No matter where his career has taken him, Kevin Satterlee has kept a few photos in his office. The black and white pictures show hard-working men and women at a logging camp in Northern Idaho. These are Satterlee’s family photos.
“I keep these on the wall to remind me of my roots,” he says. “No matter how hard work is, it was harder there.”
Satterlee became Idaho State University’s 13th president July 1, but he didn’t have to travel far to take the job. An attorney by training, Satterlee has built his entire career in the Gem State and in public service.
A fourth-generation Idahoan, Satterlee was born in Priest River, Idaho. He graduated from Boise State University magna cum laude and was named a Top Ten Scholar. He earned his law degree from the University of Idaho, magna cum laude. As a lifelong resident, he understands Idaho, and, as a first-generation college graduate, he understands the importance of education. His parents worked hard and instilled in him the importance of doing well in school.
“I grew up here in small-town Idaho,” he said. “I know what higher education can do for a person, and for a community. I can see how it transforms. It gives people a chance to make a better life for themselves. I see what it did for me.”
Satterlee’s road to working in higher education was not part of his original career plan. In fact, when the State Attorney General’s Chief of Staff asked him to serve as lead counsel for the State Board of Education, he said no at first — he was happy with the work he was currently doing for the state. In the end, he took the job and hasn’t looked back for more than 20 years in higher education. After serving as the chief legal officer to the Idaho State Board of Education, Satterlee spent 17 years in leadership roles at Boise State University, most recently as the chief operating officer, vice president and special counsel to the president.
“Getting a chance to work in higher education was a fantastic opportunity, and I didn’t even know it at the time,” he said. “It’s an incredibly fulfilling job. Higher education affects the individual, but it makes all of our society better. I realized it was a calling.”
President Satterlee in the Homecoming Parade with his wife, Margaret.
It was with that same mindset that Satterlee put his name in the running for Idaho State University’s next president last year. ISU was the only place he was applying. Satterlee said he wasn’t looking for a presidential position just anywhere — he saw tremendous potential in ISU.
When asked about the university, Satterlee is quick to point out the opportunities not seen by everyone, such as ISU’s partnership and proximity to the Idaho National Laboratory, and what that partnership means for students looking for research opportunities. He talks about the School of Performing Arts and Stephens Performing Arts Center, recently ranked among the top college performing arts centers in the country, and the fact that ISU’s Meridian campus is the home of Idaho’s only medical school, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The University’s unique relationship with a medical school, combined with ISU’s College of Business, providing unique programs in health care administration and informatics will bring ISU to the forefront, Satterlee said. He also points to ISU’s status as a center for excellence in cyber-security, coupled with its relationship with INL and the FBI, as another opportunity for national prominence. In the next 10 years, he sees ISU emerging as a known regional leader in the health sciences, along with pursuing more research opportunities at the Idaho National Laboratory and throughout the region.
Satterlee readily admits that he doesn’t have the same background as many of his faculty and that he has taken a less-traditional route to become a university president. “To me, it’s about understanding,” he said. “The president’s role is really to appreciate what the faculty does, to empower faculty and to work with them to eliminate barriers,” he said. “It’s my job to advocate for our university.”
In his first few years at ISU, Satterlee said he plans on focusing on two of the biggest issues facing universities nationwide — increasing our enrollment and increasing our funding. He says that starting to tell the Idaho State University story to a broader audience will help with both of those challenges. One of the keys, he said, is making sure others see the great opportunities available at Idaho State.
“We have a great story at Idaho State. We just have to tell it,” he said.
President Satterlee greets Michael Dean as the football players walk through the pregame tailgate for the Bengal Walk.