|Messages from President Cheng regarding the Museum Fire:|
July 22, 2019–5:15 p.m.
I’m sending this message to keep you informed about NAU’s involvement with the Museum Fire.
NAU is working closely with the city, county, and U.S. Forest Service to support our partner agencies and the residents of the communities affected by the Museum Fire. We are currently on standby to host the public transportation system on NAU’s campus, in case their facility is evacuated. Our campus bus system is also ready to assist with evacuations.
Our emergency management teams are coordinating with the city, county, and the American Red Cross to provide temporary shelter services as needed.
I’m proud that our campus community is stepping up to help our friends and neighbors in this time of need.
July 22, 2019–12:59 p.m.
As I’m sure you are aware, the Museum Fire in the Dry Lake Hills area, about a mile north of Flagstaff, is reported to be more than 1,000 acres in size and continues to grow.
Some of you may be personally affected by the fire or have a concern for your property or family. We understand that this fire can affect your daily lives, and we are here to ensure you have the support you need. Please contact your supervisor if you are concerned or need to address personal matters related to this fire.
We are thankful that the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), and Coconino County and Flagstaff City officials are actively involved in combatting this fire, informing the public of its status, and protecting our public health and safety. NAU’s Emergency Manager and our NAU Police Department also are involved and are prepared to help as needed.
Please stay informed by following official social media sites such as the Coconino County website, Facebook, and Twitter; City of Flagstaff Facebook and Twitter; and the U.S. Forest Service Facebook and Twitter. A call center has been activated for people with questions and can be reached at (928) 213-2990.
If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for emergency notifications for evacuation and other notices at coconino.az.gov/ready.
Thank you for all you do for NAU and the community.
July 15, 2019
Every five minutes, an animal species goes extinct.
With more than 7,000 species throughout the world on the endangered species list, animals are more vulnerable of disappearing than ever. Among those is the forest elephant—one of the last remaining megaherbivores on Earth.
Native to Africa, the forest elephant species was once widespread throughout central and west Africa. With the colonization of west Africa by Europeans came the demand for ivory and habitat destruction, and consequently the forest elephant population drastically dropped. Today, the elephant species has declined to less than 10 percent of its original size.
Like most megaherbivores, this species can have important effects on ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles. Yet, the influence of elephants on the structure, productivity and carbon stocks in Africa’s rainforests remain largely unknown. What does a decrease in this species mean for the planet?
A team of researchers, including lead author Fabio Berzaghi of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (CEA) in France and co-author Christopher Doughty, faculty member in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University, have long studied the impacts large land mammals have on the Earth’s ecosystem. Previous studies on the forest elephants hypothesized that the species engineer forests by dispersing seeds, moving nutrients and trampling small trees.
In hopes of finding out what this means for the planet, scientists turned to the forests. Field measurements were collected in the Congo Basin which compared the number and size of trees between different forests—some affected by elephants and some in which elephants had been eradicated. Their findings were recently published in Nature Geoscience.
“The data confirmed that though fewer trees are present in areas inhabited by elephants, the forests contain larger trees and higher abundances of hardwood species (trees with higher carbon content),” Doughty said.
Because forest elephants affect long-term forest processes (greater than 50 years), their impact on the environment is difficult to observe in field experiments. With the help of a computer model that simulates the long-term effect of elephants on forests, the team was able to see how the number of elephants impact the different types of trees present, and how these mammals affect forest structure, biomass and potential for carbon storage.
“Our simulations suggest that if elephant loss continues unabated, central African forests may release the equivalent of multiple years of fossil fuel CO2 emissions from most countries, thus potentially accelerating climate change.”
Without forest elephants to mitigate overgrowth, forests will become crowded with small, soft-wood trees with nowhere to grow. These small trees mean lower carbon content, provoking a significant loss of carbon storage in biomass. As a result, central African forests could lose up to three billion tons of carbon.
“As the largest land mammal on the planet is systematically wiped out, so are its myriad roles in forest function,” Doughty said. “For instance, fewer elephants would reduce seed and nutrient distribution as well as forest carbon content, which could impact global climate.”
The good news, according to the researchers, is that forest elephants aren’t gone yet. By protecting this species and allowing their populations to recover, this trend in carbon loss can be stopped and reversed.
