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State of the University Address 2014

Boise State University
State of the University Address
Aug. 20, 2014
Dr. Robert Kustra, President 

Welcome and thanks for coming. Let’s kick things off with a brass quintet comprised of students from our Music program.

Sonata from Die Bankelsangerlieder
Camas Stredder, Nampa, Trumpet (Senior in Music Education)
Randy Bauer, Caldwell, Trumpet (Sophomore in Music Performance)
Rabyia Ahmed, Boise, French Horn (Senior in Music Education)
Daniel Quatrone, Seattle, Trombone (Junior in Music Performance)
Cody Peterman, Nampa, Tuba (Senior in Music Education) 

VIDEO: History and Trajectory of Boise State 

–  Ivana Mullner (Linguistics)
–  Sarah Rehn (Chemistry, Goldwater Scholar)

What an incredible journey we’ve been on! Since the start of the new millennium, Boise State University has:

  • Grown our student body by a third — and our thriving campus life by leaps and bounds.
  • We’ve more than doubled our graduate offerings and transformed our research efforts.
  • We’ve nearly tripled the number of out of state students and today continually see from across the country an increased interest in Boise State.
  • Our student body is more diverse, more prepared to succeed and far more likely to enroll full-time and finish on time than ever before.
  • And, perhaps most impressively, we’ve grown our number of graduates by more than 70 percent in less than 15 years. Boise State now confers more bachelor’s degrees than any other university in the state. And more than 70 percent of our graduates stay in Idaho to live, work, lead and raise their families.

I can assure you — this trajectory of success shows no signs of slacking. You can tell that just from looking at what some of us did this summer:

  • Julia Oxford and her team secured the largest grant in Boise State history — a $10 million dollar federal grant to build a Center for Biomedical Research. It will help boost cell research that could impact how we treat heart disease or strokes, increase our understanding of ligament damage and far more. And while this is the next natural step for our fast-growing research efforts, it’s a great moment to mark. Congratulations, Julie!
  • Our Computer Science Department broke ground for a major Downtown presence, moving our faculty and in-demand students just blocks or even steps from the very businesses that drive the industry. This followed an agreement to double our software developer graduates, thanks to local industry leaders stepping up to fund a Department of Labor matching-grant.
  • Our raptor biologists, in Spain this month, worked with golden eagles, osprey and – how cute are these — baby burrowing owls.
  • Our faculty taught, researched and presented ideas all over the world, including: Paris; Buenos Aires; Viterbo, Italy; Warsaw, Poland; and Transylvania.
  • Astronaut and Professor of Practice Steve Swanson was in space, as he met with our students via satellite feed while working at the International Space Station.
  • Our incoming freshmen are no slackers in the summer accomplishment department either. Hannah Newhouse from Twin Falls, raced in the Spear’s SRL Southwest Tour, one of the feeders of NASCAR.
  • And one of Hannah’s classmates coming to Boise State this fall, Lindsay Krueger from Tehachapi High School in south central California, won the state championship in team roping and competed in barrel racing — all while planning to start in one of our most demanding majors, nursing.
  • And perhaps you saw that great little graduation video before the speech? That was Christopher Lloyd, Class of 2014, making the most of his video hobby while graduating and getting a job in information technology.

I’m happy to introduce this morning new faces joining the Boise State family. First, Dean Kenneth Petersen from the College of Business and Economics. After earning his doctorate in operations and sourcing management from Michigan State University, Ken taught at the University of Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado State and the University of Tennessee, where he served as chair of a large and successful department — all the while consulting with major companies and putting his expertise to use in the economy. Ken, please stand to be recognized.

Our new Dean of Education is Rich Osguthorpe, who received his doctorate from the University of Michigan. Rich has been a member of the Education faculty at Boise State for nearly a decade and I was impressed from the start of the selection process with his energy and vision for quality improvements in teacher education. Rich, please stand to be recognized.

Did I mention that we have a new football coach?  Coach Bryan Harsin has hit the ground running, to say the least. Bryan – a Boise State alum – is generating tremendous excitement from fans and the media and that’s no easy trick for having come here 7 short months ago and replacing someone as successful and renowned as Coach Petersen. Bryan has done this in ways so original and fun, and among the first was getting this group of assistant coaches up on these horses (which I have on good authority some of them weren’t too excited about).

