President’s Letter to Friends of Boise State
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
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
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
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
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with 16 randomly-chosen, first-year students who I asked to have lunch to discuss their first few months here at Boise State. Plain and simple, I want to hear from our students early in their experience so we can take corrective action where necessary.
I think it’s fair to say we covered considerable ground in reviewing their initial impressions of Boise State. First, we asked them why they chose Boise State and if their expectations were fulfilled in their relatively short time here. They were effusive in their positive comments about what a great experience they were having. They singled out faculty as caring, compassionate and in command of their disciplines both in and out of the classroom.
Students also sung the praises of our staff as people who come to work caring about students and willing to help when needed. Our residential staff received high marks and our Living and Learning Communities were “curve busters” in terms of the positive reactions from residents. We asked the students to comment specifically on the campus climate, on how they felt they were treated by our campus community in general. Once again, they were uniformly positive in commenting on the respect they felt from faculty, staff and fellow students.
None of the improvements that we have been able to make in recent years in student support and campus life would have been possible with the generous support for all our endeavors from you, our alumni and friends. It is heartening to be able to share these positive student experiences with you, as thanks for your continued support.
I hope his message reminds all of us that we have created something very special here at Boise State, with your help. As valued members of a civil community, our Boise State faculty, staff and students strive each day to be the definition of civility, respect, academic integrity and expertise; all of which should reassure us when we want to look toward a bright future.
Of course, I can’t help thinking about the contentious and difficult campaign season that we have all just lived through. Many years ago, Speaker Tip O’Neill declared that “all politics is local.” Perhaps that is a reminder that can work for us here on the Boise State campus as we reflect and celebrate a culture and a community worthy of modeling for our great nation.
Thanks for all you do for Boise State and its students!
President Bob Kustra