Boise State extends partnership with Vietnamese university

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Boise State President Marlene Tromp and National Economics University vice president Bui Duc Tho sign one of three memorandums of understanding for a student exchange program. Photo by Sharon Fisher

Boise State University has extended a program with a Vietnamese university that provides an exchange program for undergraduate Vietnamese students.

Representatives from National Economics University, based in Hanoi, attended a signing ceremony at the Boise State University Administration Building on Dec. 19 with President Marlene Tromp, interim provost Tony Roark and Mark Bannister, who at the time had been interim dean of the College of Business and Economics (COBE) and has since been named permanently to the position. Altogether, three documents were signed: A continuation of the agreement, academic exchanges and credit exchanges.

During the event, Tromp noted that the program represented Boise State’s trailblazing nature.

After the signing, Tromp and the Vietnamese delegation exchanged gifts and discussed a possible visit for Tromp to Vietnam.

Two years there, two years here

The new program, 2+2, started in 2016 and allows Vietnamese students to spend two years at NEU, followed by two years at Boise State and receive degrees from both institutions. Like many students from overseas, they pay full tuition while attending Boise State, according to a statement.

The program was designed by Kirk Smith, marketing department chair for the College of Business and Economics (COBE), and Gonzalo Bruce, assistant provost for global education. It is overseen by Jack Marr, clinical associate professor of international business in the COBE.

The program has been underway for two years and is scheduled to send its first cohort of five or six students to Boise State in the fall. The second cohort, which started in Sept. 2019, has about 100 students in it, and thus far has about six students who have already indicated that they plan to come to Boise in the future.

Long history

Several participants noted that Boise State first started partnering with Vietnamese students in 1993, before the U.S. recognized it as a country. Then-president Bill Clinton re-established diplomatic relations with Vietnam in July 1995.

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Nancy Napier. Photo by Sharon Fisher

That program had been funded as an international aid project by the Swedish International Development Co-Operation Agency with the goal of developing graduate and postgraduate management education in Vietnam, Nancy Napier, distinguished professor emerita and executive coach with the Executive MBA program at COBE, wrote in an article describing the original program. She also spoke at the December event.

In the 1990s program, more than 80 Vietnamese people received MBA degrees from Boise State, and several Boise State professors had the opportunity to teach in Hanoi. Bui Duc Tho, the vice president of NEU who attended the signing and represented the Hanoi university, was a 1999 graduate of Boise State with a Master’s of Business Administration and spent one semester in Boise. Napier also leads a one-week international business residency of Boise State Executive MBA students to Hanoi each year.

This program marks the third generation of a partnership with Vietnam, Napier said at the event, adding that children of the first generation of the program have also attended Boise State.

Graduates of the earlier program are mostly in Vietnam in business, education and government, said communications specialist Matt Jones, in an email message. One has a house in Portland and is often there, he said.

The Vietnamese students in that program were like part of the family, Smith said at the event.

Currently, Boise State has 16 Vietnamese students, all of whom have either a direct or an indirect connection with the Boise State Vietnamese alumni chapter, Jones said.

Boise State, Idaho Power to use supercomputer to predict weather

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A new supercomputer will help Idaho Power forecast the weather and plan its operations accordingly. File photo

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article conflated two supercomputers. The weather-prediction software will run on hardware provided by Boise State and Idaho Power and is not related to INL’s supercomputer.

Boise State University, Idaho Power and the Idaho National Laboratory have announced a collaboration to advance high-performance computing, weather modeling and workforce development in Idaho.

The project calls for the collection and analysis of weather data by a supercomputer at INL’s Collaborative Computing Center (C3), which opened in October. The data, which will be made available to researchers and the public, will be used to improve weather-forecasting capabilities at Idaho Power.

Boise State and Idaho Power will provide the computer equipment, which will be housed in four racks at C3 and is expected to be installed in January, the university said in a statement.

Once the equipment is in place, university students and faculty will access the publicly available data remotely, via the Idaho Research Optical Network, to help improve weather-forecasting capabilities of Idaho Power. This will help the utility more efficiently manage its operations, from power generation to trading energy on the wholesale market.

Idaho Power also collaborates with the Idaho Water Resource Board and water users in various basins in a cooperative cloud-seeding program to improve water supply conditions throughout the Snake River basin.

C3 will enable Idaho Power and other cloud-seeding program participants to model and forecast weather. The publicly available data will also be used by Boise State researchers.

The supercomputer for this project is different from INL’s own new supercomputer, Sawtooth, which is in the process of being installed in C3.

University collaboration could resurrect ‘higher education CEO’ proposal

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Gov. Brad Little, left, led a panel discussion of four university presidents, all of whom have joined since April 2018. Photo by Sharon Fisher

New presidents of Idaho state universities, with an increased spirit of collaboration, could resurrect a several-year-old plan to consolidate some university services to save money.

On. Oct. 8, Gov. Brad Little led what he called a “fireside chat” among the presidents of Boise State University, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho, all of whom started their terms within the past year and a half. They were joined by the president of the College of Idaho, a private institution based in Caldwell. The event was held at JUMP as part of Boise Startup Week.

Joining Little were Marlene Tromp, named president of Boise State University in April; Kevin Satterlee, named president of Idaho State University in April 2018; C. Scott Green, named president of the University of Idaho in April and Jim Everett, named co-president of the College of Idaho in February 2018.

“Never in my professional career as an educator in Idaho did I think I would tag this many institutions TOGETHER on the stage,” wrote Mike Satz, executive officer and associate vice president, southwest region at University of Idaho, on Twitter. “Wow. I. Am. Impressed.”

Consolidating services

A number of Little’s questions touched on “collaboration” and “coordination.” He mentioned their developing curriculum that would allow students to transfer seamlessly from one university to another should their educational plans change.

“The people here are the ones who can get that done,” he said.

The discussion was reminiscent of a 2018 proposal by then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to hire a so-called “higher education CEO” to look for efficiencies by integrating and combining services across institutions. Otter included a $769,500 line item for integration of higher education systems, including $500,000 for a contractor to study the issue.

That year, the idea didn’t get much traction, and while a bill to implement the regulation was printed by the Senate Education Committee, it was never addressed during the 2018 legislative session.

But while Little didn’t give any specifics, and deferred details to the State Board of Education – which would have controlled the “higher education CEO” appointment – he agreed that, with the new presidents, the idea could be revisited at some point in the future.

Otter’s effort cited two reports. First, the Task Force on Higher Education called in September 2017 for the higher education CEO as part of its report, as well as consolidating back-office functions from the universities.

Second, a report presented to the Idaho State Board of Education on Dec. 20 by Huron, a Chicago-based consulting firm, said that consolidation of services could save up to $38 million over the next 10 years, according to a press release. But the Legislature didn’t address the issue during the 2019 session.

In addition to collaborating on curriculum, the presidents talked about collaborating on issues such as cybersecurity education.

Education and entrepreneurship

More generally, the university presidents talked about the importance of education – particularly research – in the technology industry and for entrepreneurs. Tying education with business and industry makes students more employable, Satterlee said, while Tromp said that Boise State’s reputation for innovation was part of the reason she joined.

Another issue that arose was diversity, which has come under particular criticism at Boise State by some legislators. Diversity has always been a focus in Idaho, Everett said, noting that the College of Idaho has students from 88 countries joining the 60% of the student body from Idaho. Diversity builds innovation, and working with students from overseas helps Idaho students learn to work across cultures, he said.

Little noted that JUMP – built by the family of Idaho businessman J.R. Simplot after his death – was an example of the value of education. Though Simplot didn’t attend college himself, he considered education important, Little said.

Catching up with Boise State University’s World Museum — and its high-tech approach to art

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Boise State University’s World Museum will have nine 4K screens that can be used for a number of purposes. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

So far, the outside of the Boise State University Fine Arts Building has gotten most of the attention, but the inside is pretty cool, too.

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Steve Cutchin. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Marrying technology and art, the World Museum’s 943-square-foot centerpiece consists of nine 4K screens that can display a variety of art and other content interactively, said Steve Cutchin, associate professor of computer science in the BSU College of Engineering. The screens can be used for one big installation, or several smaller ones. Each screen also has an audio system.

Previously, Cutchin managed the visualization laboratory for King Abdullah’s University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, with a capital investment of $25 million and a budget of $4.3 million a year.

“The number one question we got was, ‘Does this play Xbox?’” Cutchin said.

It didn’t, and neither will the World Museum, but it will serve as a home for a cross-campus interdisciplinary program for teams of students to engage with high-quality digital content in the arts and sciences, Cutchin said. The room can hold from 30 to 35 students and is expected to be open by the next academic year, he said.

Students can use the room in six ways: Explore, View, Perform, Teach, Experiment and Create, Cutchin said. For example, students can call up a painting or sculpture from a number of museums worldwide and get up close and personal with it, walking around to see it from different angles, he said.

While the World Museum uses terms such as immersion and refers to virtual reality, it’s not really set up to be a virtual reality space at this point, Cutchin said.

“It looks amazing inside a headset if you do it right,” he said, but added that headsets at this point limit the ability of students to collaborate on a project.

However, that may change in the future because the campus is due to have its internet service upgraded to 10 gigabits per second, Cutchin said. “We could do a duet over two different locations,” he said.

Students are also in the process of capturing virtual reality data, such as one team of five students that is creating content in the California redwood forest, Cutchin said.

