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Community Impact Program: Meeting students where they are

In the fall of 2019, Boise State President Marlene Tromp set a challenge for the university: Find new ways to serve rural Idaho.

“Idaho, as most states, has a significant rural population. Ensuring that all of Idaho’s residents, regardless of where they live, have access to the transformative opportunities offered by higher education is a high priority to me and to Boise State,” Tromp said.

In response, Boise State’s Division of Extended Studies created the Community Impact Program. It allows students to stay in their hometowns while attending Boise State. It operates in three regions: McCall and the West Central Mountains, Mountain Home and Elmore County, and Payette and the Western Treasure Valley.

In the 12-credit program, students earn a certificate through a combination of online courses and workshops taught by Boise State faculty in libraries and city buildings in their hometowns Boise State designed every aspect of the program with input from community members.

“Most importantly, we didn’t prescribe what would happen,” said Peter Risse, associate dean of Extended Studies. “We led broad conversations about higher education in peoples’ hometowns. And we’re committed to delivering on our promise, staying engaged, and adapting to needs as well as opportunities.”

Coursework teaches skills like leadership, collaboration, business communication, entrepreneurship, and solving community challenges.

“We’re going to these communities and telling students, ‘why not start with a certificate and see what happens?’” said Rebecca Morgan, associate director for outreach in Extended Studies. “This is a way to wade into those college waters.”

The program offers participants a 50% reduction in tuition for up to 30 credits during the year.
No matter the path students decide to pursue — more college, a paycheck, or both — the program will leave them with a sense of civic engagement, more connections with others in their communities, and workplace skills.

“In rural communities you must link educational opportunities to economic opportunities. If you don’t, there’s a missing component,” Risse said.

drone photo of Mountain Home community
Mountain Home, ID. Photo by Matt Crook

Earning local buy-in

Robin Gilbert, superintendent of the Payette School District, described her district as “tight-knit.”

“A lot of our teachers graduated from Payette High School. They graduate here, and they stay here,” Gilbert said. This mindset is a perfect fit for the program, she added.

Julie Davis, executive director of the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce, was among the city leaders who met with Boise State during the program’s planning phase.

“In rural Idaho, you don’t get as much attention as metro areas. The fact that Boise State is taking time, effort and funds to offer a program like this means we are getting resources we might not have had,” Davis said.

Because of the success of the program’s first year, the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce looks forward to partnering with Boise State on additional internships and leadership programs.

“And if one of these programs inspires a student to create a new business in Mountain Home, or advance in their workplace, that, for us, is a win-win,” Davis said.

As much as the Community Impact Program is helping students and communities, it’s helped Boise State. Since the program began in the fall of 2020, college enrollment in the communities that host it has increased by up to 28% — from students outside the program — at a time when the rest of the state saw declines in college attendance from rural communities.

“This tells us that when Boise State shows up, it makes a difference,” Tromp said.

Boise State intends to grow the program in its three current hubs, expand in coming years to three additional communities, and eventually to as many as 15 throughout the state.

Mandy Fulbright with sons Nick, 17, Chase, 13, and dog Tripp. Fulbright’s oldest son Jackson, 18 recently left for the Navy. The family chose Mountain Home on a lark as a place to relocate from North Carolina. Photo by Priscilla Grover

Making Connections in Mountain Home

A single mother of three boys, Mandy Fulbright works for the Department of Education in Boise where she finds pathways for non-traditionally certified teachers to teach in Idaho. Fulbright enrolled in the Community Impact Program on the way to finishing her bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies and a credential of readiness through Boise State’s Harvard Business School Online. The program saved her another commute to Boise and, thanks to its scholarship program, tuition.

“Being a single mom, every dollar goes to making sure everything is paid for,” Fulbright said.

She appreciates that “Boise State brought the Community Impact Program to us.” The most valuable thing she’s taken from the program, she said, is a better understanding of emotional intelligence.

“When you’re in a community with diverse individuals, you have to learn about yourself, how you react to different personalities, how you work with other people. I have taken that out into the real world.”

One of her final class projects was organizing a public event with her fellow students to promote local businesses.

“This could have been an assignment that only lived in theory,” Fulbright said, “but we had so much passion, so many ideas, that we decided to make it a reality.”

“The Community Impact Program is not about Boise State. It’s about the people out here. Even when COVID was shutting everything down and the university was experiencing cutbacks, you could feel the protection around the program. The scholarships continued. You knew the program and President Tromp were going to keep their momentum. I thought, there’s a big heart there.” 

– Robin Gilbert, Payette School District superintendent

Charlie Brizzee is part of a Bronco family. His son, Cameron Brizzee, graduated with an MBA in 2014. His daughter, Alexis Brizzee, graduated with her undergraduate degree and teaching certificate the same year. He is pictured with his dogs Ike and Q. Photo by John Kelly

Fine Spirits in Payette

Charlie Brizzee used the Community Impact Program as a bridge back to college to finish a degree in multidisciplinary studies. He works full-time as a quality and patient safety manager at St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, Oregon.

Brizzee is studying towards a certificate in Applied Leadership through the School of Public Service and pursuing a dream born in the Community Impact Program’s entrepreneurial skills class – opening his own distillery in Payette. He’s in the permit and licensing phase of the project.

“I’m not out to make a million dollars,” said Brizzee, who grew up on a 180-cow farm in Ririe, Idaho and spent decades across the West working in construction, carpentry and respiratory therapy. “My long-range plan is to get something together that’s working, functional and profitable.”

He wants that profit to extend to the Payette area. Brizzee will use local ingredients to craft his spirits and hire from the local community.

Brizzee’s classwork included helping to create an outreach program in which he and his fellow students will meet with high school students in communities including Payette, New Plymouth, and Weiser to share the benefits of the Community Impact Program, especially for students who don’t want to leave home.

“Our end goal is to get them to stay in their communities, but learn how to contribute,” Brizzee said.