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College of Business and Economics capstone project helps strengthen a vital resource for Idahoans in crisis

2 people standing in front of mural reading Keep your future alive
As part of an advertising campaign supported by local businesses and artists who donated their talents, the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline commissioned murals throughout downtown Boise. The murals, like this one painted by artist and Boise State alum Bobby Gaytan (BFA, graphic design, 2001) on the wall of the Hitchcock Building in downtown Boise, share hopeful messages and hotline contact information. Lee Flinn (left) and Angie Elliot. PHOTO BY JOHN KELLY

Americans are used to dialing 911 for emergencies. Thanks to the new National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, they will be able to dial 988 to reach a suicide prevention hotline beginning on July 16, 2022. This resource is crucial in Idaho, a state that ranked fifth in the nation for suicide deaths in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Local calls will continue to go to the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. The nonprofit organization has provided free, confidential mental health crisis intervention for Idahoans since 2012. Hotline Director Lee Flinn, a graduate of Boise State’s Executive MBA program, is planning for a steep increase in calls once 988 is up and running.

“We are building capacity in a way we’ve never done before,” Flinn said.

To meet the challenge, Flinn partnered with students from Boise State University’s College of Business and Economics. A team of four Executive MBA students worked with the nonprofit as a part of their capstone project, a requirement to complete their degrees.

Serving Idahoans

The Boise State team got to work early in 2021.

“We first helped the organization say ‘Okay, how big is the problem?’” said Angie Elliot, an Executive MBA graduate (2021) from Meridian and the team lead.

The students projected that the hotline’s call volume will triple in 2022. They spent five months analyzing the hotline’s operations, comparing its financial situation to other suicide prevention hotlines, and seeking new funding opportunities.

The team’s innovative ideas included “call-back” contracts. Following the team’s direction, the hotline began contracting with several local mental health providers to call recently discharged mental health patients for check-ins. The practice saves providers’ time, creates a new stream of revenue for the hotline, and provides another point of connection for patients.

The Boise State team, Flinn said, had a powerful impact on the hotline and the community it serves.

“Through the capstone project, the Boise State Executive MBA program is helping us better serve people from every Idaho county. The business of the hotline is to support Idahoans who are in crisis or feeling suicidal. Strengthening business processes is more than operational improvements – the real impact is in people’s lives.”

At the end of 2021, the hotline featured the Boise State team in its annual report, crediting it with the development of a new strategic growth plan.

Capstones, a benefit for all

Capstone projects in the College of Business and Economics “provide organizational leaders with an outside perspective on their strategic questions from smart Executive MBA students and provide students with the opportunity to wrestle with an important problem that is outside their normal business fields,” said Nancy Napier, a Distinguished Professor Emerita at Boise State who coaches students in the Executive MBA program.

Students partner with organizations at no cost to the organizations.

“Having a real-world problem to work on makes it more than an assignment. It makes it messy,” Elliot said. “The problems you’re going to face in the real world are messy.”

The benefits of the program have also extended beyond the classroom for Flinn.

“The connections I made during my time in the program were instrumental in the partnership between Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline and Boise State University,” she said.

Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline Video

Closed captions available and video transcript is posted after the video.

Video Transcript

(hopeful, inspiring music) (birdsong and city traffic)

[Lee Flinn, Direction Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline and Executive MBA Alum, Boise State] This summer, exactly on July 16th, 988 is going to go live nationwide as the universal mental health and suicide prevention crisis number.

[Flinn] And so what that means is that the way that people have been reaching us in the past is going to be replaced with the three digit number, 988. We’re really excited about that because 988 was intended to be the mental health equivalent of 911, and just make it really so much easier for people in any kind of emotional distress to know that they can call somebody and know who to call.

[Flinn] We feel so fortunate to have been able to work with the Executive MBA team through Boise State University. When we got paired with a team. It was just such a blessing to be able to work with a team of four people during this critical point in our organizational history. And what it meant for us is it meant that early on we were able to work with a team of really smart, really engaged business students, business professionals that brought all of their professional experience to the table In helping us figure out how to move forward as effectively as possible.

[Angie Elliot, Senior Program Manager Amazon, Executive MBA Alum, Boise State] The most rewarding is what we were able to do with the hotline and continuing their service for our community. They really are very central to what Boise needs and so…and Idaho, not just Boise. They really had to shift their model of how they thought about things to a more businesslike. And I know that’s hard when you’re talking about suicide because it’s very, very personal. But the idea of that is that you treat it like a business so that you are there to help more people. So, you know, by doing it as a more business minded, you get more of the output that you wanted in the first place of being able to help the most people possible.

[Flinn] We always want to acknowledge all of the the support that we’ve gotten, not only from individuals, but from organizations and businesses that we partner with. And as we make this really historic transition to 988, we just want to acknowledge all of the partners that helped us get to this point.

Alum Angie Elliot

Angie Elliot had a long career at Hewlett-Packard and wanted to expand her business skills beyond what she had learned and experienced in the workplace. Several of her colleagues had completed Boise State’s Executive MBA program and had spoken highly of it.

“I knew it would give me more exposure to business models beyond just high tech and would also grow my professional network within the Boise community. All of which I put high value on,” Elliot said. “I’ve learned over my career that my professional network is just as important as my professional experience.”

Before graduating from the Boise State program in 2021, Elliot transitioned to a senior program management position at Amazon in Seattle, working remotely from Boise. Within a year, she became a manager of program managers in the Amazon Devices Beta organization.

“The Boise State program accelerated my career and I look forward to continuing to move up within the management team at Amazon,” she said.

Mental health and Boise State

The students’ work with the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline aligns with a larger mission at the university.

In 2021, Associate Dean of Students Lauren Oe received a three-year, $304,000 grant to build a comprehensive campus suicide prevention program at Boise State. The grant is funded through the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act within the National Center for Mental Health Services. It will help Boise State support expanded wellness promotion including making it easier for students to seek help. The grant will support training for the campus community about suicide warning signs and ways to help a student in crisis.

BroncoBOLD, launched in 2019, focuses on the unique mental health needs of student-athletes. Led by Athletics’ Director of Athletic Performance and Psychology Stephanie Donaldson, it focuses on reducing stigma, raising awareness and helping students cultivate resilience.

Do you or someone you know need help?

The Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline provides 24/7 free and confidential suicide and behavioral health crisis intervention. Call or text the hotline at (208) 398-4357. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.

Boise State University Health Services (Norco Building, 2nd floor) offers walk-in crisis counseling for members of the Boise State community. Or call Counseling Services at (208) 426-1459.