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Beyond the Degree: Building a Bright Future for Idahoans

Idaho State University President Robert Wagner speaks with students on Friday, January 26, 2024.
John Roark/Idaho State University
Idaho State University President Robert Wagner speaks with students on Friday, January 26, 2024.

In my short time as Idaho State University’s 14th president, I have come to appreciate even more that there is no single path to success. My experience has shown me the transformative power of education, and I want every Idaho student, whether at ISU or any other college or university, to have access to this incredible power.

Education has been a pivotal force in my life, opening unforeseen doors and shaping who I am and who my family would become. It all started with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Along the way, I got married, had a child and trained to become a seminary teacher for our church. Our next big leap was a move to a new city where I began my teaching career. As our family grew, so did my career ambitions, leading me to pursue an Executive Master’s of Public Administration to advance in administration. Juggling teaching, administrative duties and part-time jobs, I commuted 40 miles each weekend for classes. A brief entrepreneurial venture with family further clarified my career goals. Ultimately, my wife Tracy and I decided to pursue a PhD in New York, moving across the country with our five children. This journey reinforced my belief in education as a series of opportunities adaptable to life’s unique changes.

Today’s students come from various backgrounds and have unique needs. Some are beginning their higher education journey right out of high school, while others are returning to college after starting families or careers. We must meet them where they are, offering flexible programs, supportive environments and practical skills and knowledge that prepare them for the future. For some, they might be seeking a more transactional experience – a better job, advancement or life development. For others, they attend ISU with hopes of transforming their lives through undergraduate and graduate research, professional education or artistic contributions.

At Idaho State University, outstanding faculty and staff are committed to equipping our students with the tools needed for success no matter why they come to us – at any of our campuses, or through online education. We offer a wide range of programs, spanning from doctoral degrees to career-technical certifications and everything in between. We partner with our sister institutions and community colleges to make transferring and “stacking” credentials easier and more efficient than ever. Our aim is to open doors and empower our students to excel, just as various educational options have empowered me, Tracy and our five children.

Interestingly, our own children represent the very breadth of Idahoans we serve. Our oldest son excelled in business, where his bachelor’s degree taught him, among many other things, leadership and entrepreneurialism. Our oldest daughter earned a master's degree in a professional counseling field, while another son pursued a technical education certificate with a great job waiting for him upon completion. We also have a son who stopped out of his university experience and thrived in a 16-week software programming bootcamp with a well-paying job waiting at the end. And now our youngest daughter is earning her bachelor's degree in the liberal arts and using internships to open doors for employment. No matter which path they chose, all of our children have been empowered with the skills and knowledge they

need to build successful lives and contribute to their communities. Higher education must aim for greatness, offering diverse opportunities and fostering excellence in our students.

Trying to be everything to everyone usually has a negative connotation. However, it is imperative that colleges and universities be responsive to both student and workforce needs, offering plenty of on-ramps and off-ramps along the way. Education should not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a customizable journey that meets students where they are and takes them where they want to go. It is possible, and at ISU we embrace this responsibility.

I am excited about the future of Idaho State University and the role we play in shaping the lives of our students. Colleges and universities can be beacons of innovation, exploration and creative excellence. Having just experienced my first graduation ceremonies at ISU, I've seen firsthand how our institution empowers students for a brighter future. But, we must do more to ensure that an even greater number of Idahoans can access these transactional and transformational opportunities. I look forward to partnering with you and the remarkable communities around our state to create a brighter future for all, because that's exactly what we are meant to do. I have experienced it, and so can many others. Come, join us!

Dr. Robert W. Wagner began serving as Idaho State University’s fourteenth president on January 29, 2024. Before coming to ISU, he was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Utah State University (USU). He also previously served as the Vice President for Academic and Instructional Services, a unique organizational blend of student, faculty, operational, innovation and academic programming responsibilities.