It all started with students in an argument class. In the spring semester of 2014, Dr. Kelly Myers assigned a semester-long project to her students. The guidelines were challenging, but simple: students were asked to identify something they were passionate about, research around that passion, and build on the ideas from their research to enact change throughout their communities.
“I wanted them to tap into what other people are doing who have this same investment,” said Dr. Myers. “I wanted them to ask questions like: What is the level of complexity? What are people doing locally? What are the problems, opportunities, and gaps in my local context that I could tap into and then find a way to contribute new ideas?”
Often times, students are pressured and overwhelmed to create 'the next big thing'. Instead of trying to invent something totally new, Dr. Myers encouraged her students to see what efforts or conversations they could join.
“People were really fired up at the end of the project presentations, and saying things like ‘We need to take this outside of the classroom; people need to experience this beyond our small class community,’” Dr. Myers said.
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That following summer, Dr. Myers received an email from one of her argument students, Rae Felte.
“I literally sent her a 10 page annotated bibliography,” Felte said. “I was definitely still in the school mode, so in the email I told her to read the email first and then look at the 10 page document – I didn't want to scare her.”
Rae had researched what other campus organizations were doing to give students a platform to push their ideas forward.
“After I sent that email, I totally doubted myself. I thought: a 10 page annotated bibliography? Really? But a few days later, I got an email from Dr. Myers, and she was thrilled, so we set up a time to meet in Boise even though I was spending my summer in Tahoe.”
Two days after their meeting, Andy Ridgeway, another student from the same argument class, emailed Dr. Myers asking about organizing a conference to share student ideas.
“Andy and I weren’t in any communication – it was seriously meant to be,” Felte said.
At the time, Andy had been trying to push new ideas throughout the university, but noticed the conversations weren’t going anywhere.
“I thought if we could create the infrastructure, a meta project that could function as a platform for students to engage in the university’s decision making process," said Ridgeway, "then it wouldn't have to be such an upward battle to get those conversations going."
Before the fall semester started, Andy, Rae, and Dr. Myers met up multiple times to discuss turning students’ brilliant ideas into a reality. They decided to call it The Ethos Project, an organization that provides a platform for students throughout all disciplines to voice their ideas outside of the classroom. At the end of the school year, The Ethos Project held a symposium, where six students were chosen to project their ideas beyond a campus context and out to Boise's community leaders.
From Then, to Now: What Ethos Means to Them
“Since the project emerged from an argument course, rhetoric is at the core of the work we do. It's about undergraduate students helping each other to build credibility (ethos) and to connect with wider audiences. Through our workshops and symposium, we extend that rhetorical work beyond the classroom and we position undergraduates as teachers and leaders, honoring and building their expertise.”
“My favorite thing about it is that it shows students they don’t have to already have a degree to do what they want because these are all undergraduate students who are leading the project, finding their purpose, and fulfilling their purpose without the degree. I think that shows empowerment and diligence from the students’ point.
Sometimes it’s really hard to have your voice heard on a college campus. Typically you have to go through administration first. When your message is being put out there by administration, they might shape how your voice is heard. When it comes from you directly, it’s more empowering and builds your credibility as an intellectual.”
“I think The Ethos Project has the potential to change how students see their relationships with the university; I think it inspires them to take ownership of our campus culture and push to be included in important decisions. This is a small example, but when the university is putting in a new restaurant on campus, wouldn't student input be great? Why don’t we have local restaurants on campus? Or what about having ASBSU sit in on President Kustra’s advisory committee meetings? I’d be really excited to see students become included in those decision making processes."
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In our second year, The Ethos Project anticipates yet another renowned emergence of Boise State University's undergraduate voices.