Bryan also took his coaches and the football program on two exhaustive tours of Idaho communities and high schools. It was so impressive to see Coach Harsin speaking to 700 fans in a public park in Idaho Falls. It was not lost on me that while so many of those families who heard Bryan’s message about excellence and innovation in football might not have kids who will be football players, but they might be impressed enough with the brand of excellence they heard to encourage them to send their kids to Boise State.

Thanks to Bryan for serving as a role model on the importance of all of us playing a role in the recruitment process. More on that later.

This is an appropriate time for me to introduce our newest faculty members– who come to us from the finest graduate schools in the country. We are proud and happy to welcome you. Would the newest members of the Boise State faculty stand and be recognized?


We’re very excited about our newest class of students — move in day is tomorrow and they’ll gather together Friday for our standing room only Convocation held here in the Morrison Center.

Our first-year students had a number of choices as to where to pursue their college education and we’re honored they chose us. But don’t think for a minute that we simply opened our doors and waited for their arrival. Student recruitment of students these days is a very competitive business and our enrollment management plan employs many strategies to differentiate the Boise State experience from a crowded marketplace of colleges and universities all anxious to hit their enrollment numbers.

And it’s not going to get any easier. After about two decades of steady growth in the number of high school graduates, the country likely peaked at about 3.4 million graduates in 2011 and will see a modest decline over the next few years, according to a report by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.

And, since the Great Recession of 2008, we have seen for the first time in my recollection, a steady drumbeat of media coverage questioning the value of a college education. If you haven’t noticed, check out the headlines from some of our nation’s media outlets

— Is a College Degree Still Worth It? US News and World Report

— Higher education: Is college worth it? The Economist

— Is Your College Degree Worth It? Find Out. Forbes

— Is a bachelor’s degree still worthwhile? Fox News

— Are college degrees still worth it in this economy? USA Today

— College degrees must be job ready. Kansas City Star

— Is College Doomed? Atlantic Monthly

We know from U.S. Department of Commerce research that over a lifetime college graduates will make an average of $1 million more than those without degrees, but that doesn’t seem to affect reports on the subject. Added to the very real stories of mounting student debt, it’s a lot of negative information for higher education to overcome in student recruitment.

Our Enrollment Management folks work hard to find the right students and convince them to come to Boise State. Our admissions experts have targeted growth states like Texas and Colorado — but you can rest assured admissions offices across the country are eyeing Idaho as well.

To the extent that recruitment fails to bring in a sustainable first-year class every year, including out-of-state students whose tuition boosts our revenue, we simply lose so many opportunities to improve the teaching, learning and research.

And it can’t just be the job of Student Affairs personnel. We live at a time when recruitment must be a team effort, no longer the exclusive preserve of official recruiters traveling to school fairs and high schools, but rather shared by faculty, staff and even our students.

And we still have business processes in place that get in the way of successful recruiting. We should always think long and hard and explore all options before we ever deter a good student from attending Boise State. This year, I will be asking our departments and colleges to re-examine the role they play in recruiting students and to re-double their efforts.

As students and technology change and evolve, so too must our recruitment approaches. This summer, Kathy and I learned that a friend’s daughter who lives here in Boise and who was considering going away to school had chosen Boise State and will enter this fall. Still concerned whether she made the right choice, she took it upon herself, once she learned the names and contact information of her suitemates, to email them and get to know them before the start of school. That was a very good idea, as it turns out. She is much more excited about the fall now that she has made these contacts.

But why wait for such an online experience to occur just weeks before students arrive? Why not experiential recruiting — the newest effort to engage prospective juniors and seniors in high school by organizing them into online communities so they can start sharing ideas about their prospective majors with staff and faculty while they’re still figuring out where to enroll and what major to declare.

Retention and graduation are just as critical, if not more so, than recruiting. Here too, a team approach and going the extra mile make a world of difference.

A friend told me of a recent experience her son had at his university that reminded me how seemingly small gestures can enhance the experience of our students and their progression to graduation. Her son was one of six or so students on a waitlist for a course and a couple of weeks before classes were slated to begin, the professor reached out to each of the six students and announced that he had opened a new section so they could all take the class. He went further though, and before he added the section, he reviewed the schedules of each of the students on the waitlist and added the course at a time that worked for all of them so that his action didn’t trigger a mad dash to rearrange their schedules.

I know we have professors on this campus that do the same kind of thing and go the extra mile to help students succeed day after day, year after year. I bring this up today as a positive example and a reminder that there are many, many ways to convey to our students that they are our top priority, that we value their time, and that we know that their success is our success.

A new tool developed by OIT and the Provost’s Office to be rolled out this fall should also prove helpful. The Student Success Dashboard will easily identify those students who may be struggling and provide us information so we can contact students to provide support and also better address barriers and support for all students.


At least some of this doom and gloom in the media over the utility of the college degree comes from recent reports, like one issued by the New York Federal Reserve early this year. To the surprise of no one who’s been watching, it confirmed, through analyzing 20 years of data, that today’s graduates are having a tougher time transitioning to the job market than in the past and many are accepting jobs for which they are over-qualified—low-wage or part-time work. They also found that graduates with technical skills fared better than the others, and that their majors had more to do with employment than the reputation of the school which conferred their degree.

Without a doubt, the issue of underemployment of today’s college graduates is gaining steam among parents, students and governing boards which are beginning to hold us accountable for student success not only in graduation but in job and career access as well.

The challenge in today’s world is whether we’re providing all the tools necessary for the long-term success of our graduates. I am glad to report some exciting efforts in various corners of the campus.

Debbie Kaylor in Career Services has done a fine job of expanding opportunities for students seeking help accessing the job market. Our orientation sessions now includes a segment on careers, helping students and parents understand what the “hot jobs” are these days and urging students to stay on track and seek help from Career Services early and often. Our Honors College uses some of the Valley’s most accomplished executives such as Micron co-founder Ward Parkinson who volunteers his time to do mock job interviews with Honors students.

Our Foundational Studies program creates experiences and builds skills for students from all disciplinary backgrounds and focuses on those soft skills that employers so often claim are lacking in college graduates today. The “ePortfolio” is another great tool to help our students track and record their progress, and later share with employers. And we continue to encourage our students to take advantage of internships and service-learning opportunities.

This fall, professors Steve Villachica from the department of Organizational Performance & Workplace Learning and Eric Landrum from Psychology, will gather together faculty members and business leaders for Boise State’s first Treasure Valley Skills Summit — a way for industry leaders to share their workplace-readiness needs, and Boise State to create ways to meet them.

I still remember an example from my past presidency in Kentucky that shows how times have changed for our graduates seeking employment. At the time, one of our graduates was a political science major, who rose in the ranks of the Bank of Louisville to become its President. I asked him one day how that worked since I had the same major, but never thought of myself as bank material. He told me that he just decided upon graduating that he wanted to enter the business world so he applied for a bank position and the rest is history.

Do you think a student without exposure to a business education can do that today? I doubt it, not without a toolbox of job skills that will impress in the first interview. Some of our students figure this out and take a minor in business, for example, to complement their major. Some go on to get an advanced degree and that is certainly a good idea.

But we can do more to assure that our students have a variety of opportunities to prepare for their entry into the workplace. Deans Petersen, Roark and Wheeler and Alumni Relations Director Andrade are collaborating on a new effort called Bridge to Career. The idea is simple:  create a certificate program that students can layer onto their degrees to demonstrate organizational and managerial skills that will improve their prospects as both job applicants and successful team members in the profit or not-for-profit sectors.

A similar and equally important track will offer our students in technical fields the opportunity to improve their soft skills – problem solving and teamwork, work ethic, writing, critical thinking — that employers value so highly and so often claim are lacking in college graduates.

It’s our intention to distinguish Boise State as a university that defines student success not only by graduation, but also by success in the gainful employment of our graduates as a result of their undergraduate preparation.

And as I met with the President of Wake Forest University last week, I learned how they are approaching the same issue. This private, selective university with a strong commitment to the liberal arts has in place programs to ensure they are doing all possible to assure liberal arts grads are employable.

Among their prescriptions for success are credit-based courses in career development, partnerships that bridge the career services office with faculty and academic advisors, alumni advisers for students, and perhaps most importantly, coursework offered by the business school that sounds exactly like what we are planning. Apparently, we are not far off in our design of Bridge to Career!


At our State Board meeting last week, our Provost reported on our year-long exercise — Program Prioritization. Marty did a superb job of explaining how we approached the challenge and the results achieved. All campus partners who played a role deserve a shout-out for a job well done, but I must single out Jim Munger who led us through the process from beginning to end. Thanks, Jim, for your leadership and dogged persistence in getting the job done.

