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First-Generation College Graduate Establishes $25,000 Endowment to Support First-Generation Students

June 6, 2022
Aubi Crabtree

Portrait of Nisson Family

Growing up in a farming community in rural Idaho in the 1960s, Dr. Blaine Nisson never imagined he would now be a retired college president. From his choice to become the first person in his family to go to college in 1968 to graduating with a doctoral degree in 2003, Nisson says he attributes all of his success and life accomplishments back to that one decision to attend Idaho State University. 

As a way of giving back and supporting students like himself, Blaine and his family established the $25,000 Nisson Family Endowment Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to first-generation students who are attending the Idaho State University College of Education. 

“I did not have a lot of world experiences until I started extending myself at Idaho State University,” Nisson said. “I specifically geared this scholarship towards first generation students who, oftentimes, need financial support and are so intimidated by taking out student loans. This University just totally transformed my life and my parents would have never guessed that I would have earned a doctorate degree and became a college president.” 

Born and raised in southeast Idaho, Nisson is the youngest of five children. His father ran the local grain elevator and their family took part in the typical small community activities such as 4-H, scouting, and farming. 

“We were a very close-knit family. My parents really wanted me to go to college and have the opportunities that a college education provided. However, my parents did not have much money in our family. I had to figure out a way to make it work,” he said.  

While in college, Nisson worked 40-hour weeks including weekends and weeknights. He was afraid of student loans, and made it a priority to stay debt-free and support himself through college. As he worked toward a marketing degree, he maintained an active student experience. He lived at the Phi Sig house, joined the ISU Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and even befriended Earl Pond, for whom the Idaho State University Pond Student Union Building is named. Pond was Nisson’s chapter advisor and lived across the street from him. From 1972-73, he  also served as ASISU student body president. 

After completing his undergraduate degree, longtime mentor and friend, Dr. Bud Davis, who served as the Idaho State University President in the 1960’s-70’s, encouraged Nisson to look into a career in higher education. Nisson held various positions at Idaho State including assistant director of high school relations, financial aid counselor, and recruiter from 1973-1981. In 1976, Nisson graduated with a Masters in Higher Education degree with an emphasis in counseling through the College of Education. During this time, he met his wife who was completing a radiology sciences degree at Idaho State.

After his short career at Idaho State, Nisson decided he wanted to commit his life to working in higher education. He went on to hold leadership positions from 1981-1991 at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Oregon, including division director of student services and enrollment management and director of student programs. Throughout the mid-1990s, he worked mostly in Washington serving as the Dean of Students for Centralia College, as the director of student affairs for the University of Washington, and working as the interim director of financial aid for Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. In 2001, he was named the vice president of student development at Clark College until his promotion to acting president from 2002-2003. Nisson completed a Doctorate of Education in Community College Leadership degree at Oregon State University in 2003. In 2004, he was named the president of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon where he worked until his retirement in 2010. Nisson’s scholarly interests also included serving as president of the National Association of Student Development, serving on the American Association of Community Colleges, and serving on the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges to name a few. He served on Idaho State University’s Alumni Board of Directors from 2010-2014. 

Throughout his career, helping students was always Nisson’s top priority.

“I had a wonderful career working in college administration where I impacted hundreds of thousands of individual lives,” he said. 

He advocated for transfer agreements between community colleges and universities, strongly supported the ADA law and providing better services to students with disabilities, and was instrumental in creating 17 new career and technical instructional programs. Most notably, he helped establish the $7 million dollar Southern Oregon Wine Institution (SOWI) at Umpqua Community College in 2008. SOWI is a commercial-scale winemaking facility that includes a living laboratory of student-cultivated vineyards. SOWI was the first viticulture and enology program in Oregon outside the Willamette Valley to offer degree, certificate and continuing education programs in growing, winemaking, and vineyard ownership. 

The decision to start a scholarship endowment at Idaho State came both from his personal and professional experiences. 

“Helping the future generation of educators is where my heart is. Establishing this scholarship came from a personal commitment to help others so they have an opportunity to have a better life,” Nisson said, “My whole career was in education and the decision to start this scholarship endowment comes from within me.” 

Even though he was the first in his family to graduate with a college degree, Nisson was not the last. His oldest brother Otto decided after years of working in the automotive industry to complete his degree in automotive technology through Idaho State’s College of Technology. Upon graduation, Otto taught in Idaho State’s Automotive Technology Program and at Highland High School before opening an automotive business named “Otto-Tune” in Pocatello. 

Nisson’s daughter is also a 2nd generation college graduate, working as a 4th grade teacher in Arizona.

“Education is a game-changer. I saw this year after years at graduation and within my own family,” he said. 

Nisson is now retired and resides primarily in Arizona with his wife. During the school year, he is active in education and enjoys volunteering at his grandkids schools. In the summertime, Nisson and his wife live at their other home in Anderson Island, Washington.


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