College of Health Sciences celebrates long-time and retiring faculty members who represent big Bronco – and health care – history
If you were to place years of teaching consecutively, end to end, for four long-established College of Health Sciences faculty members, their experience would exceed all of Boise State’s history by nearly a half-century.
It’s a thought that bemuses some of them; they’ve been so busy helping students, they’ve not necessarily paused to consider what their experience represents.
Together, Jody Lester, Jeff Anderson, Pam Gehrke and Ken Bell will have taught at Boise State for 136 years by the time the current academic year concludes. Boise State, by comparison, is 90 years old, starting in 1932 as the Episcopal Church’s Boise Junior College before becoming Boise College, then Boise State College and now Boise State University.
So while all of them have hopped aboard during the Boise State part of the adventure, and some aren’t quite ready to hop off – they’ll teach part time, or online, or otherwise keep their fingers on the pulse – all epitomize the long-time university motto: splendor sine occasu.
Not up on your Latin? That’s “splendor without diminishment.” Below, you’ll find the facts about the four, all shining just as splendidly as ever as their last full year winds down.
Associate Professor, Department of Respiratory Care
Lester is an associate professor in the Department of Respiratory Care degree advancement program.
She’s the true long-timer, starting in April of 1982 as a special lecturer. At that time 40 years ago, she was also a staff respiratory therapist at Saint Alphonsus; Saint Alphonsus was as young as Lester was, with just the one hospital on Curtis Road, far from the health system it is today.
She was in her early 20s and a newly minted respiratory therapist at that time, and working as she finished her associate’s degree; again, we see the evolution of the field as it has played out during her career. She did not have her bachelor’s at the time, which was not unusual at that time.
She recalls a very different workplace culture than current students and practitioners are likely to experience, one in which “doctor knows best” was the prevailing mentality and the collaborative team approach was a ways out – but the day was coming.
“Physicians were seen as having the most knowledge,” she recalled. “I think that was one of the things I was able to see happen.”
Different care settings also had different cultures. Lester recalls the much-loved Dr. David Merrick, the pulmonologist and educator who was awarded the Boise State University 2021 Silver Medallion Award, recognizing people who make outstanding contributions to higher education and Boise State University, being among those who saw the value of the team approach.
“There was a lot more than one person could know in their head,” she said, going on to note that the patient’s role also has evolved. It is now understood that, Lester said, “Patients, if given the right resources, can become advocates for their own health and health care.”
Lester had always meant to emphasize teaching over her own work in the field, but juggled both until about 2015. She’s seen the department grow and expand, and she has seen the students change as well, often in response to economic conditions such as severe recessions and the closure of the region’s lumber mills.
“At least in respiratory care, we would see an older student population, coming back from a previous career. People would come looking for another profession,” she said. “Now we’re seeing a younger population that knows what a respiratory therapist is and has chosen that as their profession.
“I’ve seen us go from full-time students to, because of the expense of education, a lot of them are working,” she said. “I stand in awe of what they do.”
The education has evolved, the field has evolved and the students have changed. What hasn’t changed is her commitment to the students and her appreciation of the program at Boise State, her colleagues and her role as a teacher.
“We are growing people who are truly going to impact student lives and patients’ lives,” she said, growing teary at the thought of a chapter closing. “I love the Department of Respiratory Care … It is such a fun place to be …
“I think one of the best things I can do is let a new educator come in. I’m just so impressed with them … They’ll have the chance to do what I’ve been doing.
“There’s no better feeling than to say, ‘I’m passing the baton to you,’ as we grow these new respiratory therapists and respiratory care educators.”
Associate Professor, Department of Respiratory Care
Anderson is an associate professor and former clinical director of the Department of Respiratory Care. After 36 years this summer, he plans to stay connected by teaching online part time.
He recalls meaningful landmarks within the college, the department and the field, such as when former Boise State President Bob Kustra eliminated the associate’s degree and all of the growth associated with online technology and the teaching opportunities technology has opened up. The respiratory care profession has also emphasized the need to have the bachelor’s degree as entry to practice.
The result of these combined decisions and trends, Anderson notes, is that there are now about 450 students all over the world in the degree advancement program to move from the associate degree to a bachelor’s. There is also now a master’s degree pathway.
“Our department has grown dramatically,” he said. “This department has just gone gangbusters.”
When he started, there were only four instructors teaching in the respiratory care program; there are now four in the face-to-face program alone, along with adjunct instructors and a program director, and other primary faculty members for the master’s program.
Anderson has praise for all the teachers, for reasons that become clear as he speaks.
“We have really good full-time and adjunct faculty,” he said, going on to describe a very special cycle, in which current instructors mentor students who then go on to become proficient in the field and return as instructors.
“I really do think, specifically in our face-to-face program, our relationships with students have not changed,” Anderson said, noting how many of his students stay in touch and go on to teach and mentor the next generation of students. “It’s all rewarding.
“I think one of the things these relationships do is come back to us as payoff.”
This very special network now includes contacts and employment in and at Seattle, Denver, Boston, the University of Virginia and Duke University. For leadership opportunities and growth in the field of respiratory care education, he has only to point to current College of Health Sciences Assistant Dean Lutana Haan. Several graduates are also in leadership positions with Norco Medical.
“Our graduates have helped us develop those relationships,” Anderson said.
