CALS alumna dedicates career to helping others
Giving back to her community is an integral part of Ericka Rupp’s life, as a professional and as a volunteer. Whether she’s working with families as a program manager for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, or volunteering on advisory boards for the United Way of Treasure Valley or Northwest Integrity Housing, it’s obvious that Rupp is passionate about helping others.
“I’ve always believed that early childhood development and strengthening families is the right thing to do to benefit the overall health and wellbeing of our community,” said Rupp, a 2002 graduate of the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “I saw that not only through my experiences in college — through my courses and my classwork — but also working within the communities in Idaho and working alongside community organizations and families and recognizing that what we do as a state and how we define our policies and practices really does impact families lives.
As program manager at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Rupp manages the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant and the Child Care Development block grant. She maintains policy directives, implements federal policies and keeps current on all state policies related to the two grants.
“Both grants are looking at the systemic prevention focus of how we strengthen families and children’s lives in Idaho through workforce training and employment opportunities and high-quality child care experiences,” Rupp said. “I love being able to focus on strategies and initiatives that look at strengthening our current Idaho families, but also building a foundation for healthy families in the future.”
Rupp received a bachelor’s degree in child development and family relations from UI in 2000, followed by a master’s in family and consumer sciences in 2002. The Lewiston native started out as a psychology major, but an individual and family development course in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences changed her direction.
“When I took that course, I think it encompassed what it was that I really wanted to do, which was to understand at a theory level how children develop, the science behind it and then how you apply that to a community,” Rupp said. “It just clicked with me. It was a momentous class in my life.”
The course was taught by Janice Fletcher, who soon became an influential part of Rupp’s college studies and future career. Fletcher encouraged Rupp to go to graduate school and served as her major professor.
“She nurtured my ability to lead with the skills I had and feel confident in those skills,” Rupp said. “She has a wonderful way of encouraging and seeing you for who you are. When Janice opened that door to grad school and I said yes to that — it changed my life.”
The personal connection with professors was one of the most beneficial aspects of UI for Rupp.
“I think the personal relationships with your professors is amazing,” said Rupp, who now sits on the advisory board for the school. “They are critical to your development as a human being, which makes you a better professional whether you are 22 or 42. They hold you to a caliber of excellence and they model professionalism at a phenomenal level.”
After graduate school, Rupp moved to Houston, Texas, to work for the Houston Area School District as a reading specialist before moving into the nonprofit sector. She developed children’s programming for a women’s and children’s domestic violence and sexual assault organization, ensuring that children in the shelter were still provided a quality educational experience.
“I did a lot of training around domestic violence and trauma informed care for children and families and how that affects their development and their social-emotional skills,” Rupp said.
Rupp spent three years in Houston before deciding to return to Idaho. She accepted the community services director position with Community Action Partnership in Lewiston where she gained experience overseeing federal programs that address community poverty issues. Rupp served in that role for seven years before relocating to Boise.
Strengthening families has been a key component to Rupp’s career with the long-term goal of improving communities.
“When you are supporting parents through education and training and you’re looking at how to build quality child care opportunities and experiences for children, those are two-generation approaches,” Rupp said. “You are helping the current generation be able to be self-sufficient and contribute back to their community through work and education but it’s also, in the long-run, benefiting our state by investing in our earliest of children, ensuring that their environments are safe and healthy and that they have quality experiences and interactions with adults so they can continue their education and go out into our workforce in Idaho.”
Throughout all of her professional experiences Rupp has kept one mantra in mind: Stay an eager learner.
“For me, it’s always about being open to the possibility,” Rupp said. “When I am eager to learn, that helps me grow as a person and as a professional. I try to be present and remain open and eager to learning new things that can challenge me.”
Rupp’s passion and dedication to her community earned her a spot on the 2017 Idaho Business Review Accomplished Under 40 list that honors 40 Idaho business and professional leaders who achieved success before the age of 40.
“I was very humbled and honored,” said Rupp. “There are amazing community members all throughout the state and I work with some very talented community partners. I am very grateful for the work I get to do.”
Story by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences