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Distinguished Alumni present "TED"-style lectures

Homecoming at The College of Idaho has always served as a way to celebrate the College’s successful alumni, and this year is no exception. But while the 2017 winners of the Distinguished Alumni Awards each returned to Caldwell to graciously accept their respective honors on Sept. 14, they also took the time to share some of what they’ve learned and accomplished since their graduation in a series of special “TED”-style lectures.

Each of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award winners gave short lectures on a variety of subjects within their expertise. Some shared presentations that focused on their professional work; some focused more on personal lessons and growth. But no matter their topic, all of the winners shared the same gratitude toward the College that helped to shape who they are today.

“I’m humbled to be here today,” Young Alumni Award winner Dr. Robert Hamilton ’08 said before beginning his presentation. “So many of my peers are doing incredible work, not just locally but globally. To be asked to return to Caldwell and share some of my work with you is an incredible honor.”

Hamilton, who went on to receive his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from UCLA following his graduation from C of I, presented some of the work in brain assessment robotics he has researched since his time in graduate school. Hamilton spoke about designing and manufacturing unique ultrasounds tracing pathways in the brain, utilizing machine learning technology to perform in seconds what would usually take doctors several minutes.

“You never really know where opportunity will present itself,” Hamilton said of the technology he is helping to develop, which originated from a coding error during his time in graduate school. “If I hadn’t made this mistake, we never would have found this special thing. I try to take that into every project I do today, from a project to a phone call.”

Dr. Brian Attebery ’74 and Dr. Jennifer Eastman Attebery ’73, married winners of the Distinguished Alumni Award and fellow English professors at Idaho State University, each took the time to speak about the subjects they first encountered and fell in love with at the C of I. Brian, who specializes in analyzing science fiction and fantasy, spoke about utopia, dystopia and the value of imagination in literature, while Jennifer examined the language of personal letters of immigrants with an eye toward folklore.

“Myths, fairy tales, fantasy cartoons, they each present something from the face inside ourselves,” Brian said. “They are a way for us to connect with the past and contemplate the future.”

Bob Beckwith ’72, a longtime public educator, and Corey Surber ’91, a longtime advocate of community health, each spoke about taking actions in the present to help make positive impacts in the future. Beckwith reflected on his time while he was still a student at the C of I, not realizing at the time that he and his peers were the future. He spoke about the importance of forming partnerships that would grow new opportunities for the younger generations.

“I reflect and I think back and I look forward, and I think with a good liberal arts education and a team working together with a little grit, the world’s future is going to be in good hands,” Beckwith said.

Surber, whose presentation focused on how Caldwell has addressed issues of community health and welfare, said it is important to take note of how a living environment impacts children, particularly those coming from poor households.

“What we need to realize is that when students come to school, they bring some baggage with them,” Surber said. “If we’re seeking to improve educational outcomes, we need to deal with that baggage.”

And for Jeannine Mars ’77, representing the Asa L. and E. Grace Blood family for the Family Heritage Award, breeding success is all about positive attitude and encouragement, which she said her grandparents had in spades despite neither of them having more than an 8th grade education themselves.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have such great role models in my life,” Mars said. “Through acts of encouragement, my biological family and my Coyote family have guided my life. For all of you, seek out opportunities of kindness to encourage others. It doesn’t take much to make a real difference.”

Each presentation can be viewed in full on the College’s Facebook page. A direct link to the video can be found here.

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit