In 2019, President Marlene Tromp challenged the Boise State University campus community to identify and deliver unique educational programs to three rural Idaho communities near Boise State University.
“Boise State has become a Metropolitan Research University of Distinction, but that does not confine our work to the urban area. Rural populations around the country have been historically underserved by universities, and our state, with its significant rural population, deserves the best that Boise State can offer,” said Tromp.
The Division of Extended Studies responded to this challenge by engaging with rural Idaho communities to find solutions with support from the university. The Community Impact Programs are designed with community stakeholders. The community owns the program’s outcomes in the form of an improved workforce, increased entrepreneurial activity, expanded local employment opportunities and improved retention of residents. Each program incorporates a deep connection between community, faculty and students through a combination of off-campus experiences and accessible online education.
The first three communities to participate in the program are West Central Mountains (McCall), Mountain Home and Western Treasure Valley (Payette). Community members gathered in 2019 to discuss their ideas and what resources Boise State could offer to help create a future where they would thrive.
“In addition to the Community Impact Programs, which collaborates with rural communities to develop the best programs for them, we are developing new internships and hands-on opportunities for rural students to apply their university-acquired skills and competencies in their home regions,” said Tromp.
“…we are developing new internships and hands-on opportunities for rural students to apply their university-acquired skills and competencies in their home regions.”
– Dr. Marlene Tromp, President of Boise State University
Meeting student and community needs
The program’s original intention was to create local cohorts following a program sequence for each community’s signature programs. From West Central Mountains (McCall), Western Treasure Valley (Payette) and Mountain Home, sixteen students have enrolled in the program.
Based on student feedback and interest, the program’s focus has evolved from a primary emphasis on signature programs to a broader set of certificate and degree pathways and signature support for students.
The shift to a support-focused initiative helps individuals enter and successfully navigate their degree while significantly expanding the range of certificates and degrees available to local students. Students can build customized degree plans based on their specific needs and the needs of their community. Additionally, the individualized degree options offer students more versatility in degree completion timeframes.
The community ownership approach increases access to activities critical to identifying and communicating local higher education priorities and needs. The expanded relationship with the university helps identify and leverage other activities, expertise, and assistance available from Boise State that can further improve the vitality of each partner community and region.
University leadership, faculty, academic advisors, staff and community leadership all collaborate to support program students. This team helps program participants navigate financial barriers and access other resources to aid student success.
Learning with milestones
The Community Impact Programs offer modularized learning with a certificate-first approach. A certificate can propel a student to continue their education and achieve milestones along the path to a degree.
Students access immediate, applied and experiential learning through an interdisciplinary program design related directly to the real world. Courses are primarily delivered online with select in-person classes, enabling students to develop their leadership, entrepreneurship, communication, innovation and creativity with strong connections to the community and outside experts. The combination will hopefully lead to the development of well connected, innovative problem-solvers within the communities.
“The community impact programs exceeded my expectations,” says Dr. Jeremy Graves, first-year Community Impact Programs instructor at Boise State. “The student involvement, commitment from various community members, and the impact felt during our time together was a great start to the incredible opportunities that exist between Boise State and our community partners.”
Students trailblazing their pathways
Students enrolled in the Community Impact Programs come from a variety of backgrounds. From those right out of high school, those returning to school after a gap in their education, to adult learners looking for a new path, the individualized degree programs allow participants to impact their community positively, at their own pace.
“I think this program is really awesome for people who want to live where they want and get their degree at the same time,” says Community Impact Programs student Kaylin Kwiatokowski. “It has inspired me to stay in my community. McCall is a beautiful place, and I love the people, but I wouldn’t stay there otherwise. The fact that this allows me to go to school and stay somewhere I love is really important.”
The fact that this allows me to go to school and stay somewhere I love is really important.”
-Kaylin Kwiatokowski, CIP student
Many of the participating students feel similarly about the network they’ve accessed through the Community Impact Programs.
“It was really nice to be able to work around my schedule and have the support of a full college cohort and the professionals of the program and do that from my house,” says Community Impact Programs student Levi St Clair.
For many, encouragement from Boise State President Marlene Tromp left a lasting impression.
“Dr. Tromp was on a Zoom call with my leadership class — I thought that was cool. The president of a university called just to ask questions; we listened to her, and she listened to us,” said CIP student Mandy Fulbright. “I thought that it was pretty special that she took the time to encourage us to finish our degree and work hard.”
Others felt a special connection to course instructors.
“The multidisciplinary studies class was amazing. It was the best two days I’ve spent in a long time,” said Stephen Zandes. “I learned more in two days with Dr. Jeremy Graves than I did in the six years in management classes through an employer.”
For Charlie Brizzee, it wasn’t just the online instruction, but the select in-person course instruction opportunities.
“I have to praise the staff. As a non-traditional, remote, multidisciplinary studies student, the interaction was huge for me — just to have questions and answers face-to-face and a live discussion,” said Brizzee. “That last weekend of the class, Simon Mahler was pushing everyone, saying, ‘You’ve got this, you’ve got this! Come on, you’re doing it!’ and singling us out. I’ve never had a high school teacher, any college professor, or anyone ever be that involved, ever.”
Trailblazing new pathways in higher education isn’t always easy for students. Each participant faces unique challenges, from balancing work, family obligations and financial barriers to setting up home workspaces with sufficient online access. The program’s flexibility, the ability to customize their degree path and Boise State and community support combine to help students forge new opportunities for success.
Lasting connections within the community
Beyond the impact the Community Impact Programs have had on students, other Boise State activities and partnerships benefit Idaho communities.
Local libraries in the McCall, Payette and Mountain Home communities are finding new opportunities through an expansion of the Onramp program. Initially focused on K-12 classrooms, Onramp provides high-quality Apple equipment and training using Apple’s Everyone Can Create and Everyone Can Code curriculum. The skills gained can be used by participants to provide technology-based solutions to community-identified challenges, improve employment options through coding certifications, start businesses and other valuable opportunities. This expansion of the Onramp program also offers additional training for librarians to serve as local experts to support broad community access to this valuable equipment and training.
Community Impact Programs instructors note that the program also inspires students to realize entrepreneurial aspirations.
“The real opportunities are in the efforts the students are putting together to make their ideas and dreams become a reality for the community they call home,” said Community Impact Programs instructor and Boise State adjunct professor P. Simon Mahler. “Boise State and this program specifically, provided the right tools and resources to bring the expertise and those students ideas to fruition, and the community leaders who assisted all of us are benefitting tremendously with the potential for new job creation, new revenues, and most of all, a newfound discovery of energy.”
The entrepreneurship and ingenuity demonstrated by Community Impact Programs students will help build thriving communities across Idaho. The Community Impact Programs leverage the full power of Boise State to connect communities and individuals to opportunity.
On Wednesday, December 9th at 1:00 p.m. (MST), Community Impact Programs students along with Boise State faculty (Kent Neupert and P. Simon Mahler) will present student business start-ups proposals from the fall 2020 cohort. Those interested in learning more about these local student business start-ups and the immediate influence of Boise State Community Impact Programs can email email@example.com.
Community Impact Programs are currently building fall 2021 cohorts in Mountain Home, West Central Mountains (McCall), and Western Treasure Valley (Payette). We are extending a unique opportunity for this cohort to start on their educational journey this spring. Students who commit to joining the fall 2021 cohort will be eligible to receive scholarship funding this spring and summer before the cohort starts in the Fall. This scholarship represents a 50% reduction in tuition. Interested students can set up an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Community Impact Programs and to join our team of community members supporting this effort: https://www.boisestate.edu/ruraleducation/
Story by Erin Taylor for Boise State Extended Studies