It’s clear that Anderson is not really retiring. He’s got a project in the works with a publishing company for an online, case-based medical terminology product. He is seriously weighing the feasibility of developing instructional materials for use in other countries – and given the evolution of the field and preparedness education in the United States, evolution he has been in on, he knows how valuable this would be.
“I’ve got a couple of projects that will keep me off the river and fly fishing,” Anderson said.
His wife, a retired nurse, also has plans for him.
“She wants to do things, believe it or not,” he said.
There’s been a lot to like about his career, Anderson observed. Of all the elements, what’s been best?
“It’s definitely been teaching,” he said, going on to talk about his experiences with students in intensive care units, where he has been able to connect theory with practice. “Honestly, that’s when the lights come on for students.
“I couldn’t have had a more wonderful time teaching anywhere else,” he said.
“It’s time to give somebody else a chance.”
Associate Professor and Director of Doctor of Nursing Practice and Leadership Program, School of Nursing
Gehrke, a 35-year veteran, is associate professor and director of the doctorate of nursing practice and leadership program in the School of Nursing – she actually spent a brief period of time with Boise State earlier in the 1980s, but doesn’t count that as part of her unbroken streak.
An Idaho native from the rural northern part of the state, she started her career in Oregon and returned to her home state to practice public health, school nursing and home health. Public health is where her heart has always been – that, and staying close to the field.
“We always have to keep such close connections to what’s happening in clinical practice,” she said.
Early on, she saw the impact to be made in teaching, particularly in areas of policy.
“I love nursing education. I always wanted to be an educator,” she said, noting that she has continued to build on the policy course for the nursing program that she has taught since the 1990s.
She remembers the college’s early days, in a small building in the parking lot at the opposite side of campus, light years from its current, sleek quarters in the Norco Building.
“Virtually everything’s changed,” she said. “The college has grown and grown.”
That said, “College folks still try to reach out to each other. As the college has grown, as we’ve added more departments, as we have more spaces distributed across campus, it’s a challenge.
“It was much easier to gather the entire college in one smallish size room, and the school of nursing easily made up more than half the college.”
As with other programs, technology has vaulted education forward, Gehrke noted. For nursing instruction, everything about teaching and learning is different; in 1998, Gehrke designed and taught the first online course in the college.
The college was among the first on campus to make labs multidisciplinary; over the years, the emphasis increasingly has been placed on gaining clinical experience. Gehrke’s students have been placed in public health departments and home health and community-based settings. In the 90s, she also started placing students in faith-based settings. And because there were fewer students, and fewer programs seeking placement opportunities, flowing students out of the classroom and into clinical settings was less complicated.
Some elements, however, have remained steadfast.
“Educators need to question why we teach as we teach, and put students’ learning first,” she said. “Our nursing programs have always been good because of the caliber of the faculty that we have.
“I think, consistently over time, the faculty in the College of Health Sciences has continued to care about the relationships they’ve built with students in the disciplines of health. People continue to build that in as part of their course, and to make learning personal and meaningful in preparing future health professionals.”
Clinical Professor and Program Coordinator of K-12 Health and Physical Education Program, Department of Kinesiology
Bell has served as program coordinator for K-12 health and physical education for Boise State’s Department of Kinesiology. He will retire after 25 years.
He came to Boise State after having been a teacher in Central California public schools and a consultant throughout the country. After he earned his PhD at Virginia Tech, he started looking for teacher education positions. Boise State was his first offer. He never left.
“I was looking for a place where I could make an impact,” he said. “I wanted to make a difference in the field.”
He has done that, and then some. He could see how poorly prepared teachers were to teach quality health and physical education, and that Boise State seemed to value the quality of teaching in the college classroom. He always wanted to develop teachers and he has been doing that ever since, cultivating a not-so-small army of like-minded professionals across the region – and much, much further out than that. The Bronco army is in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, England, the Czech Republic and all 50 of the United States, teaching in a variety of settings.
“I just love working with teachers,” he said. “I’ve been able to make an impact … all over the world, but a bit of an impact here in Idaho.
“I wanted quality teachers to stay in the gymnasium.”
The program, formerly housed within the College of Education, moved over to the College of Health Sciences about six years ago. It has been small, with about 10 graduates a year.
“We had done that by design … because we wanted to make sure we had quality field experience for our students,” he said, going on to describe the results: “100 percent of our students get jobs.”
Those teachers, then, become mentors to the incoming class.
“It’s created a very nice environment for our students,” Bell said. “It’s a seamless process for them.”
He believes that he has helped to develop hundreds of teachers, possibly 600 to 800, over his Boise State career, and notes that most local physical education teachers are the product of the Boise State program. They are sought before they graduate.
“We run out,” Bell said. “I get calls all summer long.
“It seems to be the number 1 choice is our students. I’m pretty proud of that,” he said. “It is a really high-quality program. Our students are just thrilled with it.”
In “retirement,” Bell intends to teach a couple of classes and to supervise a few student teachers. He has multiple hobbies, his wife runs a very popular not-for-profit organization that involves numerous miniature horses and significant acreage – “I’ve got lots of chores to do there” – and there are always his students, who have over the years become fishing buddies, colleagues and community leaders.
“The relationships with students have been the most valuable thing, to keep these relationships with these students for so many years,” he said. “The mentoring of these young people … a lot of them have gone on to become school principals …
“And they’ve all done well. And to see them thrive …” Bell said. “I really enjoy the students. That’s what’s driven me.