“Forest elephants are the gardeners and guardians of biodiversity in the Congo Basin,” said Stephen Blake, assistant professor of ecology at St. Louis University and one of the paper’s authors. “Protecting and expanding the remaining populations of forest elephants in Africa will not only save forests but also help fight climate change.”
“Our study shows that even at high population densities, forest elephants continue to improve the carbon storage potential of central African forests,” Berzaghi said. “This species not only thins the forest but disperses seeds widely, assisting the germination of more than 100 tree species, which provide food and habitat for primates, birds and insects.”
Benilde Garcia remembers sitting on the bleachers at her high school graduation watching, through tears, a few hundred of her classmates walk across the stage in their caps and gowns, wishing she could be up there with them.
During her junior year of high school she got pregnant and gave birth to a boy. Despite plans to stay in school, her son was born with health issues that required her full attention. She dropped out a semester before graduation and gave up her full-ride college scholarship.
She later earned her GED and began taking classes at Yavapai College, but each time she tried to work toward a college degree, something happened that left her having to choose between her children and her education. The decision to keep putting her education on hold was easy—family always comes first.
Then in 2013, she was passed up for a job simply because she didn’t have a college degree. By then, her son had graduated from Northern Arizona University and her daughter was almost done with high school. It was time to give it another go.
“NAU had exactly what I needed: a hybrid program in applied human behavior that fit perfectly with my work schedule,” Garcia said. “To sweeten the deal, I knew one of the on-site administrators, Nancy Jensen, from working with her in the past. She was instrumental in inspiring me to enroll.”
Following in the footsteps of her oldest son, Garcia registered for classes at NAU’s Prescott Valley campus. Determined to finally earn a degree, she wasn’t going to let anything get in her way. Then, life threw her some curveballs.
Within a 30-day period, her home was burglarized, she lost a job that she loved and was forced to move.
“Going to class at NAU with instructors and classmates that I had grown to love and immersing myself in quality and relevant coursework grounded me and strengthened my resolve to continue on.”
This time, though, her education was the top priority, and she persevered.
“Beni Garcia is a natural student, she just didn’t know it,” said Jensen, associate director of the Yavapai Masters of Public Administration program. “With encouragement, I have seen Beni grow as a person and as a professional. For many years, she was unable to fully advance at work because she did not have a bachelor’s degree. Now that she’ll have a bachelor’s degree in hand, Beni will excel in her chosen career of serving children and families, and with encouragement, seek her master’s degree too!”
Garcia, who graduates summa cum laude Saturday morning, already has several job opportunities—opportunities she said would have been out of reach without a degree. She hopes to earn a master’s degree and encourage and empower all people, especially children and families, to recognize the resiliency, hope and healing that is living inside them.
“I wasn’t sure I could do this, but it’s finally my turn to walk across the stage,” Garcia said. “Somebody pinch me.”
Sometimes, it takes hitting rock bottom to realize it’s time for a change. In Eric Lynch’s case, it was almost dying for the third time.
Lynch, who grew up in Tucson, was the poster child of a good kid. He stayed busy with team sports—soccer, basketball, football and volleyball—and took part in orchestra, marching band, concert and jazz band throughout school. He enjoyed learning and was a good student. Then, during his sophomore year of high school, he was introduced to drugs.
He went from smoking weed for the first time to being an intravenous heroin addict within a year. For the next four years, drugs consumed his life. He spiraled out of control.
He was arrested more times than he can remember, spent time in juvenile detention, was suspended and expelled from school, spent his teen years on and off probation and was sentenced to house arrest with an ankle monitor. Despite multiple attempts at in- and out-patient rehab, he relapsed every time, eventually dropping out of high school entirely.
His addiction led to homelessness, sleeping on “friends’” couches, with a shallow existence and no foreseeable future. It took a third overdose and near-death experience for him to realize things needed to change. He might not be so lucky the fourth time.
Lynch called his parents—he was finally ready to come home.
Medicine helped him deal with withdrawals, and he slowly regained control of his life. He began exercising and switched to a plant-based diet, losing almost 90 pounds as a result.
He got his GED, enrolled in classes at a community college and worked a steady job managing a local restaurant while he saved up money to attend a university. He wanted to stay in state, and after visiting Northern Arizona University’s campus, he knew this was where he belonged.
He enrolled in communication and creative media and film classes.
