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Community Comes First


The history books, social media feeds, and census will undoubtedly chronicle 2020 as one of the most difficult years in modern memory. Yet in the midst of this darkness, hundreds of tiny flames burned brightly in the Boise State University community. When combined, their warmth, light and generosity of spirit illuminated a path towards healing and resiliency for our campus, city, state and world.

As follows are stories highlighting just a few of the ways in which Boise State University administration, faculty and students rose to the challenge to serve the community we love and value.

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Modeling the spread of COVID-19

When the call came in mid-March from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to assemble a COVID-19 modeling task force, Boise State faculty and students quickly rose to challenge. Coordinated by Holly Wichman, a University of Idaho distinguished professor and director of the Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation, a task force of about 50 researchers came together from multiple universities and the Idaho Department of Healthand Welfare.

Over the course of four days, task force experts came together via Zoom and tackled the multiple aspects needed to create models of the pandemic’s spread. The team was then able to provide models that empowered government and health officials to put in place measures to guide the stages of Idaho’s rebound safely and efficiently. Read about the seven Boise State task force members who helped model the pandemic.

Preparing Idaho Educators for the Virtual Classroom

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boise State education technology professor Dr. Brett Shelton had the idea to offer a free Intro to Online Teaching course over the summer to local kindergarten through 12th grade teachers to help them improve their online teaching skills.

With the help of colleagues Dr. Patrick Lowenthal, an associate professor of education technology, and Dr. Mary Ann Parlin, 367 teachers were able to enroll in the summer 2020 Intro to Online Teaching class, housed in the College of Education with support from Extended Studies. Shelton estimated that 33,000-57,000 local students reaped the benefits of having capable and confident teachers guiding their online education in the fall semester.

Providing Respiratory Care Support for Local Hospitals

Boise State faculty in the Department of Respiratory Care acted fast to prepare non-intensive care unit (ICU) clinicians across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic by developing a variety of educational materials such as video tutorials, instructions and documents to equip Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists with the tools to assist with ventilator management and care for COVID-19 patients.

Additionally, the department shared 14 state-of-the-art ventilators and other equipment with local hospitals to combat shortages.

Making masks for Boise’s vulnerable communities

As COVID-19 began to surge across the country in early 2020, associate professor and director of Theatre Arts and Costume Design Darrin Pufall-Purdy sprang into action and put his talents to use in order to protect Idaho’s vulnerable elderly community. With his husband, son and Boise State costume shop manager Grace Slaughter, the small but mighty team sewed more than 1,500 cloth masks for local assisted living centers to protect the elderly and vulnerable from the virus.

3D-printing protective equipment

It didn’t take long in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis before associate professor and head of Emerging Technologies and Experiential Learning at Albertsons Library, Amy Vecchione, started hearing from students, staff and faculty who wanted to help the community. In coordination with the College of Engineering and at the behest of Boise State president Dr. Marlene Tromp, Vecchione coordinated a network of local 3D printing students and organizations to create hundreds of face shields for local hospital staff. The Boise State community also has deep roots at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, and provided 200 face shields for health care workers and park rangers.

Donating Personal Protective Equipment

In order to keep Idaho health care professionals safer, university members worked to collect and contribute personal protective equipment (PPE) including chemicals, masks, respirators, protective eyewear, single use lab coats, sterile swabs, gloves and more from labs and departments across the colleges. These materials were then delivered to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, as well as local health care providers such as Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.

Empowering Idaho Businesses

The College of Business and Economics created Bronco Corps, a program designed to help students who had lost internship opportunities due to COVID find work with Idaho’s small businesses and nonprofits. This program made it possible for small businesses to recruit students for their positions of greatest need at no cost. Boise State paid the interns with donated funds. Through this program, small businesses found relief, and students gained paid experience and opportunities to make a difference in the local community.

Feeding Idaho childrens’ bellies and minds

Idaho parents, teachers and students had to adapt quickly to remote learning after schools closed abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond the logistics of educating kids at home, remote learning in rural Idaho posed unique challenges for districts, including getting meals to hungry students who relied on food prepared and served at school.

Brandee Sabala, a student in the Education Specialist in Executive Educational Leadership (EdS) program and current principal at Gooding Elementary, used her experience in the program to collaborate with the district nutrition director and middle and high school principals to devise a strategy to deliver meals to students who were by then spread out over a large geographic area.

Teachers and bilingual staff reached out to student families personally and on social media to determine their meal needs, then administrators and bus drivers determined routes and stops where volunteers could deliver meals for easiest access. With the help of grant funding and donations from local grocers and civic organizations, staff and volunteers prepared and bagged up to 1,200 meals per day, providing both breakfast and lunch for each child who was picked up at stops on 11 bus routes. The meals also were available at two additional sites in Gooding, and schools began offering curbside pickup that lasted through June.