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Hometown Challenge: Accepted

student sits inside steel B on Boise State campus
Biomedical engineering doctoral student Mone’t Alberts

Most people equate summer break with camping trips, lazy days floating the Boise River and plentiful opportunities to sleep late. But it is not in the nature of a Bronco to be still, even in the midst of a global pandemic. That’s why Boise State launched Hometown Challenge Scholarships this summer, and empowered more than 30 Broncos to bring their passion and community-spirit back to their hometowns in a big way.

Hometown Challenge Scholarships of $1,000 were awarded to select students to address a specific issue in their local communities. Made possible by the Career Services Student Employability Fund, these scholarships were just the support students had been looking for to initiate projects near and dear to their hearts.

Spanning from the Treasure Valley to Oregon, Washington to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Nepal, Broncos around the world devoted 80 hours each to research an issue in their community, meet with stakeholders, and develop and implement solutions.

Mone’t Alberts, Biomedical engineering PhD, Boise: Making STEM more accessible to minority students

Doctoral student Mone’t Alberts is increasing the visibility of STEM opportunities by building a comprehensive online web-based platform of resources that will provide Boise-area high school and college minority students with the tools and information that could prove pivotal to their educational and professional success.

As a native Idahoan, Alberts understands acutely the disparate opportunities and education made available to minority students, and felt that the Hometown Challenge scholarship was the perfect vehicle to do this valuable work.

“I think it’s just really important, especially in Idaho, because we don’t have a very diverse population, so no-one really thinks about creating a space for minority students. Growing up, I was one of, like, four Black kids that went to my school.”

As a first-generation minority student, Alberts’ experience entering higher education involved an immense amount of fortitude and exploration, as she had not received any preparation on how to navigate the college application process, or where to find funding, or even what specific degrees and fields were available.

Student wearing graduation regalia stands on bridge holding sign
Mone’t Alberts on the Friendship Bridge

“When I started college, I started in psychology and criminal justice,” said Alberts. “I didn’t even know that there were different types of engineering when I started college. I thought ‘there’s only engineers that build stuff, and that’s not really what I want to do.’ I didn’t know that biomedical engineering was a thing, and something that I’m really interested in and I’m getting my PhD in.”

To learn more about Albert’s work, visit:

Aaron Carignan, Environmental studies, Idaho City: Building an aquaponics education center

Aaron sitting in woodlands
Aaron Carignan

Senior Aaron Carignan’s award-winning proposal is to build an aquaponics education center in Idaho. Aquaponics is an integrated food production system in which plants are grown directly in water with fish. This symbiotic arrangement produces far less waste than conventional growing methods, and offers immense opportunities for food producers in Idaho, where water is limited.

Carignan envisions the center as “a community garden where people could come and participate in gardening with aquaponics, so that they could learn a little bit more about sustainability as well as some of the business and economics of aquaponics, and why it works, some of the hurdles you have to overcome. And that way, it isn’t just secluded to farmers. People of all sorts could get involved with it.”

To do this, Carignan is visiting dozens of Idaho farmers and proponents of sustainable agriculture over the summer, such as the Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS), Global Gardens and New Choices Farm. In meeting with these communities of growers and doers, Carignan hopes to learn from their experiences, needs and concerns about aquaponics, as well as find ways “to show people that there’s a sustainable way to harvest in Idaho, and there is a way to support local farmers that use sustainable practices,” he said.

large vegetable gardening operation
Photo of Global Gardens farming, by Aaron Carignan

“In the beginning, I thought ‘local farmers are going to benefit from this’ because it’s going to be more or less a proof of concept that something like this works,” said Carignan. “But the stakeholders keep growing. The city of Boise, Ada County – as they struggle to deal with water shortages and more variance in the water availability, it’s really going to be important to kind of navigate water scarcity, and aquaponics is a great way to do that.”

To learn more about Carignan’s project, visit:

Hanna Suman, Biology and Medical studies, Boise: Creating an oral histories project for Bosnians

During the three-year Bosnian War, an estimated two million people were displaced by violence and genocide. According to the Idaho Office for Refugees, over half of refugees resettled in Idaho during the ’90s were originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Boise State senior Hanna Suman and her parents resettled in Boise when she was only six months old.

Hanna siting in garden
Hanna Suman

With the help of a Hometown Challenge Scholarship, Suman is determined to offer Bosnian refugees and diaspora in Boise the space and opportunity to speak, remember, heal and celebrate their heritage and resilience.

“There isn’t a safe place for us to talk freely about our memories, our experiences, what our Bosnian heritage means to us,” said Suman. “And I really want to be able to provide that space.”

Through the creation of an oral histories project, Suman is helping Bosnians find relief in speaking about their lives. Suman visits participants at their homes and conducts interviews, inviting them to speak not only about their experiences during the Bosnian war, but also about their childhoods, families, loved ones, resettlement and the lives they have created for themselves in Boise. She is currently in conversation with Albertsons Library to develop a collection in the university archives.

“I know that it’s very heartbreaking for some people to talk about it. But at the same time it can be very cathartic and healing, and a lot of people like my mom look back and she’s like, ‘If the things didn’t happen the way that they [did], then we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t have our family, we wouldn’t own our home’,” said Suman.

To learn more about Suman’s work, visit:

Cheyon Sheen, Civil Engineering, Twin Falls: Cleaning the air around daycares

Headshot of Cheyon Sheen

Sufferers of asthma, emphysema and bronchitis are only a few of the population who are acutely aware of poor air quality, and a big player in air pollution are idling vehicles. Oftentimes, idling cars are in the worst possible places, such as the waiting zones of schools, day-cares and nursing homes.