As a result of this effort, scores of programs from academic majors and minors — to athletics, facilities, finance and more — will undergo changes to better align with student success and community and student needs. A number of the evaluated degree and graduate certificate programs will undergo substantial changes to increase the number of graduates, better track student outcomes, improve the pathway to a degree — or be eliminated.

The Board was most complimentary of Boise State’s presentation and its results. One of the outcomes the Board expected from this effort is the institutionalization of the process that regularly reviews our productivity and efficiency. Thanks to this effort, we are now prepared to do so.


Among the outcomes of the process that we reported to the Board was the closure of the College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs and the creation of the School of Public Service. Faculty leaders from various departments have led a discussion for two years that culminated in these initiatives.

The School will be comprised of Community and Regional Planning, Criminal Justice, Military Science, Political Science, Public Policy & Administration, and Environmental Studies. The school will also support the mission of a number of centers and institutes that facilitate research and public engagement, including the Andrus Center, Center for Idaho History & Politics, Energy Policy Institute, Environmental Finance Center, Frank Church Institute, and Public Policy Research Center.

Our School of Public Service will serve many purposes. It’ll prepare students for careers in government and related fields. It will bridge disciplines across the university and serve as a centralized resource for policymakers to assist them in making informed decisions.

And it will facilitate research and serve communities searching for innovative solutions to challenges facing our communities, our landscape and our economies.

As far as I’m concerned, the timing of our new School of Public Service could not be more appropriate. I’m just “seasoned” enough to remember John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address when he called on Americans to ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country. I was a senior in high school and to this day I can say I thought he was talking directly to me and that I would carve out my calling and profession based on his urging. It was with regret in the 80’s, when I was teaching government in Chicago and serving in the Illinois legislature, that I heard President Reagan say that government is not the solution, government is the problem. I think that notion has progressed to cause much of the intransigence and dissatisfaction we see in politics and government today. While some of the dissatisfaction may be well deserved, and folks will hold differing viewpoints, there is no question in my mind that government serves an important purpose in a civilized society and it’s my hope that this School will help elevate and reinforce that perception. That’s why we named it the School of Public Service. Please watch the video.

VIDEO: School of Public Service

We’re proud of our place at the heart of Idaho’s capital and know that we’ll continue to play a key role in serving federal, state and local government agencies through the School of Public Service.


Boise isn’t just the heart of Idaho politics and government. It is also a regional health care center that provides health care to an area far beyond our city’s borders, and Boise State has become a partner with local health industry leaders in producing the health care workers of tomorrow’s hospitals, clinics and communities. That’s why I’m pleased today to announce a reorganization within the College of Health Sciences, which will now also welcome to join the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work, a newly created School of Allied Health and Prevention, and Student Health Services. Our Dean of the College of Health Sciences, Tim Dunnagan, led this effort and this video will explain the reorganization.

VIDEO: College of Health Sciences

I want to thank our industry partners, not just for appearing in the video, but also for playing such a critical role in the shaping and execution of health education in our community.

Speaking of health, we will soon embark on a campus-wide initiative on wellness, sponsored, so to speak, by the College of Health Sciences. The Wellness program will be led by Dr. Michelle Ihmels, an experienced professional in wellness programming, who joined us just this year.

The program will be aimed at making Boise State University one of the healthiest campuses in the country. Health Services and the academic experts in the college will work together to help students prepare for a lifetime of healthy living — and offer faculty and staff the kind of support and services they need to make healthy choices every day. Through screenings and physicals, exercise classes and walking clubs, data analysis, research and more, Boise State will become a leader in creating wellness programs that work for a lifetime.


Over the past few years, I’ve made every effort to impress upon our campus community just how volatile are the changes in and around higher education. It’s an exciting time, but we have to work hard to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. When things are moving this quickly, you can easily become obsolete—a model that just doesn’t work anymore.

Clearly, we are in an era of re-design in higher education where we need to test new approaches to learning and teaching, find new applications for our degree offerings and research, and foster a culture that will marshal our creativity and innovation.

And to help us do just that, I am pleased today to announce the creation of the College of Innovation and Design.   Please watch.

VIDEO: College of Innovation & Design

The College of Innovation and Design will be a university-wide hub focused on transforming academic programming, learning, and research at Boise State University. Leveraging the speed, collaboration, and risk-taking of a start-up, the college will inspire and support faculty, students and community members from diverse disciplines to create new pathways of learning that anticipate the demands and opportunities of our ever-changing world and workplace. These teams will generate pioneering degrees, badges and certificates as well as design new and innovative approaches to research, community engagement efforts and other initiatives that transcend conventional university boundaries, structures or disciplines.

