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ISU student Rhett Downing to graduate after 50-year long wait

By Tori Parks, Marketing Career Path Intern | May 4, 2020

POCATELLO – Graduating from college is a momentous occasion for anybody, but after a 50-year long wait to complete a college degree, it is even more momentous for 66-year-old Rhett Downing.

Rhett DowningDowning, who will graduate with a degree in history and emergency management, didn’t have the easiest route through college. After having matriculated in a community college, vo-tech school, and three state universities in Idaho, Downing fully intends to participate in Idaho State’s December 2020 graduation ceremony.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Idaho State, primarily because of the many classes that I have taken here,” Downing said. “All of my teachers have been extremely supportive and helpful.”

Downing, who attended Fort Hays State University in the 1960s, saw an immeasurable difference when he came to ISU.

“I went from barely scraping by to making the dean’s roll the first semester,” Downing said. “This is entirely because the professors at ISU are here for you.”

Downing, who previously worked for Clear Channel Corporation, ended up at ISU by chance. After Clear Channel Corporation went bankrupt, Downing took an early retirement. It was his wife, Beth, who encouraged him to finish his college education, something he had wished to do for years.

“Beth and I looked over the programs and decided emergency management and history had a great deal of appeal,” Downing said. “So, at 62 years of age, I headed back to school at Idaho State University.”

Despite defeating the odds and returning to college after such a long time, Downing says that his biggest accomplishment while at school came during his four years as an emergency management intern for ISU Public Safety.

“I was on the team that wrote the University’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) that was accepted by FEMA’s Emergency Management Accreditation Program team,” Downing said. “I wrote the communications section of the COOP, drawing on 40 years of experience in broadcasting as well as my experience in emergency response with the Albany County American Red Cross.”

Though Downing is graduating in May, he plans to continue his education to gain certification as a commissioned lay pastor through Dubuque Seminary Dubuque University.

“I am currently co-executive of Kendall Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA),” Downing said. “I am half-way through my certification.” 

Downing hopes to take his education from ISU, along with his commissioned lay pastor certification, to help those in need. 

“It is my hope to serve with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and take advantage of the associate degree in emergency management that I earned at ISU.”

Due to COVID-19, May graduation ceremonies have been combined with the December ceremony.