Northern Arizona University is rising toward goals of growth and greatness while adapting to ongoing budget challenges, President Rita Cheng told a crowd of hundreds at a campus forum Tuesday at the High Country Conference Center.

During an hour-long presentation followed by a question and answer session, Cheng sketched a detailed picture of NAU’s operations, motivations and aspirations. The presentation included an overview of faculty, staff and students’ accomplishments over the last year, and the attributes that distinguish NAU from other universities.

“I’m sharing a lot of information but I also want to celebrate each other and all that we’ve achieved,” Cheng said. Part of what makes NAU so special is that it is “a place of shared experience. Together, we are ready to claim our place among the great universities of our time.”

Doing so, however, will require new approaches and systems to accommodate more students while emphasizing efficiency, effectiveness and strategic thinking “to remain true to the student experience,” Cheng said.

Cheng emphasized the importance of viewing higher education “as an investment and how it changes lives. We are working with our state leaders to find solutions to our obvious funding gap.”

Weaving accomplishments and points of pride into a comprehensive discussion of operational issues such as scheduling, space, accreditation, enrollment and retention, Cheng pointed out that while it’s “not always easy to see our achievements” in the day-to-day experience of serving students, “NAU is a great place to learn, teach and work.”

Even the way in which NAU tells its story is undergoing an important evolution, Cheng said. The same research-intensive approach that has been informing decisions about administrative structure and academic programs is being applied to marketing and communications.

“We need to refine our message to reflect an institution on the rise,” Cheng said.

It’s also an institution undergoing demographic and cultural changes, which Cheng welcomed as a positive influence. “Our students represent the many changes taking place in our state and beyond,” Cheng said.

From a renewed emphasis on building relationships with Native American communities to the establishment of Center for University Access and Inclusion, Cheng said NAU is embracing a spirit of openness during a time of transformation.

The full presentation and slide show is available online.