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AN EYE TOWARD THE FUTURE

Marc Skinner returns to lead U of I, Idaho Falls with plans to increase enrollment, degree offerings, community involvement

Published online: Mar 05, 2024 Business, Trends in Education
Viewed 3621 time(s)

Story by Danae Lenz of University of Idaho

A man with deep ties to University of Idaho now leads University of Idaho, Idaho Falls — for the second time — and he has big plans. 

Marc Skinner, who began serving as center executive officer at the beginning of 2024, previously held the role from 2015-18. He returns after serving as chair of the communication department in Brigham Young University-Idaho’s College of Business and Communication.

“I’m excited to be back,” said Skinner, who grew up in Moscow and earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at U of I. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity in this part of the state, and the university has a great history here.”

His first order of business is taking a deep look into what the center is already doing — including working closely with Idaho National Laboratory, as it has for decades — and examining what they can do to fill community needs. 

“I really hope to be even more plugged into the community and the region,” Skinner said. “We want to be at the table, listen, show our value and help where we can. We’re a partner.”


FOCUS ON ENROLLMENT

A big part of Skinner’s dream for U of I, Idaho Falls is increasing enrollment and adding degree programs. 

“We want to grow what we have, but then we want to find out what else we could bring that would make sense,” he said.

Right now, the campus focuses mostly on graduate programs and offers only a handful of in-person undergraduate degrees, including industrial technology and environmental science. 

“I’d love to see us in the near future offering some niche undergraduate degrees at this campus,” Skinner said. 

Adding degree programs is a long process that requires approval from the State Board of Education, but he’s confident the Idaho Falls Center has unique, untapped degree opportunities.

“It’d have to be thoroughly vetted and we’d have to work with the other universities,” Skinner said. “If we didn’t have to go through that process, I’d say, ‘Let’s do a cybersecurity undergrad right now and build it with College of Eastern Idaho.’”

Speaking of CEI, Skinner would like U of I to forge a closer relationship with the school, developing paths for students to continue their education past what the community college can offer. 

“I would love to see us building programs that CEI feeds into,” he said. “How can we provide the next on-ramp if someone wants to continue?”

Rick Aman, president of CEI, said he is excited to see what kind of relationship the two schools can build moving forward under Skinner’s leadership.

“I have had the privilege of working with Marc for several years across many diverse projects,” he said. “He has provided our college with exceptional partnerships and a willingness to collaborate with CEI, bridging our practical training of technicians with University of Idaho’s cutting-edge research and advanced degrees.”


‘HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE RESEARCHERS’

One thing Skinner has no plans of changing is the center’s close relationships with INL and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), a research and education consortium between U of I, INL, Boise State University and Idaho State University.

“U of I is a prominent research university and traditionally has been the most productive research university in the state,” he said. “It’s just who we are.”

INL’s Idaho Falls campus, which includes the CAES building, is quite literally a stone’s throw from the U of I center, and lots of current Vandals are interns or employees at the lab, leading to fantastic career opportunities. Many faculty members are also researchers at INL or CAES.

U of I is working toward R1 status — the top classification of research universities in the United States — and Skinner says the work U of I does in Idaho Falls is vital to its reputation as a research institution.

“All our faculty and graduate students here are highly productive researchers,” he said. “We’re an important component to the research operation of University of Idaho. That’s going to continue to be fundamental to what we do here.”


RURAL OUTREACH

U of I’s best resource for connecting with communities is UI Extension. Each county in East Idaho — and all but two of Idaho’s 44 counties — is home to an Extension office, which can offer a variety of educational opportunities. 

Skinner said he wants to focus outreach in the more rural counties of East Idaho. 

“I would love to learn what their needs are and what they’re trying to grow economically and otherwise and see how we can participate in meeting the needs of the region,” he said.

How that looks in practice could include any number of things. Many Extension classes across the state focus on agriculture, but they’ve also offered classes on topics relevant to anyone such as personal finance and stress management. 

“Maybe it’s sitting in a room at the Extension office and participating in classes being offered here, in Moscow or Boise,” Skinner said. “Maybe it’s more focused on K-12 and trying to expose these great young people to what the possibilities are in the sciences and in engineering.”


'EXTERNALLY FOCUSED’

Skinner says Idaho Falls is unique in part because of its close connection to both science and the arts.

“I’ve always known this because I'm the son of a musician, but it’s not uncommon to see people who are really good at music are also really good at math and science,” said Skinner, whose father is U of I music Professor Emeritus Doc Skinner, longtime director of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. “I think the focus on science and research here also lends itself to support of the arts and things that make it a great place to live.”

“When I was here before, I was constantly looking for ways that we could bring a little bit of Moscow to the region,” he said. “There were a couple things we did that were super well received, and I’d like to do some more.”

One was an exhibit called “Visualizing Science” that visualized scientific topics through art. It had been on display in Moscow, and Skinner arranged to have it displayed at The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls. 

He also brought the jazz band from U of I’s Moscow campus to Idaho Falls. It was a last-minute ordeal, but they scraped together the money and hosted the concert in the auditorium at Hillcrest High School in Ammon. 

“We got the word out as best we could, and I was nervous because what if nobody showed up?” said Skinner, who discovered his fears were unfounded as the concert was a hit. 

In addition to hosting artistic events, Skinner wants the Idaho Falls Center to be more involved in the community in general.

U of I shares a campus with Idaho State University’s Idaho Falls campus, and coordinating with ISU will be key, Skinner said.

“We need to work with ISU to create momentum, to create awareness, maybe be more inviting to the community,” he said. 

Community involvement won’t just entail inviting people to campus, however. Skinner plans on getting the school more involved with local nonprofits such as City Club, rotary, economic development organizations and more. 

“We want to be much more externally focused, and that’s something I really enjoy,” he said. “We want to look for opportunities where we can add value to things that are already happening here.”

The region has grown and changed a lot in recent years, but U of I is ready to tackle whatever needs arise to make sure the area thrives for years to come. 

“There’s a lot of good things happening here industry-wise and otherwise,” Skinner said. “There’s growth. And I hope that we can be a fundamental piece to that.”

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