter to Friends of Boise State

Change Fast. A Boise State Story.

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is to create, manage and respond to change. And with so many new innovations and technologies coming at us all the time, we’re often challenged just to keep up.

For example, we’re always learning about amazing advances in medicine. My son-in-law works in the medical field and about five years ago, he was involved with a drug called Optivo, which was initially developed as a treatment for melanoma. Soon after it hit the market (after what must have been speedy trials) the drug was also found to be successful in treating several more forms of cancer.

Some innovations are literally life-saving. Others are more about lifestyle, impacting the way we live and work. Things like face recognition—a technology with many possible applications, is already being used at some grocery checkout lines. We’ll probably see it soon where we do our shopping. Another technology that measures the body heat of people inside grocery stores is helping to streamline the check out process.

The way people experience art is also quickly changing. When we open the doors to Boise State’s Center of Fine Arts and the World Museum, visitors of all ages will have the opportunity to interact with art, and see art from around the world in a completely new way. Virtual galleries and interactive tours are using increasingly innovative technology. Three years ago, the latest technology involved simulated floor-to-ceiling tours and touch screen navigation. Today, there’s even more interactivity enabled by gesture recognition—a technology that interprets human gestures via mathematical algorithms. Boise State is pursuing and developing our own cutting-edge technology that provides valuable new ways of learning.

Our business community is also adapting to innovation and technology, and tech companies are both driving and investing in change. Throughout our local and regional economy, businesses are looking to Boise State to lead research for new discoveries and to prepare the workforce of the future.

As the rate of change accelerates and continues to impact the way we live and work, Boise State must also change the ways in which we deliver higher education. Changes within our School of Public Service are an excellent example.

We’ve re-designed environmental, global and urban studies and community development to be cross-disciplinary programs to better prepare students for careers in pubic, private or non-profit sectors. We’ve aligned our centers and institutes with partners and programs, and created the Idaho Policy Institute to conduct impactful research programs across the state. We’ve become a valuable resource to local governments, state agencies and departments, and at the same time, created incredible hands-on experiences for students.

A new program developed in Boise State’s College of Innovation and Design creates opportunities for individuals who are already part of a workforce, but who can still benefit from continuing their education. A customized learning experience allows Boise State to mobilize parts of our university and deliver learning where it’s needed. A new program for Albertsons employees—Albertsons University—will be the first of its kind to be offered through Boise State.

To have a meaningful impact in the world, institutions that guide and direct our lives must keep pace with rapid change. Boise State University is always innovating and changing in order to serve our community and within it, the many adult learners and the citizens of our state.

As always, thank you for all that you do for Boise State and its students.

President Bob Kustra


Partnerships with NASA Create Stellar Opportunities for Students

Every year, more and more students at Boise State have the opportunity to learn from someone who has literally been out of this world — NASA Commander Steve Swanson. Swanson is a Professor of the Practice at Boise State, teaching students to think like NASA scientists, no matter their chosen field.

Steve has amassed more than 195 days in space, two shuttle flights on the Russian Soyuz rocket, and five spacewalks. While he was miles from earth, he spoke to Boise State students from space, and during a live downlink, he demonstrated what it’s like to live and work in microgravity.

With a Ph.D. in Computer Science Engineering, Steve teaches robotics and engineering at Boise State to students interested in professions at NASA and within the aerospace industry. But he’s also working with students pursuing various other disciplines like education, physics, electrical and civic engineering, math and communications — through NASA’s Microgravity University, delivered through our College of Innovation and Design.

It’s the ninth consecutive year we’ve been accepted into this prestigious and competitive NASA program! Together, a team of “Space Broncos” directed by Swanson will build and test a tool or device that addresses one of several authentic, current space exploration challenges. The team also delivers educational and public outreach with K-12 students to inspire STEM learning in future generations.

Boise State’s connections to NASA were first brought to campus by Idaho’s famous Teacher in Space-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who visited the International Space Station in 2007 and helped develop Boise State’s science, technology, engineering and math programs as a Distinguished Educator in Residence for many years before retiring in 2016. Just this week, Morgan became the first to receive the Idaho Medal of Achievement before a joint session of the Idaho Legislature, an honor that recognizes individual Idahoans for their “exceptional, meritorious, and inspirational” service to the people of Idaho.

