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Two years ago, Boise State University named Dr. Marlene Tromp as the school’s seventh president. With two school years just about in the books, Tromp’s already covered a lot of ground. From the pandemic to conflict over a coffee shop and the exit of a popular football coach who agitated for big changes.
In an in-depth interview with BoiseDev, Tromp discussed the future of the school’s physical campus, the housing crisis and student housing, Albertsons Stadium expansion plans, and how the school can keep Idahoans in Idaho.
Future Projects on campus
As the Treasure Valley continues to grow rapidly, so does the number of students at Boise State University. To keep up with enrollment, Tromp says the first priority when it comes to expansion plans on campus, is student housing. Boise State is currently working with a group called Brailsford and Dunlavey to assess housing needs.
“We have students who want to come to Boise State right now for their freshman year, but the lack of housing for first-year students is what makes them feel like they can’t come because they don’t know if they’ll be able to find a place to live,” Tromp said. “So, we know we’re losing talented students because we don’t have enough housing capacity for them.”
Dr. Tromp noted that although apartment buildings built by the private sector continue to sprout up near the campus, it’s not exactly the type of housing first-year students are looking for.
“That’s a lifestyle choice that most people want for their freshman year,” Dr. Tromp said. “So, you might be able to find something but it might mean a commute. It means that you’re not going to have that same kind of experience where you and all your friends you know and 18 folks from your floor, get together to walk over to the football game. And so what we want to ensure is that they get that kind of college experience that people really dream about when they come to college.”
Brailsford and Dunleavey’s study is still in progress but Dr. Tromp says the findings will likely show a need for student housing that’s near classrooms and campus amenities.
“When students have access to their research assistants, when you don’t have to get in your car and drive 25 minutes back to campus for an evening lecture that’s not required, you’re not going to do it, or you’re less likely to do it than if you have to walk, you know, 20 steps from your dorm room.”
Expansion at Albertsons Stadium on hold
Along with providing more on-campus housing, Dr. Tromp says there may be a need to expand Albertsons Stadium but the university is still assessing that.
As BoiseDev first reported last year, the school evaluated a large number of changes to the stadium — particularly the east side.
Upgrades could include new premium seating, expanded concourses, new exterior design and athletics academic center.
Tromp noted the past discussion on renovation but said with new leadership in the athletic department, they are looking at what the future may hold.
“We’re very, very fortunate to have this fantastic new leadership athletics. So Jeremiah Dickey, and his team will take a deep dive into all of our facilities and prioritize the needs,” Tromp said. “Our most important priority could still end up being Albertsons stadium but they have to go through that process. And so, right now, they’re still in the midst of that and it makes it impossible to really say what is the next step for Albertsons Stadium.”
Tromp did say she expects to welcome a full house of fans for the Boise State football season opener this September, after a year largely without fans in the stadium.
Role in the state’s economy
This month, Boise State will reach 100,000 living graduates. Dr. Tromp says the university is proud to report that many of these alumni end up living and working in the Treasure Valley even if they are from out of state.
“What we do is we help Idahoans stay in Idaho because they have the skills and talents to go to work for Micron or Simplot or Wells Fargo or Boise Cascade,” Tromp said. “And so, we’re incredibly integral to the well-being and economic health of the state.”
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Tromp added that the school is also putting an emphasis on enabling students from rural parts of Idaho to work in their small communities after they graduate if they choose. She says she didn’t have that opportunity growing up in the small town of Green River, Wyoming.
“The only university in the state is the University of Wyoming and it’s in Laramie,” Dr. Tromp said. “And it meant moving far from home, and for me, I couldn’t imagine going that far and then being able to actually come back home to work. So, I know so many people who left Green River and never came back.”
Boise State’s recently created Community Impact Program, or CIP, is designed for students who want to complete their education in their small towns and work there after graduation. For example, in partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory, the school is able to offer cyber security degrees that students can put to use in their hometowns.
“We can train young people who want to stay in their hometown, if you want to live in Emmett Idaho, and be a cyber security professional, you can do that work and serve the farming and ranching communities around you and serve their cybersecurity needs and make a great living while staying in your hometown,” Dr. Tromp said. “So, if we can help those talented young people stay and work in those communities and also provide their talent to those communities, what a gift to the state.”
Biggest challenges as president
The pandemic was a challenge for universities across the country and Boise State was no exception. Tromp says COVID-19 was a major obstacle but she believes the university handled and is handling it well.
“We wanted to ensure that campus would open but that meant we had to make sure it would be safe,” Dr. Tromp said. “Many cities with big universities, the university was a hotspot that kept infection rates high in the community. We built a public health office of 65 people that ensure that our students, faculty and staff could get tested, could get treated for illness so we had special support staff who would stay with our students and help them out and care for them if they had to be isolated or quarantined.”
Boise State also held a mass vaccination clinic in April, where nearly 900 students were vaccinated. But despite the challenges the pandemic presented, Dr. Tromp says the biggest obstacle in her presidency has been addressing concerns about what higher education is at Boise State.
“I want to make sure that people in the state of Idaho know unequivocally, without question, is that universities are places where conversations happen and where ideas are brought to be debated and engaged,” Dr. Tromp said. “Not where anyone has been told what to do, where people are being taught how to think. And it’s been hard during the pandemic to get that message out.”
Tromp plans to travel the state this summer to engage with a wide range of Idahoans to let them know the school is a place where students are introduced to new ideas and new ways of thinking, but it is also a place where students individual beliefs and values are respected.
“We’re not designed to do anything other than that and I want to really carry that message around the state. So, the biggest challenge has been our isolation from people and not being able to tell our story in the same way that we have in the past.”
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