Sen. Frank Church left a legacy of engagement with ideas on all fronts of political life. The Frank Church Institute at Boise State strives to keep that legacy alive by holding annual conferences and providing resources and scholarships for students.
Garry Wenske is the executive director for the institute, having spent his career in Washington D.C. working for members of Congress, including Senator Church. When Wenske moved back to Boise, he was asked to take on his current role and help create the institute.
“This institution really goes back to the early 1980s when Senator Frank Church, who was chairman of the foreign relations committee, donated all of his public papers to Boise State University after he left office,” Wenske said. “All of the papers are in the library under the Frank Church collection and anyone can look at them. A lot of people go over there to research the issues he worked on either environmental issues, intelligence committee or foreign relations committee.”
Chase Johnson is a research associate for the institute and has been for the past three years. Being a Frank Church scholar while he attended Boise State, he believes students have much to gain by getting involved, including a larger connection to the world.
“For students who are interested in things going on around the world or the U.S. role in that, we’re kind of the one-stop shop here at Boise State,” Johnson said. “Forgeing policy in Boise, Idaho isn’t something that is an intuitive connection but I like working to show students and fellow Idahoans that we are fairly connected to the world and that what Idaho does matters.”
Along with being a hub for students interested in global studies, every year the institute hosts the Frank Church Conference. The conference covers a different topic every year, this year, the 36th conference discussed “Democracy in an Age of Anxiety: Russian Intrusion, Chinese Confrontation, Populist Disruption.”
“I understand that it’s not the first choice for students on how to spend their time outside of class,” Johnson said. “But what I hope what the conference does is get people thinking about how these big ideas affect their everyday lives. We have these breakout sessions and we use them as smaller, more human connected events where our audience can engage with these experts.”
The School of Public Service offers Frank Church Scholarships to students involved. This year, they were able to raise enough to send two students to live in Washington D.C. for the semester while interning on Capitol Hill.
Jackson Blackwell, a junior majoring in political science and economics, is currently interning in D.C. on one of the scholarships.
“I am interning with the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee under the Chairmanship of Senator Lisa Murkowski,” Blackwell said. “I’m grateful to The Frank Church Institute and the School of Public Service for providing the opportunity for Boise State students to intern and study in D.C. This opportunity has helped me understand what I want to do after college and provided me with perspective that will be valuable for the rest of my life,” Blackwell said in an email.
The Institute hopes to leave a mark on both students and others that come to campus for the annual conference. Johnson explains how the conferences are more than just people talking at the audience, it strives to get people thinking about policies, not just locally, but globally as well.
“The real legacy of this conference is that those who go to it, at least for a few days afterwards, they’re gonna think about ‘What am I doing in my day-to-day life to engage with democracy,’” Johnson said. “Engage with good media, to think critically about what’s going on around the world, like these are big macro ideas, but I think the more people think about it and actualize it in their day-to-day lives, the better the world is going to be.”