While undergraduate and graduate students continue to participate in collaborative research projects and scholarly programs, Swanson’s research drives better teaching of computational thinking through science and technology-driven, project-based learning.

Boise State graduates are working in the field for NASA and others, including Lockheed Martin in Houston, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and Boeing in Seattle. They are software designers, design engineers, project managers, and materials protection and performance engineers working on exciting projects like the recovery of astronauts from space and human exploration of Mars.

With all of the opportunities the university offers, there’s a growing number of alumni who are of the mindset that at Boise State, the sky is not the limit. It’s merely a beautiful place to start.

As always, thank you for all that you do for Boise State and its students.

President Bob Kustra

Adapt academic and professional education to careers of tomorrow

This letter from the president also appeared in the Idaho Statesman this week.

Gov. Butch Otter’s new task force on higher education is another step forward toward supporting, funding and maintaining a sustainable system that ensures future generations have the education and skills to distinguish Idaho’s economy across the new American West. His choice of co-chairs Linda Clark and Bob Lokken demonstrates his interest in results, given Linda and Bob’s work on the successful K-12 task force.

Across the state, students have more opportunities in higher education than ever before. There are now three nationally classified doctoral research public universities, a strong four-year college, three community colleges and a technical college, each with missions and roles that meet state needs, but also serve the specific needs of their communities.

Together, we have been striving since 2010 toward an ambitious goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 35 have a certificate or degree by 2020. As Idaho public higher education works toward the 2020 goal, it has done so by keeping costs as low as possible for our students and their families — among the 50 states, we rank seventh in lowest in-state tuition.

Yet, Idaho higher education is still challenged to respond to our dynamic and demanding marketplace. Employers tell us regularly it’s not enough to meet today’s workforce needs, but we must also innovate and adapt our academic and professional education to the jobs and careers of tomorrow. At the most basic level, just talk to human resources leaders at any large company in the state in any industry and they will tell you they are facing a coming crisis of retirements from aging baby boomers. A great many of these jobs will require college degrees — even if those poised to leave them after 30 years were able to get their foot in the door with a high school diploma and hard work. Idaho higher education remains the hope and future for our young people and their life and career success.

The Task Force will review how far Idaho public higher education has come in recent years and how we chart a path for the future success of Idaho citizens. In doing so, the task force will have the opportunity to review the effectiveness of academic programming and research, how our universities and colleges are serving the state’s economy and communities, whether our faculty and staff compensation is competitive with sister states, and the extent to which our universities and colleges are working together to achieve the state’s common goals.

The solution isn’t simply more money, of course, but studies have shown that investments in higher education pay off — in increased tax revenue and economic activity for states, in lower unemployment and higher lifetime earnings for families. For the state’s investment in higher education to meet these goals for our students, funding must be as focused and cost-effective as possible. To achieve this, the task force can pick up on recent work of the State Board of Education in identifying the metrics that will determine how the state’s higher education budget is allocated among our universities and colleges on an outcome or accountability basis.

Thanks to the governor’s leadership, the support of our State Board members and the willingness of the Idaho Legislature to act on the recommendations of task forces such as the K-12 experience, I believe this task force has the potential to lead Idaho into a new era of higher education — one that increases opportunities for Idaho students around the state and that connects seamlessly to both public K-12 education, where our students are coming from, and to the industries and employers where they are headed.

President Bob Kustra

What the Sea of Blue Means for the Future — 99th Commencement Ceremony Dec. 17

This winter marks our 99th commencement ceremony, but this year we’ll look different. It’s the first time all of our undergraduates will walk in Boise State blue regalia — a new tradition that is designed to culminate this achievement and launch a lifelong connection to the university that has been their home for the past four or more years.

Another way we’ll look different is by sheer number—and it’s a big one! We hold commencement exercises twice each year at Boise State, and this is the first time in our history that we have more than 1,000 students participating in this winter ceremony.

In total, we’re conferring nearly 2,000 this winter — a sign that we once again could set a record in graduates this school year. More than 4,000 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree recipients will leave Boise State this year equipped with the skills, hands-on experiences and knowledge to lead and have an impact in Idaho and beyond.

