When he was in the fourth grade, College of Idaho senior Aanish Shamim remembered reading in his Idaho history class about NASA astronaut Barbara Morgan, who spent much of her career outside of NASA teaching in Idaho. He recalled being fascinated by her story, yet never expected to meet her.
That changed at the annual Idaho Humanities Council Distinguished Humanities Lecture and Dinner in Boise on Sept. 15, which Shamim and several other students from the C of I attended with faculty advisors. To Shamim’s surprise, Morgan’s table stood directly to the right of Shamim’s, where he and other C of I students were seated — and the astronaut was more than happy to visit with all of them and learn their stories.
“It was such a surreal moment,” Shamim said. “Here I was talking to someone I had read about in textbooks growing up, and she was going around the table, talking to every one of us. It was an incredible moment.”
The Idaho Humanities Council, which has worked for 43 years on a mission of “deepening understanding of human experience by connecting people with ideas,” regularly invites nationally recognized historians, journalists and novelists to multiple areas of the state as a way to increase regional awareness of the humanities.
The IHC’s annual lecture and dinner is one of the council’s largest events of each year, providing each distinct region of the state the opportunity to meet and learn from unique speakers with expertise across numerous subjects. This year’s keynote speaker for the Boise event was National Book Award winner and New York writer Evan Osnos, who has extensively covered the campaign and administration of President Donald Trump.
Students and faculty from the C of I reserved multiple tables at the event, primarily representing students from the Gibson Scholar program and students studying international political economy.
Several faculty members at The College of Idaho have served on the IHC Board of Directors through the years, including current board member Dr. Sue Schaper, professor of English at the C of I. Now serving in her second three-year term on the board, Schaper said the dinners have been excellent opportunities for students to connect to new ideas outside the classroom setting.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to experience these phenomenal speakers and thinkers live,” Schaper said. “You could look at a work of art reproduced in a textbook or a slide, but when you come to see it in person, there’s something that’s so much more powerful about it.”
Shamim said he had not expected the event to be as large as it was, which made the experience even more exciting for him. Although he was unfamiliar with Osnos’ work before the dinner, he said he found Osnos’ speech and perspectives on America under Trump interesting, and has since read more of Osnos’ published works.
“I do a lot of personal work learning more about racial relations in America,” Shamim said. “Osnos has a lot to say that I was able to connect with.”
Shamim said he was blown away by the wide scope of the event and the variety of other attendees he and his classmates interacted with during the evening. Beyond his interactions with Morgan and Osnos, he said everyone who spoke to him was kind and eager to have students attending.
“I’m glad that I had this chance to come to an event like this,” Shamim said. “I would jump at every opportunity to do it again, and I’m glad that C of I gave me the opportunity to see what it was about.”
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 www.collegeofidaho.edu.