Entering a new season at Ricks

BYU-Idaho transition proceeds as fall fast approaches

REXBURG, Idaho — John Zenger, 38, received his doctorate from Purdue University in 1997 and quickly landed a position in the entomology department at the University of Florida. He and his wife, Abby, have five children, ages 8 years through 4 months old, and he's the bishop of the Gainsville (Fla.) 2nd Ward.

A summer class takes advantage of warm sunshine on Ricks College campus. When classes begin in autumn, student enrollment is expected to jump from 9,000 to 11,600.
A summer class takes advantage of warm sunshine on Ricks College campus. When classes begin in autumn, student enrollment is expected to jump from 9,000 to 11,600. Credit: Photo by Julie A. Dockstader

In other words, life is good. So why is he moving his family to Rexburg, Idaho, where winters are long and cold, and the closest beach is probably the nearby Ririe Reservoir?

It's because Brother Zenger wants to be in on the ground floor of a new university. He is among 38 new faculty members of Brigham Young University-Idaho, which will begin this fall when the much-anticipated transition of Ricks College occurs. Faculty development is just one phase in this transition, which also includes new construction, as the school continues on schedule to its new designation. (The change from Ricks College to BYU-Idaho was announced on June 21, 2000, by President Gordon B. Hinckley. Please see June 24, 2000, Church News.)

"One of the things exciting about this is to be on the ground floor, to watch and possibly to help shape this entity, this new university," he said during a telephone interview from his home in Gainsville. "That's exciting. I think [current Ricks College] President [David A.] Bednar did a good job conveying his vision of the school. We feel blessed and lucky to have this opportunity."

It's obvious that he's not alone in his feelings. For the 38 new positions, there were more than 650 applications from throughout the country — many with similar backgrounds or academic achievements as Brother Zenger. This recruiting success has muted the critics who, when it was known the university would not have faculty ranking, said the school would not attract the best candidates.

Students Ruby Weideman, Valerie Anderson say they enjoy close-knit atmosphere of the small college.
Students Ruby Weideman, Valerie Anderson say they enjoy close-knit atmosphere of the small college. Credit: Photo by Julie A. Dockstader

"It's humbling and overwhelming, and it's exciting and spiritually renewing to be involved in this transition and to see what's taking place," President Bednar said during an interview in his office in the new Spencer W. Kimball Administration Building. "The progress that has been made in the last 10 or 11 months can only be explained by the prophetic vision of President Hinckley."

Don Bird, vice president of academics, said the early concerns about faculty ranking quickly disappeared as applications came in. "People of the highest quality from major universities across the United States [expressed interest]. We were very pleased we were able to attract the quality and quantity that we did."

BYU-Idaho will not require the highest degree one can receive in a field, Brother Bird added. Generally, instructors here have master's degrees, with about a third having the highest degrees. But those wishing to advance will have plenty of opportunity, he emphasized, with universities close by offering to work with the new school to further educate faculty wishing to do so. And these universities are also enthused about providing graduate programs for future BYU-Idaho graduates.

To prepare for the influx of new students seeking four-year degrees, Brother Bird explained that the college's 122 programs have been cut or consolidated to 19 associates and 46 bachelor's degrees. The current fall/winter enrollment of 9,000 at the two-year school is expected to grow to 11,600 in the next four years after becoming a four-year institution. And with the new track program, with students admitted at various times of the year, BYU-Idaho is expected to serve from 14,000 to 15,000 students per year.

John Zenger is looking forward to sharing with them the warmth found on this campus — what has been called "the spirit of Ricks." He emphasized this by sharing the initial feelings of his 8-year-old daughter, Madeleine, who did want want to leave her friends and school in Florida. When Brother Zenger called Kevin Anderson, the dean of BYU-Idaho's agriculture and biology division, to indicate his interest in the new position, he mentioned his daughter's feelings.

"A few days later, a letter arrived from him personally to my daughter. He described the fun things that will be there. We were floored that a busy dean took the time to write to a little girl."

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