We graduate more students than any other university in Idaho and confer 46 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded by Idaho public universities. We’ve grown into Idaho’s largest graduate school, and have been officially designated a doctoral research university for the suite of doctoral programs we have created to meet the needs stated by our students and civic and industry partners.

What all of this amounts to is that Boise State has become the major supplier of “brain gain” for Idaho. Five years after graduation, more than 80 percent of students who came to us from Idaho high schools remain in Idaho to live, work and raise their families — as do nearly 45 percent of our out-of-state students.

This Saturday, I’ll also have the honor of presenting the Silver Medallion, Boise State’s highest recognition of service to the university, to a great friend and true champion of Boise State University: Rod Lewis. Rod is one of Idaho’s longest-serving Idaho State Board of Education leaders. His leadership and advocacy as a member of Boise State’s Board of Trustees has been instrumental in a period of significant growth and transformation.

When I look out over the sea of blue on the floor of our arena, I’ll be looking at a graduating class that includes 60 percent of students who call Idaho home and 40 percent who’ve come from places far and wide beyond Idaho, including graduates hailing from 24 different countries, 47 states, the District of Columbia and two military locations. I’ll be looking at a wonderfully rich and diverse class of students and their friends and families who love them. I’ll be looking at Idaho’s up and coming, or already arriving. I’ll be looking at the future, and a thousand more Broncos for Life.


As always, thanks for all that you do for Boise State and its students!

President Bob Kustra



Why Fine Arts Must Be a Top Priority for Boise State

The arts and humanities are vital and crucial to the success of our city, state and region now more than ever before. For a decade, the university has focused on boosting the science, technology, engineering and math degrees urgently needed to drive our high-tech economy into the future. Yet, we’ve never lost sight of the major advantages offered by the liberal arts or a fine arts education, nor the steps we must take to enable it — including a Fine Arts Building that will be a nationally and internationally recognized center for arts education.

Today, nearly 4,000 students take courses through Boise State’s acclaimed Department of Art. They are learning from some of Idaho’s most acclaimed artists, as well as renowned visiting artists, honing their skill and their eye through painting, sculpture, graphic design, video and much more.

Boise State aims to inspire and prepare students who want to make their career in the arts as much as those who aspire to careers in fields such as molecular biology or computer science. The study of fine art — and developing an interest in the arts — is advantageous for everyone, regardless of their chosen field. Research shows that students in a high-tech track who also focus their studies in the arts and humanities will be better at their jobs, and employers find them more desirable due to their creative abilities in solving complex problems.

Perhaps the best example of the contribution arts education makes to advances in technology comes from the education of Steve Jobs. His biographer, Walter Isaacson, tells us that it was a calligraphy class that Steve Jobs took as an undergraduate that later would produce the design, elegance and human touches of Apple products we all enjoy today. With Boise State’s STEM focus and the Center for Fine Arts, we will position our students to meet at this intersection of the arts and technology where anything is possible, as it was for Steve Jobs. Providing our students and faculty with the space they need to work together across disciplines is the key to enabling creativity and innovation within and across disciplines.Not only will the Fine Arts Building provide space for the study and practice of the fine arts, it will also be a place for everyone to come for new experiences with art.

We’ll welcome all to a World Museum where visitors can be a part of something new — a high-tech and interactive space that will employ the latest virtual reality technology developed right here on campus. In an immersive, virtual experience, imagine touring the Louvre in Paris, France; the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain — all in one day. Imagine students taking a virtual tour of Michelangelo’s Pieta as though they were in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Here, technology will truly intersect with the arts, and the experience we can provide to students of all ages will be richer for it. The more faculty and students from our art department (as well as other partners from all across campus) consider the possibilities in a space like this, the more we realize we can deliver new artistic, teaching and experiential opportunities that our community would love to have.

Just like other notable arts projects in the community, this building and what it will do for the arts at Boise State and in the region is dependent upon philanthropy and generous leaders stepping forward. The state of Idaho has dedicated $5 million toward the facility. The university is looking to the generosity and vision of our friends, alumni and supporters to bring the project to fruition. I look forward to partnering with generous leaders who share our enthusiasm for the arts and all they bring to our culture and society, and I invite you to contact Boise State to discuss how you can help us have a lasting impact on our arts community.

Thanks for all you do for Boise State and its students!

President Bob Kustra