Sophomore Cheyon Sheen plans to change that for residents of her hometown in Twin Falls with the Hometown Challenge Scholarship.

“Vehicle idling is when one unnecessarily leaves their engine on. In order to combat negative health and environmental impacts from idling, my project is to inform the people of Twin Falls to stop idling and also enroll schools/daycares into the Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Air Zone Program,” says Sheen, who is also minoring in environmental studies.

The Clean Air Zones program involves creating non-idling zones in parking lots, placing ‘no idling’ signs, and offers myriad guidance and educational resources on how to avoid creating air pollution.

To battle this problem in Twin Falls, Sheen will be reaching out to the 25 active daycares, and hopes to help at least ten enroll in the Clean Air Zone Program and create zones at each campus. Following enrollment, Sheen intends to keep in touch with these daycares and learn from their processes and experiences.

“I believe that clean air is vital for sustainable living. Although the people of Twin Falls are fortunate to wake up every morning with a breath of fresh air, that doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to air pollution. If we continue to leave our engines on, then we will be contributing to devastating consequences in the near future,” said Sheen.

To learn more about Sheen’s project, visit:

History Sparks New Innovation

The concept for the Hometown Challenge was sparked by a similar internship program offered through Boise State’s history department, and was made possible through the dedication of Career Services staff and with support from Leslie Webb, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management.

“I kept thinking about this idea and how, given that so many students were finding themselves in unexpected circumstances with lost internship or job opportunities, we could provide an opportunity for students to move their education forward, develop skills, and build their network all while positively impacting their community,” said Debbie Kaylor, director of Boise State Career Services.

Career Services associate director of Experiential Learning, Nick van Santen was especially eager to develop this opportunity for students to be able to gain experience making a real and positive impact on their communities. The Hometown Challenge also encouraged students to be vulnerable, discover their passions, and to use their education in innovative ways with the guidance and financial support of their university.

“Experiential learning is more than just professional development: it’s personal development, it’s social development, it’s human development. I’m asking students to think more critically about themselves and about the world that they live in, and how those two things intersect or connect with each other,” said van Santen.

“When I look across all of these creative projects that span agriculture, media, health care, arts/entertainment/recreation, and engineering/technology and see the communities that benefited from right here in the Treasure Valley to rural Idaho and regional towns and cities… not to mention international locations… it gives me hope for our future!” said Kaylor. “These students who are so passionate about their ideas and willing to give of themselves to make life better for others are changing their communities and our world for the better.”

To donate to the Student Employability Fund and support these efforts, please visit

Hometown Challenge Award-Winners

  • Aaron Carignan, Idaho City, ID, Environmental Studies BA, Senior
  • Adriana Archila, Rexburg, ID, Global Studies BA, Political Science BS, Junior
  • Amir Abbas Kazemzadeh Farizhandi, Mehrshahr, Karaj, Computing PhD, Grad student
  • Bibiana Ortiz, Boise, ID, Ethnic Studies, Sociology BS, Senior
  • Caleb Cram, Boise, ID, Games Interactive Media Mobile, Senior
  • Cheyon Sheen, Twin Falls, ID, Civil Engineering, Sophomore
  • Claire Conner, Corvallis, OR, Dual Special Education, Early, Senior
  • Cortney Campbell, Twin Falls, ID, Management BBA, Senior
  • Dayana Popoca, Mountain Home, ID, Health Studies BS, Senior
  • Edson Valdisimo, Saipan, MP, Communication BA, Junior
  • Emily Arnold, Sparks, NV, Music BA, Senior
  • Hanna Suman, Boise, ID, Biology BS, Senior
  • Isabella Birnie, Jerome, ID, Public Health, Senior
  • Jessica Carlson, Duvall, WA, Mechanical Engineering BS, Senior
  • Joanie Paraiso, Saipan, MP, Media Arts BA, Sophomore
  • Julie Ramirez, Caldwell, ID, Biology BS, Senior
  • Kayla Jagger, Meridian, ID, Pre-Criminal Justice, Junior
  • Kayla Magana, Rupert, ID, Biology BS, Junior
  • Kevin Ortiz Hernandez, Eagle, ID, Marketing BBA, Senior
  • Kris Aanes, Salem, OR, Bach of Applied Science-Online, Junior
  • Leeana Snell, Meridian, ID, Pre-Criminal Justice, Sophomore
  • Madison Fitch, Roseville, CA, Communication BA, Sophomore
  • Maggi Szeles, Boise, ID, Environmental Studies BA, Political Science BS, Junior
  • Megan Hill, San Juan Capistrano, CA, Environmental Studies BA, Junior
  • Monet Alberts, Meridian, ID, Materials Science & Engr BS, Grad student
  • Paulina Baeza, Meridian, ID, Entrepreneurship Mgmt BBA, Junior
  • Rezvan Joshaghani, Boise, ID, Computing PhD, Grad student
  • Rosie Hanna, Boise, ID, Social Work BA, Senior
  • Ryan Olson, Napa, CA, Pre-Mechanical Engineering, Sophomore
  • Taylor Gee, Rupert, ID, Multidisciplinary BA-Online, Senior
  • Vanessa Clayton, Kuna, ID, Nursing BS, Senior
  • Vi Luong, Hanoi, Vietnam, Business Administration BBA, Senior
  • Wacey Williams, Glenns Ferry, ID, Psychology BS, Junior