Candidates for CWI board tout their different backgrounds

Voters in Ada and Canyon counties have a variety of choices when voting for a new trustee to serve on the College of Western Idaho board. A trio of candidates competing for one seat participated in a forum Wednesday morning sponsored by the Boise Metro Chamber. Each touted different talents to offer voters.

Molly Lenty, a long-time Boise businesswoman and financial services professional, said her business experience and years of managing multi-million dollar budgets give her unique understanding of the evolving needs of the business community.

Shane Ostermeier, a former administrator in higher education, said his background in education leadership makes him highly qualified.

And Erin Sorensen, a former CWI student, said she can best relate. She knows first-hand the struggles CWI students endure, juggling school work, a full-time job and caring for a family. “I’m not the most perfect candidate, but I’m really good at asking questions and finding out why things are they way they are,” Sorensen said.

Lenty serves on the CWI’s foundation board, which gives her added experience. “I’ve learned a lot about the needs of the college,” Lenty said.

Ostermeier, who is now retired, said higher education is “who I am” and he would make sure the student voice is always heard if serving on the board. “I’m a good listener,” he said.

Annie Hightower also participated in the forum, but she is running unopposed for an open seat. All voters in Ada and Canyon counties will see these two races on their ballots.

The competing candidates answered differently when asked what they think should be the highest priority at CWI, Idaho’s fast growing and largest community college, which specializes in associate degrees and professional certificates.

Their priorities:

  • Lenty — provide a pipeline to employment. “I also would pause for some inspection and determine what are the things we can do better and celebrate the tremendous success of our alumni.”
  • Ostermeier — focus on student success. “It has to be the foundation the college is based on.”
  • Sorensen — improve student retention and support for faculty. “They are not feeling the love and I think they should for pushing through the recession. They don’t have enough time in the day to do a good job.”

All three said they will support a facilities levy that is also on the Nov. 6 ballot. CWI is seeking a 10-year facility levy for the construction of a Health Science Building. The Idaho Legislature has approved $10 million in matching funds. Lenty added that voter fatigue could make it difficult to ask for other levies in the future.

The candidates also shared their thoughts on how CWI should respond to the needs of local employers.

Ostermeier said it is critical to build relationships with businesses because “we need to provide the best education and best workforce for our community.”

Sorensen emphasized the need for CWI to support trade certificate programs in professions like welding and plumbing.

Lenty said it’s important for CWI to work with economic development agencies to ensure “our course offerings align with the industry needs and pipelines. We need to be flexible and responsive.”

Bios of the candidates

(provided by the Boise Metro Chamber)

Erin Sorensen

Erin Sorensen is an Idaho native, married, and the proud mother of three children. She works as the lead designer at IndieDwell, a fast-growing B Corporation that manufactures high-quality, affordable housing in Caldwell. From 2008–2017, she served on the Veterans Park Neighborhood Association Board. Erin has volunteered on the NeighborWorks Boise board since 2009.

Molly Lenty

Molly Lenty, a 22-year financial services professional, has established herself a brand for community leadership through commitment to causes she is most passionate about, including extensive involvement spearheading youth and education initiatives and advocating for community organizations and causes. Serving as a trustee for the College of Western Idaho is an opportunity for Molly to leverage her passion for student achievement and her experiences in leadership capacities statewide and in both Canyon and Ada Counties. Molly’s goals as a trustee include making further inroads for workforce, streamlining access for students, and cultivating a culture of excellence within a college experiencing unprecedented growth in enrollment. Molly currently chairs the Boise Metro Chamber’s Education and Workforce Committee, the Leadership Boise Alumni Association, serves on the Nampa Chamber of Commerce Education Council, and serves on statewide committees for Idaho Business for Education.

Shane Ostermeier

Shane Ostermeier has dedicated his life to higher education. This began when he served as student body president at Idaho State University and saw the importance of serving the whole student experience on a college campus. He grew up in Jerome and received a bachelor’s degree from ISU and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska. Mr. Ostermeier has worked as an administrator in higher education at various colleges and universities for more than 18 years. He served as director of student affairs and programs at the College of Western Idaho until he retired in 2017. His motto is “Serving Students, Serves the Community.”

Annie Hightower

Annie Hightower currently serves as the Director for Law and Policy at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence. From 2013 to 2018, she served in several different positions at Boise State University, including Director of Title IX, ADA, and 504 compliance, associate general counsel, and adjunct faculty member. During that time, she gained insight into how a large institution of higher education functions — including challenges and strengths — while working collaboratively with students, faculty, administrators, and community members to craft policies, solutions, and responses that support campus community members in creating safe environments and meet their academic and professional goals.


Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday