From most read stories to notable NAU events to editor’s picks, here’s a look back at the top 15 NAU News stories published in 2018.
Graduate Bryan Javier Reyna always wanted to go to college, but accepted at a young age that it wasn’t in his cards. His family couldn’t afford it, and even if they could, he didn’t think he was college material.
But in his mid-20s, about the age when most people who enter college fresh out of high school have graduated, he decided he wanted to give higher education a try, thanks to the encouragement of his mother,
And try he did.
He earned his associate’s degree in emergency management. Then he earned a second associate’s in emergency response and operations, then one in general education, one in arts and finally, a degree in nursing.
It may have taken five associate’s degrees to garner the courage to pursue a bachelor’s, but he finally felt he was ready. After the birth of his daughter in 2016, it was important to him to ensure financial security and stability with the help of a bachelor’s degree. Growing up in Chandler, he knew he wanted to stay in state. He chose NAU for its reputable RN-to-BSN program.
“NAU also ensured the majority of my credits from my multiple associate’s degrees would transfer,” Reyna said. “Plus, I wanted to be a Lumberjack… not a Sun Devil.”
The road to earning a bachelor’s degree wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. Working as a full-time nurse while going to school full-time is hard enough. Then, add being a full-time parent to the mix. And, shortly after starting classes at NAU, things got even harder—his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he became her full-time caretaker, often studying and completing class assignments by her bedside. She received her bachelor’s degree in her home country of Peru, and seeing her son working toward completing his degree was a dream come true.
He worked hard, somehow managing to balance his school, work and home life, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. During his final semester at NAU, with graduation in sight, his mother lost her battle with cancer. She died Oct. 15.
“I don’t know when or if I’ll ever move past the death of my mother, but I know she wanted me to finish my education, even in her last year of life.”
On Dec. 14, less than two months after the passing of his mother, he will earn his bachelor’s degree in nursing. Even though she isn’t here to see him walk across the stage, he knows she’ll be with him.
After graduation, he plans to pursue a graduate degree in leadership management, but first hopes to join the Air Force reserves as an officer with the help of his bachelor’s degree.
“I want to utilize my education and real-life nursing skills to help the women and men who protect our country. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself, and I want to give back for all the blessings and opportunities that have allowed me to be where I am today.”
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jersus Colmenares López was born in southwestern Venezuela near the Colombian border.
The child of a plumber and a vocational school teacher, his parents came from extreme poverty, but were determined to provide the best lives possible for their children. Colmenares López grew up without luxuries, but had a roof over his head and food in his belly—more than most of the children in his town could say. Most importantly, he was loved.
At a young age, Colmenares López was diagnosed with an immature, hyperactive brain, but his mother refused to allow this to define her son.
His parents sought help from the best doctors, traded work for medical help and also saved to pay for medical assistance that was beyond their means. None of the medical advancements at the time were helping, so his mother decided to act on her own. She stayed home to educate Colmenares López, paid tutors—a rare thing in rural 1980s Venezuela—read books and asked for advice from psychologists and other human mind experts.
Determined to prove his doctors wrong, Colmenares López’s parents enrolled him in art school and taught him how to play musical instruments, swim, cook and iron clothes at an early age.
One memory I treasure is my mother’s scandalous request to a welder to make me a left-handed school chair, something that was culturally and superstitiously frowned upon by people back then—and something much harder for a child to take to. She made the school accept the chair in my third-grade classroom.
They also enrolled him in an English-speaking school. Every day, his father would drive him and his siblings the hour-long commute to the school in another city to make sure they were getting the best education possible.
“My dad bartered with a bank owner who had grown up with him to get us a computer in exchange for building a massive water tank for her house,” Colmenares López said. “He got the computer for us to learn, something only the wealthy could afford. But my dad was convinced that we could do just as well as others with more possibilities.”
When it came time for college, thanks to the unwavering support and encouragement of his parents, Colmenares López decided to pursue a higher education. Though college in Venezuela was technically free, not all could afford the expenditures associated with earning a degree. With no money for textbooks, technology or other resources, Colmenares López had to work three jobs to be able to stay in school.
“My teachers gave me the opportunity to become a teacher’s assistant and also made me responsible for the language lab. When I finally received my first real paycheck, I paid for my dad’s car repair. Though it took the whole check, I never felt so rewarded in my life. For the first time, I was able to help my family, instead of the other way around.”