Another group visited California State University, Los Angeles to digitize artifacts from its collection, such as scholarly texts on Mesoamerica and facsimiles of Aztec texts, which both Boise State and CSULA students will be able to use. Digitizing the texts not only helps preserve them but offers the ability to add annotations and other interpretive material such as images, commentary and animations, according to Boise State. Students also photographed a 3D version of the 1931 mural “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City,” as well as public art in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Idaho Virtual Reality Council contributed expertise to the project, said Annie Morley, president, who is looking forward to seeing the completed project. Even if virtual reality isn’t present at opening, it’s likely to be added later as equipment is upgraded, she said.

In addition to content created by students, World Museum will be able to use images from other museums that have made their collections available to the public, BSU said.

The Gaming, Interactive Media, and Mobile Technology (GIMM) group has also been involved, Cutchin said. Other schools not typically focused on art, such as the College of Business and Economics, are also expected to be involved, he added, noting that students earning an MBA can learn a lot about project management by setting up an installation.

Students and others will be able to plug their own devices into the screens. “It’s a ‘bring your own device’ space,” Cutchin said.

The campus information technology department will be in charge of security, and the devices and images will be carefully vetted, he said.

Boise State Work U career program to expand in the fall

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Work U student Gabby Hora, left, works with Meridian Chamber of Commerce staffer Valerie Garrett at events such as the United Heritage Health Fair. Photo courtesy of Meridian Chamber of Commerce.

A program intended to help Boise State University (BSU) humanities students gain work experience is proving so successful that it is expected to grow for the fall.

Hank Ebert

The program, Work U, was launched in the College of Innovation in Design in fall 2016 with nine students and one employer partner, St. Luke’s Health System. Once the program gained traction, it moved to the career center, where as of this spring it offered 90 opportunities with 19 employer partners. By fall, the program is expected to have 116 opportunities with 33 employer partners, said Hank Ebert, experiential learning employer relations representative with the Career Center.

Of those 33 employer partners, about half will be new as of the fall semester and nine were new as of the spring semester, Ebert said.

The Meridian Chamber of Commerce had its first students this spring, said CEO Rich Bonney. The Chamber took two communications majors, one a junior and one a senior, to help with events, he said.

“For a nonprofit like us, we don’t have the resources to hire temp workers or pay interns,” he said. “It’s a huge asset for us.”

The Chamber plans to hire two students for the fall semester as well.

Block 22, which owns several downtown hotels, took on three students this spring for its first semester, said Steve Steading, general manager of The Grove Hotel. While the company had hired interns previously, they now have the opportunity to earn academic credit, he said.

The three students include one in digital marketing, one in human resources and one working in CenturyLink Arena on events such as Steelheads hockey nights, the Big Sky basketball tournament and concerts such as Trevor Noah, Steading said.

“We could certainly support quite a few more students, but we wanted to make sure we did this right,” Steading said, noting that the was particularly focused on the mentoring component. “We’re hoping with the program’s continued success that more managers will offer to be a mentor.”

Block 22 plans to expand the program to six students in the fall, adding a graphic designer and a role in Hotel 43, he added.

At each site, students work up to 10 hours a week on projects, including a minimum of one hour a week under the mentorship of a staffer. They receive three academic credits, for which they pay tuition and fees.

In addition, students participate in a weekly 75-minute class that gives them the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and covers professional skills such as writing resumes, developing LinkedIn profiles and interviewing.

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Debbie Kaylor

Part of the evolution of the program included fine-tuning that course to be more structured, said Debbie Kaylor, Career Center director.

“For the first semester or two, it was a discussion group,” she said. “Then we found that, as with any discussion group, it can get taken over by one or two people, and other people don’t get the opportunity to add their input.”

The class now also includes the StrengthsFinder assessment.

Another evolution was to add smaller nonprofit organizations and governmental entities to the large companies that originally participated, Kaylor said.

One limitation of the program is that, because the positions are unpaid, it can help only students in a socioeconomic position to provide 10 free hours of work a week.

“We recognize that access is an issue,” Kaylor said.

The Career Center offers two scholarships per semester and plans to have four in the fall, she said.

BSU’s next steps are to decide how much to expand the Work U program — the goal is 250 opportunities a year — and how to connect it with the college’s internship program, Kaylor said.

“We’re hiring a leader for experiential programs, and we’re hoping that person can take a focused look at Work U, internships and student employment, and figure out how to connect them and put some strategy around them all,” she said.

Boise State adds biomedical engineering doctorate

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Dr. Trevor Lujan of Boise State University holding an artificial knee. Photo courtesy of Boise State University.

Boise State University has added a doctoral program in biomedical engineering, a field on the forefront of many advances in health care.

If you remember the Six Million Dollar Man, you know what biomedical engineers do, though it is typically more mundane.

“It’s the application of engineering concepts to medicine, biology and health care problems,” said Trevor Lujan, associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Boise State.