“I knew hard work before coming to NAU, and I knew suffering before coming to NAU, but I didn’t know how much those experiences would apply toward my success at NAU,” he said. “When I needed to take 20+ units in a given semester, my previous experience working 50+ hours a week at a restaurant week in and week out gave me the ability to work hard every day in my classes knowing I was capable of incredible amounts of work. When I was sitting in the library until midnight or later, writing essays and taking quizzes I didn’t particularly want to, I would reflect on how grateful I was to be able to get an education, to be alive, to be on my own, to be in this position to succeed.”
During his time at NAU, Lynch has had the opportunity to travel and produce documentary films in other countries. He’s directed several films that have won multiple awards and was the president of the student-produced TV station, UTV62. This year, he was named a Gold Axe recipient and was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.
He will graduate Saturday morning with a dual degree in Creative Media and Film and Communication Studies. He will continue his education at NAU this fall as he pursues a Master’s in Communication with a documentary studies emphasis.
“By completing two bachelor’s degree, all whilst maintaining a 4.0 GPA, I have proved to myself and to the world that I am not my past mistakes. I am better than them, and I have grown and learned from them. Everyone in this life deserves a second chance, I am living proof of that, and graduating this May is the symbolic embodiment of what I have been trying to overcome for the last decade of my life.”
One month after graduation, Lynch will receive yet another endorsement for which he’s worked so hard—his 10-year sobriety chip.
The last cabinet meeting of the academic year was held Thursday.
President Rita Cheng started the meeting by expressing her gratitude to all who helped make Northern Arizona University’s inaugural Giving Day campaign, which concluded Wednesday at midnight, such a success.
She also gave an update for several dean positions on campus. Four candidates for the position of dean of the College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences are visiting the Flagstaff Mountain Campus this week and next week. Cheng encouraged everyone to participate in the open forum portions of the interview to assist in the selection process.
“We also have been talking with potential interim deans for The W. A. Franke College of Business, and hope to hold interviews via Zoom with candidates next week,” she said.
Cheng thanked Interim Provost Brian Levin-Stankevich for his work over the last year, who will be leaving NAU May 11. Diane Stearns will assume her new position as provost on May 12.
The recently appointed diversity fellow, Gabe Montaño, introduced himself to the cabinet.
“I am really excited for this position and honored to be here to serve in this role,” he said. “I would like to thank the university for this opportunity, and am looking forward to meeting all the commissions and celebrating the Diversity and Equity Awards tonight.”
Krista Allen, director of University Events, shared numbers for the upcoming spring commencements with the cabinet—more than 5,900 graduates have applied to graduate (100 more than last year), and each ceremony will have approximately 1,000 graduates in attendance. More information on the graduation ceremonies can be found online.
“I encourage everyone to participate in commencement,” Allen said. “Whether you volunteer to hand out programs, marshal or help distribute license plates, it’s so wonderful to celebrate our students’ successes first-hand.”
An email about commencement traffic changes will be sent out next week; updates also can be found on the NAUGo app.
Joanne Keene, executive vice president and chief of staff, reminded cabinet members that applications for the University Leadership Program are due by 5 p.m. May 3. Faculty and staff at every level are encouraged to apply or nominate a coworker for the program, which is designed to help prepare the next generation of higher education leaders. About 25 applicants will be chosen to participate in the 2019-20 cohort.
“Our team put together a great program,” Cheng added. “The University Leadership Program focuses on understanding the complexities of the university and teaches individuals how to interact with different leadership styles across campus. I highly recommend it for all.”
Dan Okoli, vice president for Capital Planning and Campus Operations, and Steve Vedral, director of planning, design and construction, gave an update on the status of major campus projects.
The Science Annex renovation is nearing completion. With the exception of updates to the stairwell, construction will be completed by the end of May. Okoli encouraged cabinet members to check out the new space—tours of the building can be scheduled by contacting Stephanie Bauer, associate director of Planning, Design and Construction.
The renovations to Prochnow Auditorium are scheduled to wrap up next month.
Okoli also informed the cabinet of plans to help improve the traffic congestion at the intersection of McConnell Drive and Pine Knoll Drive. He and his team are working with the city and NAIPTA to figure out how best to improve traffic flow and prevent NAU and city buses from bottle-necking.
At the Spring Campus Forum, Cheng announced a three percent salary increase would be issued to eligible personnel. Josh Mackey, chief human resources officer, and Roger Bounds, vice provost for academic personnel, provided additional details on the increase and how faculty and staff would be affected.
