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The Friday Letter

The Friday Letter is U of I’s long-running, weekly message straight from the president to members of the Vandal Family. Each week during the academic year, with breaks for holidays, the president offers an update on Vandal teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and notable initiatives and priorities. Alumni and friends are welcome to join students, faculty and staff in receiving the newsletter.

Letter from the President
Office of the President |
April 12, 2024

Dear Vandals,

The University of Idaho’s land grant mission focuses on access to education for all Idaho citizens. Professor Omi Hodwitz leads a U of I team working to remove barriers to education for a population with limited opportunities — the incarcerated.

The life-changing power of a U of I education is now available to thousands of incarcerated Idaho citizens through the Prison Education Initiative (PEI)

“The opportunity given to us to not only further our education but to also better ourselves for the future is an invaluable asset to us,” said one of the students in the first PEI cohort.

The federal government will soon extend funding for Pell Grants to any partnership between educational and correctional institutions, allowing the U of I to expand its program. Students currently study at institutions in Orofino and Pocatello. In the fall, the PEI will expand to the Idaho State Correctional Center in Boise — the state’s largest prison.

Hodwitz says the program greatly improves job prospects for students and will lift Idaho communities by reducing crime and boosting employment rates.

Research by Emory University shows the average rate of prison recidivism is over 70%. But education greatly reduces those rates, and the more education, the better the results. Just 5.6% of individuals who earn a bachelor’s degree return to prison.

Partnering with Idaho’s prisons requires patience and dedication from both sides, but the benefits make the effort worthwhile.

“Making this a reality was not an easy process,” said Kent Shriver, deputy warden of operations at Idaho Correctional Institution - Orofino. “A lot of hard work from prison and university staff was required. The benefit is an opportunity for the residents to earn a degree and, upon reentry, obtain a job earning a living wage. It’s just one more step to help them become successful and not return to prison.”

In addition to the benefits for the incarcerated and Idaho communities, on-campus U of I students gain tremendous experience through the PEI. Several students take Inside Out, a class that incarcerated and non-incarcerated students take together at the prison. The class looks much like any on-campus class, aside from the student composition. Inside Out students have published academic articles and even composed book chapters about their research. The class often shatters stereotypes for students on both sides, while honing their skills in cooperation and leadership.

“The University of Idaho not only gives me values and experience I can apply scholarly, but also skills I can take into the real world to better the lives of others,” said an incarcerated student about the PEI.

The U of I’s land grant mission is based on the principle that education can elevate individuals and communities, no matter their location or situation.

“Our residents now have the opportunity, if admitted, to attend college and even attain a college degree,” Shriver said. “Many of them would never of had the opportunity, nor felt they could even be a college student without the PEI.”

Go Vandals!

C. Scott Green


New faculty focus on sustainable solutions

The College of Science welcomed four new faculty members last fall who are focusing on sustainable solutions for Idaho and the world. Meng Zhao, Richard Thompson, Tiantian Yang and Klas Udekwu all conduct research related to the fundamental ways we use land and the impacts of the tools we use.
Learn more.

Grad students explore running motivation

Samantha Lewis and Nathan Stark, doctoral students in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, are working on a research project entitled, “The Secret to Falling in Love…With Running.” Lewis is a professional trail runner and Stark is a former Vandal track athlete. They’re presenting their work to teachers and coaches across the country, emphasizing the athletic process over results.
Learn more.

Leon lays foundation for veterinary career

Despite her limited background with animals, Brianna Leon gained hands-on experience and confidence as a pre-veterinary major in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Leon joined the U of I’s chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences and gained valuable mentorship from CALS Student Services Manager Sharon Murdock and others to prepare for a future as a veterinarian.
Learn more.

April 8 was Silver and Gold Day, marking the 126th year of the University of Idaho Alumni Association. More than 115,000 Vandals have graduated from the U of I.

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