Grad Student Brings Minidoka Site to Life with Interactive Phone App

By Becca Burke

A Boise State graduate student has developed a new mobile technology that will allow visitors and tourists to experience an important piece of Idaho’s rich history. The user-friendly, interactive phone app, NPS (National Park Service) Minidoka, was developed by Mia Russell to assist visitors who are touring the national site of the Minidoka National Historical Site, located between Twin Falls and Jerome, Idaho.

“I wanted to help the typical visitor, whether a descendant of an incarcerated Japanese American, or someone who just noticed the park on their route somewhere else, to understand the complete story of life at the Minidoka incarceration center,” Russell, a graduate student in the history department, explained.

The site is where more than 9,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII, between 1942-1945. The NPS Minidoka app allows visitors to engage in a walking tour of the camp without the assistance of a National Park Service ranger.

“The app is filling a critical gap that exists at the Minidoka site, which is pretty remote and has no on-site staffing of National Park Service employees,” Russell said. “The park won’t have a visitor center and a permanent ranger presence until 2018 or 2019, so visitors are really left on their own to tour the area unless they are part of a planned tour group.”

Russell is pursuing her master’s degree in applied historical research and developed the project as part of her master’s thesis. Her goal is to use new technology to give tourists and park visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in the history of the camp.

But the project has led to a surprising and significant influence over her life – including leading park tours, giving public lectures on incarceration and a recently accepted position as the first executive director of Friends of Minidoka, a position she begins this month.

“What started as a research interest has led to the development of an almost three-year relationship with the Minidoka National Historic Site. I am on the planning committee for the annual Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium, co-founded by the late Dr. Sims, professor emeritus at Boise State,” Russell added.

Russell’s app is currently available for free, through the Apple store for use with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. Android functionality is slated for future development.