TWIN FALLS — With a $1.6 million donation in hand for agriculture scholarships, the College of Southern Idaho wants to boost the number of students in those programs.
Longtime Reno, Nev.-area rancher Bob Dickenson, who died in 2016, wanted the money to be used specifically for financial assistance for students pursuing agriculture-related degrees.
The CSI Foundation was notified in May it would receive a gift from him, and the money came in October.
CSI officials say the donation will have a huge impact on a large number of students. Now, it wants to boost recruitment efforts, expand certain agriculture-related programs and encourage more students to apply for scholarships.
“Until we have the students to distribute the money to, it will be difficult to distribute that much money,” said Barry Pate, chairman of the CSI agriculture department.
Dickenson — who owned property near Gooding — didn’t want his name on a building and wanted all the money to be spent in 20 years, said Debra Wilson, executive director of the CSI Foundation. “His goal is not for us to sit on it.”
Dickenson also donated to a similar amount of money to the University of Nevada, Reno, for graduate-level agriculture students.
What’s unusual about this major donation: Dickenson wanted the entire amount of the gift — plus interest — to be spent. With expected interest, that’s about $2.5 million — enough for about $128,000 per year in scholarships.
Typically, the principal amount of a major gift is left untouched and just the interest is used.
The CSI Foundation has about $40 million in assets and distributes about $2 million each year in scholarships to students.
CSI’s agriculture department includes degree or certificate programs in agribusiness, animal science, aquaculture, food processing technology, horse management, horticulture, veterinary technology and water resource management.
Dickenson’s donation is for scholarships for students majoring in agriculture, mining or natural resources. CSI doesn’t have a mining program.
The funds are also available for students studying in agriculture-related areas such as food processing, horticulture, agriculture diesel and welding.
Wilson said she met Dickenson in 2012 and he was impressed with CSI’s agriculture program. He started making donations to the foundation after that for scholarships for agriculture students.
Over several years, CSI distributed about $200,000 — mostly, in the form of $1,000 to $2,000 scholarships.
“It has served many, many students,” Pate said, adding the students have been very appreciative.
CSI students seeking assistance filled out the college’s general online scholarship application. The agriculture department reviewed the applications, Pate said, and tried to give some money to every student who applied.
About once a month, Wilson sent thank you notes from students to Dickenson in the mail. “He was really touched,” she said.
Now with the new gift from Dickenson, CSI officials are looking to develop a new application process for agriculture scholarships.
Dickenson was really worried about students going into agriculture not having enough funds to pursue their education, Wilson said.
CSI officials want to recruit high-achieving agriculture students, such as those in FFA, to come to the college and earn a scholarship.
It also plans to work with at-risk students — 12 starting next year — through the college’s summer Bridge to Success program who are starting in agriculture-related programs.
Another possibility: helping workforce development students in agriculture fields who are gaining additional job training, Wilson said.
Pate said he wants to attract top-notch students to CSI who’ll have a big impact in elevating the classroom experience and environment for their peers.
And he wants to grow student numbers in programs such as horticulture, food processing and water resource management.
Here in the Magic Valley, “we wouldn’t be here without agriculture,” Wilson said. But unless students have family members in agriculture, it’s really hard to start a farm, she said.
The funding allows the college to support students entering the agriculture world — and largely, into professions that support the agriculture industry.
“Like the FFA kids say, there’s way more to agriculture than cows and plows,” Wilson said.
CSI officials plan to focus on recruiting into agriculture programs during the yearly state FFA convention at CSI. Typically, more than 1,000 people — including students, teachers and parents — are on campus.
CSI has more than 200 students currently in its agriculture department. The focus, Pate said, is hands-on learning.
That impressed Dickenson and now, his legacy will live on through two decades’ worth of students.