Dr. Roger Higdem, an influential and beloved part of the community at The College of Idaho, has passed away. He was 86.
Higdem was a member of the College’s faculty from 1959 to 1999 as a math professor. During his four-decade time at the school, he also served as a Vice President, Provost, and Dean of Academic Affairs. He also spent many years as the chair of the math department, touching lives across campus in ways that are still felt to this day.
“Roger was my academic advisor and a large part of the reason I earned my Ph.D. in Mathematics and came back to teach at the College,” said Lynda Danielson, an alum and long-time math professor at The College of Idaho. “As an entering freshman at the College, I was pre-med. To my good fortune, Roger was assigned as my academic advisor. My sophomore year, he strongly encouraged me to continue taking calculus along with biology ‘because math is good for you, kid.’”
Higdem served as a member of the United States Air Force before earning his graduate degree from the University of North Dakota. He was able to earn his Ph.D. from Oregon State University in 1970 while working at the College.
“A teacher must be more than someone who just stands before a class and lectures,” said Les Tanner, another long-time and well-respected math professor at the College who worked alongside Higdem. “A teacher must have significant knowledge to impart. A teacher must listen as well as talk. A teacher must care that his students learn instead of just remember. A teacher must care about how his students fare in ‘life after class.’ A teacher must have a long-lasting impact on his students. In short, a teacher must teach. Roger Higdem was a teacher.”
His impact was felt far and wide. Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer Bret Arsenault ’87 helped to establish a scholarship in Higdem’s name. During a visit to campus in 2017, Arsenault spoke of the legacy Higdem left upon him.
“It’s important to surround yourself with people who are greater and better than you,” Arsenault said about Higdem, who he called his favorite professor. “[Roger] showed me ways to think that I wouldn’t have experienced if I went anywhere else.”
Higdem and his wife, Mary, have both been honored with Emeritus status at the College. Mary also taught geology for a time and maintained a close connection to the College with her husband.
“My final year of graduate school, Roger contacted me about applying for the open position in the College’s math department,” Danielson continued. “Roger was instrumental in my professional journey. And mine is but one of hundreds, if not thousands, of ‘Roger’ stories. He taught at the College 40 years and was loved by all students. His passing is a tremendous loss to the community.”
The community expands well beyond the math department at The College of Idaho.
“Along with Frank Specht and other senior faculty, Roger taught me how to be a professor,” said Jasper LiCalzi of the Political Economy Department. “The students always came first with Roger. He was even dean for a while but he knew that the classroom was his home. Roger, I hope you and Frank are having a good laugh at all of us. We miss you.”
Higdem was presented with an honorary degree during Commencement in 2018 after decades of helping students receive their undergraduate degrees from The College of Idaho.
“Roger was always there to help if you needed assistance with differentiating the square root of X or building a nice deck in your back yard,” said History Professor Steve Maughan. “He and Mary have been missed since their retirement. Now he will be missed more.”