The College’s creation is a natural progression of trends in higher education, in the marketplace, among our students and of our faculty. It’s a trend taking hold at premier universities across the country. I knew we were onto something when I read that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and former top exec at Google, chose Stanford for her undergraduate degree because it offered a major that combines philosophy, cognitive psychology, linguistics, and computer science.

One of the greatest limitations of the traditional college structure is that each discipline is organized in its own department, an academic framework sometimes difficult to overcome, for both students and faculty.  But the College of Innovation and Design will be set up to help break and blur those barriers — to create truly transdisciplinary programs, research projects and more.

The college has already begun its work with an initial Request for Proposals from Provost Marty Schimpf for undergraduate degree programs, certificates, minors, or badges. Faculty teams put forward twenty-four proposals and it is anticipated that several new programs will be developed as a result.

And it’s not like jumping out of our silos will be foreign to our creative and enterprising faculty.

English professor, Steve Olsen-Smith, audited a basic computer science course this summer to pick up some computer coding skills — Stephen, remember, is a scholar of Melville and Whitman. He also taught a class for educators with computer scientist Elisa Barney Smith and historian Leslie Madsen-Brooks called “Humanistic Computing.”

Engineering professor Darryl Butt has taken his lab and tools and turned them toward a mystery of art and anthropology — trying to take a fleck of paint the size of a human hair to unlock the secrets of an ancient sarcophagus.

At Boise State where we fulfill our mission and role as a metropolitan research university, our engagement in the region we serve has grown exponentially over recent years and the nature of our partnerships with government, business, education and health care have grown more complex and more sophisticated.

The J.R. Simplot Company and the Idaho Department of Transportation both came to us during the past year interested in what resources Boise State can offer. As you can imagine, their work and organizational structure spans many of our disciplines, making if difficult to respond comprehensively. With the College of Innovation and Design, we’ll be able to organize and sustain knowledge and innovation communities to add value to the research and assure its applicability to the communities and economies we serve. With little or no respect for organizational boundaries or traditional timelines, a project organized under the auspices of the College of Innovation and Design can be nimble, fast-tracked, resourceful and inventive.

Kathy and I recently attended a great first lecture on Leonardo Da Vinci as part of the series being offered with our faculty at the Discovery Center of Idaho. (And a shout out to the Arts & Humanities Institute, Deans Moll and Roark and others for putting this great series together.)

Professors Quincy Conley and Stephen Crowley did a great job introducing us to Da Vinci and what made him so unique. How could he be – a great artist, scientist, architect – all at once? We think of him as an interdisciplinarian because of his many fields of accomplishment. But – the lecturers posited — perhaps the reason Da Vinci could accomplish so much is because he didn’t see it as interdisciplinary at all.  He saw the similarities among his projects, not the differences.

Or as Engineering professor Will Hughes who teaches materials science but started out as a sculptor puts it:
‘Science, engineering and art are just facets of the same thing. If you can engage your research from the eye of an artist, the eye of a scientist, the eye of an engineer, it may allow you to access a broader population with the education or with the ideas that you’re moving forward.”

Well put Will, and exactly what the new College of Innovation and Design is meant to foster for our faculty and students, and to the benefit of our community at large.

We are very pleased that Dr. Andrew Finstuen, who has done such a great job as Dean of the Honors College, has agreed to step off and lead development of the College of Innovation and Design on an interim basis while a national search for a Dean is conducted, and pending approval by the State Board of Education.


In case you haven’t noticed, there is a thread that has run through all of the initiatives I’ve discussed with you today. That thread is the way a modern university must work across lines and divisions and disciplines to stay relevant, to deliver quality in today’s world.

Whether we’re talking about faculty working with administrators on student recruitment, or the need for programs like Bridge to Career to blur the lines and broaden the education of technical or liberal arts students, or the reorganization of the College of Health Sciences, creation of the School of Public Service or College of Innovation and Design, it is all about getting rid of the walls to better innovate and serve students, the marketplace and our varied partners. Let this spirit and now reality of Innovation and Design become the hallmark of Boise State University.

I have no doubt that this year will be one of the most exciting and challenging in memory. Thanks to your incredible commitment to our students, the communities and State we serve, Boise State is poised to stake out its reputation of excellence across the West.

Have a great year and thanks for all you do for Boise State.