Examples of medical devices biomedical engineers develop include pacemakers, heart valves, artificial knees, prosthetics and skin replacements for burn victims.

“Fifty years ago, these were all ideas that usually surgeons came up with,” Lujan said. “In recent history” — that is, the past 30 years or so — “they’ve started to apply fundamental engineering concepts to make them better and interface with the body.”

Scheduled to launch in the fall, Boise State’s Ph.D. program has a target of 15 students enrolled within four years. The degree typically takes five years to earn, Lujan said.

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Robert Hasty

“ICOM is excited about the new biomedical Ph.D. engineering program at BSU,” said Dr. Robert T. Hasty, founding dean and chief academic officer for the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Meridian. “It is going to open a world of possibilities for scientists and physicians to solve important medical challenges. ICOM is initiating an internship with the biomedical labs at BSU that will create synergies between our two institutions and advance scientific knowledge for Idaho and our nation.”

Nationwide, there were 21,300 biomedical engineer jobs in 2016, with a projected growth of 1,500 jobs, or 7 percent, by 2026, according to long-term projections from Projections Central, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Biomedical Engineers earn a national median hourly wage of $42.33, or $88,040 per year. Those with a doctorate will generally be paid above the median.

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Craig Shaul

And there’s more to it than sheer job numbers, said Craig Shaul, research analyst supervisor for the Idaho Department of Labor.

“The statistical demand for doctorate-level occupations is low compared with other occupations and does not provide an accurate picture of the economic benefit,” he said. “The true value of graduates of Boise State’s biomedical engineer doctorate program comes from research efforts, which often lead to increased research infrastructure, taking the resulting products or knowledge to market, followed by economic expansion and additional jobs.”

Lujan agreed, noting that the health care market is a huge industry that generates a lot of funding through external grants. For example, National Institutes of Health funding in Washington is on the order of $1 billion, $200 million in Utah, and $300 million in Oregon. Idaho is only generating $14 million in NIH funding.

“(That’s) partly because we don’t have these programs they need to see,” Lujan said. “There’s a lot of room for growth in research projects at the university level alone.”

Previously, Boise State offered only an undergraduate minor in biomedical engineering with about 100 students, a program it will keep, Lujan said. The university doesn’t plan to add an undergraduate or master’s level program, he said.

The department is working with St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System, WestVet Animal Emergency and Specialty Center, and the Boise Veterans Administration Medical Center, as well as ICOM, but the impetus for the Ph.D. program was a grassroots effort, Lujan said.

“Where other Ph.D.s have been spurred on by outside industry, this has really been a need of the students, faculty and industry in Boise,” he said. “There’s not one company that said, ‘We need to have it, and I’m going to fund it.’”

Boise State plans to have an entrepreneurial aspect to the degree, Lujan said, meaning Idaho could get some startups out of the deal. Students could also choose an academic path through post-doctoral study, take a job in an Idaho company or go to another state.

“If you’re interested in research and development in biomedical engineering, this (Ph.D.) is the degree you need to distinguish yourself in that area,” Lujan said.

Boise State to offer less-technical cybersecurity certificate

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The cybersecurity of physical devices, such as the electrical grid, is increasingly a concern. File photo.

Boise State University is developing a cyber- and physical security certificate that isn’t predicated on people being computer scientists or engineers.

While the details aren’t finalized, the CPS2ALL certificate, intended for full-time and part-time degree-seeking students, can be earned online, on campus or both. It will consist of a series of 2-week, 4-week or 8-week courses and training modules that will let students earn badges in topics such as networking basics, threat modeling and understanding firewalls.

Boise State representatives discussed the program during a cybersecurity event on Nov. 30, where representatives from organizations such as Cisco and the Federal Bureau of Investigation spoke.

Several audience members commented that many cybersecurity professionals and programs are missing “soft skills,” ranging from communication and business awareness to understanding the various compliance requirements of industries such as financial services and health care. Presenters acknowledged that the interdisciplinary part of cybersecurity instruction needs to be built up. For example, the social sciences are a valuable source of information on human factors such as the user interface and how humans respond to falsified information, said presenter Wayne Austad, technical director for the Cyber Core Integration Center at Idaho National Laboratory.

Similarly, “phishing” emails – where a hacker sends an email message purporting to be a trusted sender but which then asks for passwords or installs malware – is still the biggest single cybersecurity vulnerability, said Clark Harshbarger, special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Boise.

“Most often, it’s an intervention of humans, not a technical innovation” that results in a successful attack, he said. “Relationships are as important, or more important, than the technical solutions.”

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Sin Ming Loo. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Boise State already offers cybersecurity training programs, but they are all heavily technical. For example, the university has just started offering a cybersecurity certificate intended for computer science students. It includes classes such as power systems analysis, digital hardware design and algebraic cryptology. So far, the program has 30 students, all taking its introductory class, said Sin Ming Loo, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, who is spearheading the project.

In addition, the university is revising its cybersecurity minor, last offered in 2014, but which is also technical.

An advantage of a certificate program, as opposed to a major or a minor, is that it’s much quicker to get a certificate program approved, Loo said.

As the world becomes more automated, there is increasing attention being paid to the security of this automation, which includes the physical security of the devices themselves as well as cybersecurity. Especially in older devices, as well as in manufacturing and industrial devices, control protocols may not have the level of security monitoring that computer and networking protocols have, Austad said.

Consequently, because sensors are becoming more prevalent, they are more often being used as a vector for attack. “If I can access your hardware, I own it,” Harshbarger said. “Did you hear that a high-roller database in a casino got broken into through a thermostat in a fish tank?” he said. “Isn’t that cool?”

The physical aspect consists of sensors that monitor physical components and actuators to manipulate them – the cyber-physical aspect links the cyber and physical worlds and uses embedded intelligence, while the cybersecurity aspect is purely through wired or wireless communication and doesn’t directly interact with physical devices, Loo said.

As part of the work to develop the less-technical certificate program, Boise State is also developing a hacking lab that will give students hands-on experience, particularly with physical devices such as the Internet of Things and industrial machinery. It could include virtual machines that can be reset after hacking sessions, wireless access points, actuators and sensors, programmable logic controllers, portable and smart devices and appliances, and industry control devices such as robots. In addition, the lab will include a virtual private network that will be available as a hacking target 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

‘Work U’ gives Boise State students business experience

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Work U student Kyla Oetting, left, meets with Boise Cascade’s Lisa Chapman, communications manager, and Erin Nuxoll, vice president, human resources. Photo courtesy of Boise Cascade.

In an attempt to give humanities students business experience – as well as to teach businesses the value of humanities students – Boise State University has set up Work U, an internship program where students work up to 10 hours a week on projects for participating companies.

The City of Boise has taken about a dozen interns for the two semesters the program has been operating, said Sarah Cunningham, employment programs administrator. To launch the program, the city first created a policy and form for department supervisors to request interns, and then gave the requests to Boise State for students to apply, she said.

“Once an intern was selected, they had an orientation, introducing them to the culture of the city and to mentors,” she said.

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Sarah Cunningham

One of those departments was Parks & Recreation. Their intern sat in on meetings, drafted press releases, and had face-to-face meetings with departmental leadership, as well as with Mayor Dave Bieter, said Bonnie Shelton, communications manager.

“It’s a unique opportunity to get hands-on experience, and access to people in the city who are decision-makers, so they can learn how they got to that position and figure out what they want to do for a career,” she said.

Having a younger perspective in the office also helped with social media campaigns and figuring out how to attract students, she added.

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Debbie Kaylor

Interns are unpaid, and participate in a weekly class, said Debbie Kaylor, director of the career center at Boise State. In addition to giving students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences, classroom work covers professional experiences such as writing resumes, developing LinkedIn profiles, and behavioral interviewing.

The program was launched in the College of Innovation in Design in fall 2016 with nine students and one employer partner, St. Luke’s Health System.

“The idea is providing students with a professional experience independent of their major,” Kaylor said. Once the program gained traction, it moved to the career center, where it now has 90 opportunities with 19 employer partners, she said.

“What we hear from employers is that it’s pretty cool to have a history major in the health care system, and the different perspectives they bring in,” Kaylor said. “It’s opening their eyes to what these students are capable of, and what the students don’t even realize they’re capable of.”

Out of the approximately 50 students who have participated in the program thus far, seven have moved it into an internship, paid or unpaid, or a full-time profession with their employer partner, she said.

While problems do arise, Lonnie Jackson, the Work U assistant director, acts as a liaison between employers, the university and students, Kaylor said. “If challenges come up, as opposed to just walking away, he’s there coaching and working with the employer to help both sides through the process and turn the challenges into learning opportunities,” she said.

In addition, the career center is now developing a student employability fund for students who might not otherwise be able to afford to spend 10 hours on an unpaid internship, Kaylor said. Possibilities including donations from employers, alumni and foundations, as well as proceeds from career fairs, she said.

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Juli Coté

Boise Cascade Co. started with one student this term, who is still with them.

“The fun thing is you’re not guaranteed to get a student in the field where you’re going to place them,” said Juli Coté, corporate human resources manager. Their student worked for the communications group in the HR department, and happened to be majoring in social media and communications, she said. “That worked well, because those are the projects we had her work on as well,” she said. Projects included working on rebranding efforts, updating social media, updating brochures, and creating a recruiting video, she said.

The program worked out so well that Boise Cascade expects to take six students next term, Coté said. “It’s a great program, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it evolves.”

Idaho needs to grow knowledge economy, report finds

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To succeed in the knowledge economy, Idaho needs to encourage youth to look at technology careers, such as this annual Girl Scouts of Silver Sage STEM Exploration Day. File photo.

More than half of Idaho’s technology jobs are located in the Boise area, yet even there, they represent less than 10 percent of the jobs in the area. Idaho needs to look at ways to increase the number of technology jobs statewide because they pay much better than many other jobs, and Idaho’s per capita personal income is significantly lower than that of the United States as a whole.

This is among the findings of the Idaho Technology Council Knowledge Report, scheduled to be released today at the organization’s develop.idaho conference, in Boise.

“Earnings in high-tech jobs in Idaho are $102,106 vs. $49,880 for all Idaho jobs,” the report noted. “The average in the United States is $123,063, while all jobs in the U.S. are $65,369. Idaho needs to grow more sophisticated technology jobs that will help drive the economy and provide a stronger tax base for Idaho and its communities.”

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Jay Larsen

Jay Larsen, CEO of the Idaho Technology Council, described the report in April at the company’s Capital Connect Conference. “It will help us figure out what our strengths are, measure what we need to continue to do, and the prescriptive opportunities to act on building this knowledge-based economy,” he said. “You can’t sit there and watch it – you have to drive these prescriptive opportunities in our state.”

“Idaho is at a crossroads,” the report noted. “Kauffman Foundation and Milken Institute reports usually rank Idaho in the middle of the pack regarding technology and innovation. We either make significant strides towards growing technology and innovation in our state or we slide to mediocrity.”

The report focuses on a number of areas, including education, capital networks, commercialization of ideas, infrastructure such as housing and transportation, and quality of life.

The report also divides Idaho into six regions: southwestern, which includes Boise; eastern, which includes Idaho National Laboratory; north central, which includes Moscow and Lewiston; northern, which includes Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene; south central, which includes Twin Falls; and southeastern, which includes Pocatello. While some regions have more technology jobs than others, every region has the potential for technology jobs, ranging from food processing in the south-central region to a Federal Bureau of Investigation data center in the southeastern region, the report noted.

Finally, the report divides the types of jobs into four categories along two axes: manual-cognitive and routine-complex. Jobs such as managers, engineers and scientists, and artists are cognitive-complex, while jobs such as office staff and telemarketers are cognitive-routine. In comparison, manual-complex jobs include food preparation and personal care, while manual-routine jobs include production and transportation workers. Routine jobs are most likely to be automated in the future, the report warned.

It’s important for Idaho to increase the number of jobs it offers in emerging industries because these industries in Idaho are forecast to grow 21 percent in the next 10 years while traditional industries will grow only 14 percent, the report noted.

“This has been a large-scale data project that has shed quite a bit of light on Idaho in general, and on the tech community specifically,” said Greg Hill, director of the Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University, who is listed as one of the advisors to the report. “The results of the report should help inform decisionmakers throughout the state with matters relevant to Idaho’s growing high-tech community and how it fits into Idaho’s traditional economic contributors. This report is the first step in an ongoing effort to provide more and more information about the technology community in an open and transparent way.”

The Knowledge Report is in its first year. The organization also publishes the annual Deal Flow report in April. The Deal Flow Report, now in its fourth year, highlights private placement investments and merger and acquisition activity for Idaho companies.

The Idaho Technology Council is a nonprofit organization intended to help technology councils in Idaho start, grow and thrive.

Boise State offers ‘Netflix for college’

Boise State’s Micron Business and Economics Building. Photo courtesy of Boise State.

Boise State University is looking for partners for a program that lets employees or customers earn a bachelor’s degree online, paying month-to-month in a model that has raised comparisons to the Netflix movie subscription service.

Officials from Boise State’s College of Innovation and Design met with Treasure Valley business leaders July 31 to raise awareness of its Passport to Education program. It has one partner now, CapEd Credit Union, which is offering the program to its 75,000 credit union members and employees.

Intended for part-time, working students, the program charges $425 or $550 per month for up to six or nine credits, respectively, per term. Students can earn a bachelor of arts in general studies, or a bachelor of applied science degree, and they can “stop out,” or take a pause, and pick up again later, typically with no loss of credits, said Rebecca Morgan, director of the program, which is also known as Boise State X. If students leave the job through which they gain access to the program, Boise State will work with them to help them find alternatives, she said.

All classes are online, meaning the education costs from 18 to 28 percent less than a traditional degree program, Morgan said. Online classes also mean students don’t have to move to more expensive housing in Boise.

The program is not intended for specialized degrees like nursing, but for a basic college degree, Morgan said. Students can concentrate coursework in a particular field or cluster, she said. It also does not currently support full-time students or advanced degrees.

