Tromp: During COVID-19 crisis, universities need to step up for at-risk students

Marlene Tromp.jpg
Posted at 6:52 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 20:52:21-05

This article was originally published by Kevin Richert in Idaho Ed News.

Likening the COVID-19 education crisis to the Apollo 13 space mission, Boise State University President Marlene Tromp Thursday announced a national digital summit to address the needs of at-risk students.

The Dec. 1 event will bring together higher education administrators — from Howard University and the University of California-Berkeley, and points in between — to discuss how to better serve students during the pandemic.

Tromp said colleges and universities need to act now on behalf of their students, who are struggling with academic and mental health challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The working model for the summit, she said, is the April 1970 Apollo 13 flight. NASA scrubbed the mission’s planned lunar landing, but its three astronauts survived, after NASA scientists helped guide the hobbled spacecraft back to Earth.

“They jumped in to figure out how they could problem-solve, right in that moment, to help those astronauts while they were in flight, so they could complete their mission,” Tromp said Thursday, during a virtual address to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Keeping with the space theme, the Dec. 1 summit is titled “Project Launchpad.”

During her 20-minute presentation, Tromp did not mention the financial crunch and the looming faculty furloughs at the state’s largest university. She instead recapped several other campus efforts to adapt and innovate during the coronavirus crisis:

  • Boise State has gone virtual with a rural pilot program, which launched this fall. The goal is to allow students in McCall, Mountain Home and Payette to take Boise State courses online while receiving faculty support.
  • A new “gap year” program allows students to earn online elective credits while working on an individualized learning plan, working with faculty and student mentors.
  • Through a series of programs, 2,500 K-12 teachers received more than 73,000 hours of summer training at Boise State, helping them better prepare for online instruction.
  • Tromp said the university’s “blue turf thinking” extended to football, as Boise State returned to play in October — albeit before nearly empty stands and to the sound of piped-in crowd noise.

Touting Boise State’s record $58 million in research contracts for this year, Tromp encouraged business leaders to help the university target new research that will serve Idaho industry.

“Partnership is one of the things that Boise State does best,” she said.