Colmenares López graduated with his bachelor’s degree. But he was just getting started.
“If my mom did it with the shoes, school dress and book that her neighbors donated so she finally could go to first grade at the age of 11, I have never had a real excuse not to try harder, move forward and succeed.”
A Fulbright Program grant allowed Lopez the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in the United States. Through the process of researching universities abroad, a Department of State official suggested he look into Northern Arizona University. After discovering the author of one of his favorite textbooks was based in Flagstaff, he was sold.
He enrolled at NAU in 2006.
After completing his master’s degree, he felt compelled to pursue a doctorate degree with the hopes of creating interfaces that would translate highly beneficial research findings about language into education solutions for students and teachers. But, tension between Venezuela and the U.S. sent him and his wife back to their home country.
Three years later, his former NAU professors encouraged Colmenares López to apply for admission to the curriculum and instruction doctoral program and fulfill his academic dream.
I came back to Flagstaff to continue my doctoral studies with my wife, three children and $10. With almost no diplomatic or consular relationships between my country and the U.S., it simply was a miracle that we were given visas to come back to NAU.
Over the course of the next couple of years, Colmenares López faced a number of challenges, particularly in terms of immigration, and most importantly in terms of keeping his family fed and sheltered.
After his country refused to give them new passports, problems with immigration documents, extensive visa requirements and what seemed to be endless obstacles, Lopez’s wife and children received a notice of deportation.
“It was sincerely really hard to process that after so many efforts to always do things right, we now were at risk, and without much hope,” he said. “However, we had help from friends and the NAU community that covered the costs of passport extensions.”
With his family safely in the U.S., the worst was behind them, or so they thought. López’s wife starting experiencing an array of health issues that required an important surgery. Raising three kids, with a sick wife, while working to provide for his family and complete his Ph.D. would have been debilitating if it weren’t for the assistance he received while at NAU.
“Louie’s Cupboard fed us when we didn’t have much to offer to our children, and the NAU LEADS Center provided wonderful opportunities for my children to live life in a joyful and meaningful way when we could not afford to take care of our family,” Colmenares López said. “It is not a secret that we, non-traditional students, face poverty throughout our studies, and our families with us. But fortunately, we didn’t go without. We were and are blessed with being under the loving care of NAU’s human hearts and generous hands.”
In the final year of his degree, Colmenares López worked as a professor in the Department of Global Languages and Cultures, developing his dissertation out of the perceived need to help his students learn Spanish in more meaningful and effective ways.
“As a foreign national who was received and nurtured by the NAU family, I feel my place is here,” he said. “Teaching at NAU is not just a job for me. It has meant and continues to represent one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had to be part of an inspiring and thriving community that collectively seeks the good of the other.”
Without the sacrifices of his family, Colmenares López would never have found his way to NAU—he credits them for his success. Under extremely difficult circumstances, they will be watching him walk across the graduation stage, more than 3,000 miles away.
“Honor a Jesús y Benilde Colmenares López, los mejores padres que pude tener. Con profundo amor, Jersus.“
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 | email@example.com
Douglas Hill seemed to be leading the perfect life.
He graduated high school, fell in love with and married the girl next door, then shortly after he enrolled in classes at Glendale Community College, he and his wife found out they were expecting.
But the fairy tale ends there.
Some say there is no greater joy than the birth of a child. For the Hill family, there was no greater fear. After just passing the half-way point of her pregnancy, at 23 weeks gestation, Hill’s wife went into labor—more than four months early.
Miraculously, their daughter was born alive, but as a micro preemie at just 1 pound 8 ounces. Baby Madison would be facing an uphill battle for the rest of her life—assuming she could survive long enough.
“When I was finally able to hold my daughter for the first time, she was smaller than my hand,” Hill said. “She was so young that her eyes were still fused shut, and I could see her heart beating through her almost transparent skin.”
Because her organs had not fully developed in the womb, Madison underwent several surgeries. At one month, she had a PDA ligation open heart surgery. Then, just two months later, she had an eye injection surgery, followed by laser eye surgery two months after that. She spent the first five months of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit, living off respirators and breathing machines.
Finally, at 6 months old, she was stable enough to be released from the hospital, but because her eyes, ears and lungs never fully developed, she faces life-long vision, hearing and breathing issues.
Raising a daughter with disabilities while working full time is tough enough. But Hill was determined to provide for his family and felt an education was the only way to do so. After earning his associate’s degree, he transferred to Northern Arizona University to pursue a degree in history to not only provide for his family, but also set a new standard for his daughter.
“Nobody in my family has ever even gotten an associate’s degree, let alone attended a university or obtained a bachelor’s degree,” Hill said. “I am so proud to be the first in my family in a hopefully long line of highly educated and successful people. Graduating from NAU has given me the feeling of accomplishment and pride and motivation that I need to conquer any goals I set forth in my life from this moment forward.”
On Friday, with his wife and now 5-year-old daughter in the audience, Hill will graduate as the 2018 Most Outstanding Graduating Senior in History. He plans to teach high school history before starting a master’s program in history at NAU in the fall. Eventually, he hopes to earn a Ph.D. and teach history at the college level.
“I aim to be a lifelong learner, husband, father, friend, teacher, professor, author and Lumberjack. NAU has changed my life in so many ways and I will forever be thankful and grateful for my time here.”
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 | firstname.lastname@example.org
As they ran through the snow, facing off against the best in the country, the Northern Arizona University cross country runners weren’t running with themselves in mind. Their minds were on the team. They were running for each other.
And they came through. Led by senior Tyler Day, the Lumberjacks won their third consecutive title in the NCAA Division I National Championships Nov. 17 at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Every inch of this championship win was earned by these young men,” said Michael Smith, director of cross country and track & field. “I am proud to be by their side in this moment. We do not often speak of the pressure of expectation, but the truth is the higher the bar, the finer our margin of error. This was the most challenging championship to secure and required selfless execution. They knew what to do.”
NAU scored a total of 83 points as a team to take the top spot. In second place was Brigham Young University, which scored 116 points. Portland ended the day in third place, scoring 160 points. Colorado and Stanford rounded out the top five, scoring 178 and 201 points respectively.
Day, who came in sixth place, finished in 29:12.9. He was followed by senior Matt Baxter (15th); sophomore Luis Grijalva (23rd, 29:44.3); sophomore Blaise Ferro (26th, 29:50.8); sophomore Peter Lomong (29th, 29:52.3); junior Geordie Beamish (39th, 29:58.4) and freshman Ryan Raff (151st, 31:03.0).
“I am proud of my performance,” Day said. “I gave it my all, and I cannot think of a better way to end the season. The guys we have in this program are some of the best runners I know, so I am pumped to see what they can achieve in the future.”
As two-time champions, the ‘Jacks went into the race facing a lot of pressure. The elusive three-peat has not been done since the 1998, 1999 and 2000 Arkansas squads. NAU also became the first non-power five school since the 1978-1981 UTEP teams to win at least three straight national championships.
But they held on. The Lumberjack men came into the race prepared and executed the race plan envisioned for them, despite the obstacles of weather and a deeper field than they had seen all season.
“Being a coach of a championship team is a byproduct of being a coach of young men filled with talent, grit and heart,” assistant coach Becca DeLoache said. “These men have established a culture that is practiced and displayed every single day. I feel honored that I get to witness the way these guys do things and I am blessed to be a part of their journey.”
Lomong, Ferro, Grijalva, Baxter and Day each earned a spot on this season’s All-American team with Beamish. Six of the seven runners in the event for the team out of Flagstaff were honored, with three of them set to return in the 2019 season. Smith said Raff will be someone to keep an eye on moving forward into the indoor and outdoor track & field season, as well as next year in cross country.
“The success of NAU cross country is not possible without an impeccable support staff and our Flagstaff community,” he said. “We come from the best place to train on Earth and run on the support of our community. And it is important that we realize this is not possible without the coaches and athletes that have come before us at NAU Track and Cross Country’s history. They have laid the foundation for our success. To those that came before us, you are with us every minute of this day and this championship is yours as well. We promise to keep representing our tradition at the highest standard.”
Nov. 28, 2018
On Wednesday, this month’s cabinet meeting took place.
President Rita Cheng started the meeting by thanking everyone for attending. She then extended an invite to cabinet members to attend her distinguished speaker series Thursday night, featuring Polly Sumner, an NAU alumna and chief adoption officer for Salesforce.
The President congratulated associate vice president for global initiatives, Daniel Palm, on the recent birth of his son and will keep him from traveling with her to Hermosillo, Mexico later this week to join Governor Ducey for the Arizona – Mexico Commission annual meeting. She will be presenting at the meeting on Innovative education and workforce Development.
“This is a great way to showcase our continued partnership with Sonora and Mexico in general,” Cheng said. “By giving our students the opportunity to attend school in Mexico, we are providing them the chance to study abroad without having to go far to get an international experience.”
The president turned the floor over to Joanne Keene, executive vice president and chief of staff, to address upcoming office holiday coverage. With the exception of the president’s designated holiday on Dec. 24, and official NAU holidays Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, the university will be open, Keene said. She reminded cabinet members to make sure that they have adequate office and telephone coverage for campus operations throughout the week.
“Oftentimes, during breaks are when students and parents have a chance to sit down and look at previously dismissed issues—whether it be billing concerns, class registration, etc.,” Cheng said. “We need to make sure these issues are being addressed, and we are here to respond to our students’ concerns.”
President’s Cabinet Report
Laura Jones, chief institutional data officer, presented charts and graphs that represent a variety of data, including sponsored projects, student numbers, the budget report and degree trends.
She pointed out that undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded are up in almost all areas of study. The most significant increases in degrees awarded were undergraduate STEM degrees from Flagstaff, graduate health degrees from the Phoenix Biomedical Campus and undergraduate health professions and graduate education degrees earned online.
Jones also noted that according to Arizona Board of Regents metrics, NAU’s 2018 target was 3,751 degrees. In actuality, 3,836 degrees were awarded, surpassing the established goal. In 2025, NAU’s target set by ABOR will increase to 4,500.
David Schultz, vice president of research, also took this opportunity to mention NAU’s research ranking. Last year, NAU was No. 213 on the National Science Foundation’s list of research universities throughout the world. Increased efforts, the hiring of strategic individuals and the universities support of research were reflected in the most recent world ranking of No. 201.
“It is because of everyone’s hard work and effort that we are able to continue climbing in this ranking, and continue working toward our goal of being in the top 200 research universities in the world,” Cheng said, noting NAU is ranked in the top 100 research universities without a medical school.
Dan Okoli, vice president for capital planning and campus operations, and Steve Vedral, interim associate vice president for facility services, then informed the cabinet on the status of major campus projects.
Work on a Strategic Space Utilization Plan is expected to begin in January which will be the first phase of the pending Campus Master Planning effort.
An announcement is expected soon on the Interim Manager for the Office of Sustainability. The cabinet was assured that NAU remains committed to sustainability and that during this time of transition and opportunity, there a number of people in the capital planning office that are helping with the workload.
The Recital Hall is nearing completion, Vedral said, and will be finished by the end of December. He encouraged cabinet members to purchase tickets for any of the many shows coming up in the new year to get a chance to experience the new hall.
In addition to renovations being underway in the Science Annex, a request for proposal will be out next week on the new Student Athlete High Performance Center—a proposed 77,000-square-foot building that will include a public welcome area, competition and practice gym, sports medicine facilities and nutrition station.
The last half-hour of the cabinet meeting was reserved for a presentation from the Educational Advisory Board (EAB) team, a best practices firm that works with more than 1,300 schools of higher education.
“As part of our membership with EAB, they conduct a number of research projects for NAU,” explained Jane Kuhn, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. “Most recently, they looked at enrollment trends for the decade ahead and what that means for the state of Arizona.”
Presenters from the company’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., showed the cabinet members how different factors will play a part in NAU’s future enrollment. Charts and graphs showed population trends; student migration patterns; higher education ecosystems; elite, national and regional college-going trends; college attendance rates; and state funding comparisons.
“NAU rates fairly high when it comes to students graduating in four years, placing above Universtiy of Nevada-Reno, Grand Canyon University and San Diego State University,” the EAB presenter said. “But retention rates need work.”
Kuhn assured the cabinet she and her team are working hard to address this issue, noting that winter enrollment is up, and fall 2019 is looking good.