The Passport to Education is eligible for financial aid, including the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship for Adult Learners passed by the Idaho Legislature this year, which provides up to $3,500 per year for students who have earned at least 24 credits but haven’t been in college for at least 24 months. In addition, advisors work with students to see what credits they might have already earned, either through college, work, or life experience, Morgan said.

Ray Stark

Ray Stark, senior vice president of the Boise Metro Chamber, said he thinks the program will help Idaho raise its college attainment rate.

“I’m surprised nobody’s done it before,” said Ternel Martinez, financial advisor with MassMutual Idaho, in Meridian, and ambassador to the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

So far, six people have signed up, with another 15 or 16 planning to enroll in January, said Todd Christensen, senior vice president of marketing & business development for CapEd.

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Mark Browning

Other Idaho colleges are welcome to follow suit, Morgan said.

“We don’t have anything quite like it in place just yet but the CapEd folks have reached out to us and we are anxious to meet with them,” said Mark Browning, spokesman for the College of Western Idaho, which offers a third of its classes online and plans to offer more.

CapEd is not paying anything to offer its members this benefit, other than investing approximately $10,000 on marketing, Christensen said.

Boise State financial technology startup raises $200,000

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Boise State University’s Venture College has opened an incubator intended to nurture Boise’s entrepreneurial community. Photo courtesy of Boise State University.

An Eagle startup has raised $200,000 as part of a new program at Boise State University intended to support Idaho’s entrepreneurial community.

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Adam Stein

SpriteRE, founded in April, helps match online consumers with digital lenders and expedite that process using artificial intelligence, said CEO Adam Stein.

“Digital lenders acquire hundreds or thousands of records,” meaning that acquisition costs for a new loan can be very high, Stein said. AI and machine learning helps those direct lenders look at digital leads and pick out the best prospects, potentially raising the companies’ loan conversion rates from 3 to 4 percent to 5 to 6 percent. While this doesn’t sound like much, it makes a difference.

“We can never get that from 4 percent to 8 percent, but if we can get that to 5 to 6 percent, that’s extremely meaningful to all parties in the food chain,” he said.

“He’s actually our first rapid launch startup resident,” said Mike Sumpter, executive director of the Venture College at Boise State University. (See box.) It’s part of a program the college started this spring called the Incubator. Sumpter and his colleagues met Adam this spring and introduced him to students as an example of the rapid launch process.

“He’s attempting to take something to market quickly,” Sumpter said. “It’s fairly ambitious, and that’s something I wanted our folks to be around, and see what that work ethic looked like, and what sort of prep you needed to be positioned to do that.” This fall, Stein will be offering workshops to students on how to pitch for large investments, Sumpter added.

“I thought it would be cool to work in the midst of students, and take the company from launch to exit in front of a bunch of students,” Stein said.

SpriteRE, which so far has been funded by Stein himself, has raised $200,000 thus far, including $100,000 from a single investor he wouldn’t name. Using engineering teams in Cleveland and India, including contracted help, he hopes to have a version of the product completed for beta testing by June 18. “It won’t have all the bells and whistles that a second generation would have, but the data learning will be all there,” he said.

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Mike Sumpter

After that, and further development, the program could go several different ways, ranging from being “white labeled” by a company, with the SpriteRE program used under the company’s name, to an early exit, where he actually sells SpriteRE to another company.

SpriteRE is an example of “fintech,” short for “financial technology,” or companies that provide financial services using applications without necessarily being banks or credit unions, though they may partner with them. “Removing friction from the customer journey,” such as what SpriteRE is intended to do with mortgages, is listed as the most important trend for the retail banking industry, according to the 2018 Retail Banking Trends Report, while “Use of big data, AI, advanced analytics, and cognitive computing” is second.

This isn’t Stein’s first fintech startup. He founded LoanTek in 2010, which he sold to Bankrate in 2015 for an undisclosed price.  It was funded by the Treasure Valley Angel Alliance and the Idaho TeCcenter, he said.

“He stays below the radar,” said Scott Fischer, who was chief financial officer for LoanTek. “His first startup stayed below the radar even though a big Wall Street firm bought him. He’s got the biggest companies in the industry and in online mortgage banking who have committed to start working with him. So I think he’s got something really cool there. “

Fischer, recently named president and CEO of Prosperity Organic Foods, also runs CFO Idaho, a consulting group of chief financial officers who outsource themselves to startups and high-growth companies who need the services of a CFO but aren’t big enough to hire their own yet. CFO Idaho is providing a CFO for SpriteRE, he said.

Entrepreneurial college functions as an interdisciplinary hub

Adam Stein’s work with SpriteRE is using an entrepreneurial resource at Boise State University, the Venture College, founded in 2014.

“We’re trying to create a culture here that runs the full gamut, from businesses that are already at revenue and doing well, to students just starting to incubate their ideas, so everyone can learn from each other,” said Mike Sumpter, who was named executive director of the Venture College a year ago.

The Venture College is an interdisciplinary hub of resources with an educational mission, Sumpter said. “We bring folks in, and do our best to get them what they need to move their business forward,” he said. “A lot of what we do is very much pre-launch,” so the college provides training in making pitches, networking, and canvassing markets. “All the basic kinds of entrepreneurial skills you need to acquire.”

At capacity, the incubator program in the Venture College will have six or seven businesses at different stages of development, as well as a number of students, Sumpter said. “We’ve been running about 100 a semester, counting all programs” such as courses and workshops. The fall semester at the incubator has already received a number of applications but he hasn’t yet determined the size of the class, he said.

Aside from Stein, the Venture College has two other residents, one of whom is the Women in Leadership resident, Tara Russell of fathom, a purpose-driven travel company, Sumpter said. “Her role is to show our students what successful women leadership businesses look like.” The other is Ryan Vasso, CEO of Reply Pro, an alumnus of the Venture College program, Sumpter said.

In return for resources such as space, mentorship, and advisor programs, residents also commit to being involved in the college’s programs. Sumpter said.

Taiwanese partnership creates robotics curriculum at Boise State

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Two of the four “minibots” donated by NexCOBOT to create a robotics curriculum at Boise State. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

In a move intended to make it easier for Idaho businesses to incorporate automation, Boise State University is partnering with a Taiwanese robotics company to create a robotics lab in the university’s school of engineering.

NEXCOM, a Taiwanese company, created NexCOBOT, a U.S. subsidiary, in March in Fremont, California. The company is donating four robots intended for education – called “minibots” – to create the NexCOBOT-Idaho AI Robot Innovation Space, in the Charles P. Ruch Engineering Building. More robots might be donated in the future, Boise State said.

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Aykut Satici. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

With the minibots, Boise State will start a robotics curriculum in the fall, said Aykut Satici, assistant professor.  While the focus will first be on graduate education, it could move to undergraduate and workforce education in the future, he said. In fact, though the robots require skills in programming and linear algebra, he could probably develop a curriculum for junior high students, he added.

Students in the program will be able to enter the workforce and contribute more quickly to automation efforts, Satici said. “The partnership will help grow the contribution of Boise State into the workforce,” he said.

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Steve Hatten

Manufacturing contributes about 13 percent of Idaho’s gross domestic product, with just 9 percent of the employees, meaning manufacturing jobs pay more than average, said Steve Hatten, executive director of TechHelp, a partnership between Idaho’s three state universities that provides technical and business assistance to Idaho manufacturers. “Manufacturing is down 25 percent nationally, but it’s relatively strong in Idaho,” particularly in computers and electronics and food processing, he said.

But while some Idaho industries, such as dairy, are fairly well automated, there is slower adoption in small to medium-sized companies, Hatten said. Moreover, Idaho doesn’t have one of the dozen or so advanced manufacturing institutes – funded by the Department of Defense and public-private partnerships – and has less manufacturing presence than some states. A Rockwell Automation systems integrator map shows Idaho with just six companies, he said. While some states had none at all, other states had hundreds, he noted.

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Clement Lin. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Robots might be used not just in manufacturing, but in other industries as well, such as a robotic coffee shop, said Clement Lin, chairman of NEXCOM International Co. Ltd., who was visiting from Taiwan for the occasion. “The market potential is huge.”

That potential drew interest from the state, with representatives from the Department of Commerce, including director Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, attending. “This partnership really highlights the strong relationship between Idaho and Taiwan,” she said, adding that she has made two trips to the country.

Boise State was chosen as the repository for the lab partly because of Idaho’s strong relationship with Taiwan, said Eddie Yen, director and official representative of the state’s Asia Trade Office, in Taiwan. Idaho companies such as Melaleuca and Micron have major relationships with Taiwan, and the country is a market for Idaho agricultural products such as wheat, he said. Taiwan is Idaho’s third-largest trading partner, said Vincent Yao, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, in Seattle.

The difference between the NexCOBOT robots and some other industrial robots is that they use the EtherCAT (Ethernet for Control Automation Technology) open communications protocol instead of proprietary systems used by some major industry players such as Siemens, Lin said. They are also easier to program because they use ordinary computer languages such as C++ rather than industrial control language or other proprietary systems.

The minibots’ use of the open communications standard is analogous to what happened when personal computers started using industry-standard protocols to communicate with each other, leading to the Internet, as opposed to being easily able to communicate only with other computers from the same manufacturer. More than 5,000 stakeholders support EtherCAT, which has been around for more than ten years, Lin said. Use of the protocol means robots and other devices from those vendors can more easily communicate with each other.

NEXCOM is also recruiting Idaho industrial partners, Lin said.