For almost 100 years, Idaho State University’s iconic Red Hill was home to the beloved “I,” which was placed on the hill by some of the first students on campus in 1916. What was originally in the form of a “T” for the institution’s name at the time—Idaho Technical Institute — the icon was changed to a “4” to advocate four-year university status in 1926, and then finally an “I” in 1927. It would remain the familiar orange “I” for nearly 90 years before being removed for safety reasons in 2014.
These safety concerns stemmed from erosion caused by soil being taken from Red Hill to help repair roadways around campus.
Returning the “I” to Red Hill has been on the minds of students, faculty, alumni and ISU President Kevin Satterlee. Shortly after becoming ISU’s president, one of his top priorities has been returning the “I” to its rightful place.
Satterlee extended a promise to ISU during his State of the University Address that the “I” would be seen by all at the start of the Fall 2019 semester. Plans are now being finalized to construct the new “I” this summer.
However, returning the “I” to Red Hill is no easy task. Because soil on the hill is loose, placing a new, stable “I” requires thoughtful design efforts.
“The University started working with a couple engineering firms several months ago to evaluate the soil on Red Hill,” Ryan Sargent, director of alumni relations, said. “The engineers have now presented a plan to restore the ‘I,’ built to the same dimensions and in the same colors as the original, to Red Hill in the same approximate location.”
Unlike the original “I,” which was constructed out of concrete, plaster, wood and chicken wire, the new one proposed by the engineers will be built of fiberglass grating.
“The fiberglass grating will minimize erosion and ensure that the ‘I’ remains a fixture on Red Hill for decades,” Sargent said.
Though returning the “I” to Red Hill might seem like a minor improvement to Idaho State, the traditions behind the “I” are a critical part of ISU’s history.
“During its long life, the Red Hill ‘I’ became perhaps the best-known landmark on campus,” Sargent said. “Several Idaho State traditions revolved around the ‘I,’ including lighting the ‘I’ every year during homecoming. Students would light a fire around the outline of the ‘I,’ illuminating it for the pep rally below.”
The “I” not only represents University traditions; it also represents how far we have come as an institution. Gaining four-year university status was a struggle for ISU— a long struggle that was spearheaded by students, faculty, staff and the Pocatello community. The “I” represents that accomplishment.
“The ‘I’ represents the ingenuity and grit of our students,” Sargent said. “It is a symbol of Bengal pride for many alumni, students and supporters.”