“When I arrived at NAU, it was made known to me immediately that this increase was top priority,” Mackey said. “After going over the numbers, we presented the possible percentage increases to President Cheng. Though the three percent increase was the maximum the budget would allow, she wanted to make it happen.”
Vice President for Development and Alumni Engagement Rickey McCurry provided the cabinet with a comprehensive recap of Giving Day.
“We went into this campaign with a goal of raising $100,000 from 500 gifts,” he said. “As of midnight, our preliminary numbers show we have raised more than $258,865 from 1,090 gifts—224 of which were from first-time donors. We are thrilled!”
Donations were collected from throughout the world, including Uruguay, Switzerland and other parts of Europe.
“We look forward to celebrating today before starting on next year’s campaign tomorrow.”
In her report, Chief Institutional Data Officer Laura Jones went over new and continuing awards, student enrollment data and the budget report.
“Though we are up in almost all of our enrollment numbers, we still have a ways to go until we’re back on track,” said Jane Kuhn, vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. “Because we didn’t hit our freshman enrollment targets last year, our numbers this year are still soft.”
It was noted that the University of Utah and several universities in Washington are now part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, meaning NAU has much more competition when it comes to recruiting these students.
“Another challenge we’re facing is that students are applying to and visiting three to five different universities,” Kuhn said. “We need to make sure that NAU stands out.”
Vice President of Finance, Institutional Planning and Analysis Bjorn Flugstad addressed the budget, stating that we are managing expenses and will continue to monitor expenditures at the end of the fiscal year.
Mackey informed the cabinet that he and his team are still evaluating data collected as part of the Organizational Growth and Effectiveness Initiative. The group is working to create deliverables to present, and hopes to have recommendations by the end of the month.
Cheng concluded the meeting by thanking Dylan Graham, who graduates next Friday, for all she has done as the president of ASNAU.
She also recognized and thanked those attending their last cabinet meeting, including Dean Dan Goebel, Interim Provost Brian Levin-Stankevich, Academic Chairs Council Executive Director Roy St. Laurent, Faculty Senate Interim President Joe Wegwert and Francisco Vélez-Torres, dean of the College of Business and Administration for the CETYS University System, who was at NAU this year participating in the ACE Fellows Program.
May 3, 2019
By the age of six, Mersha Bayu Kisiel had lost both his parents.
After his father’s death, he and his siblings were forced to move eight hours southeast—from the Gojjam region of Ethiopia to the country’s capital, Addis Ababa—to live with their aunt. For two years, his aunt sacrificed all she could to provide for her nieces and nephews, but it wasn’t enough. She had to give them up for adoption.
Kisiel was sent an orphanage in the city, where he would remain until fate found him a family three years later. Out of the four million orphans in Ethiopia (200 of which at his orphanage), the Arizona couple looking to adopt chose him.
“I was beyond ecstatic to find out that I was being adopted by a wonderful family from America, though I knew that would mean a completely different life,” he said. “Moving to a country with a new language, food, culture, family and atmosphere would not be easy.”
With his new family in hand, he embraced the change and moved to Phoenix.
He started high school, made friends, ran track and field and excelled academically. Then, came time for college—something he hadn’t even considered in his wildest dreams.
With the help of her parents, he narrowed it down to two schools: University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
“I set up visits to both places and I happened to visit NAU first. After visiting the campus and meeting people, I fell in love. I knew that I would fit in, and the people I met all seemed to care about students and student success. At the end of the visit, I told my mom to cancel the visit to U of A—I knew I wanted to be a Lumberjack.”
Like most college experiences, Kisiel had ups and downs. At times, he felt overwhelmed by his workload and called his mother in tears, looking for words of affirmation and encouragement.
“As difficult as college was at some points, I was determined to finish and finish successfully. I want to make those people that love and care about me, who sacrificed everything for me to be here, proud. For some, a college degree might not mean much, but to me, it is everything.”
Kisiel, who is graduating with a degree in fitness wellness, is the first in his biological family to attend an institute of higher education, let alone graduate.
He plans to be a health coach and earn a master’s degree in public health or exercise physiology, but not before traveling to his home country to visit his friends and family and thank his aunt in person.
“She still hates herself to this day for being forced to put me up for adoption, but what she does not understand is that because of her, new doors and opportunities opened up for me. I would not be where I am today if it was not for her.”