A $500,000 gift from Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc. will boost science and engineering programs at Northern Arizona University and expand efforts to promote interest in math and science among pre-college students.

The gift comes after the Arizona State Board of Education voted in December to raise high school graduation requirements in math and science, to be phased in with the freshman classes of 2008 and 2009.

“Northern Arizona University is committed to developing a highly trained scientific workforce that is prepared for the demands of industry and government,” said Laura Huenneke, dean of the NAU College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.

Specifically, Huenneke said that the university and Freeport-McMoRan are both dedicated to training science and engineering talent for the region’s resource-based industries. “Freeport-McMoRan has embraced the exploration of more efficient and environmentally sensitive ways of developing mineral resources. And they see the sustained development of local workforce and of the communities in which they do business as both a prudent business practice and a corporate civic duty.”

Freeport-McMoRan, which recently acquired Phelps Dodge, is the world’s largest publicly traded copper company. Freeport-McMoRan is based in North America with ties in Arizona and to NAU.

Timothy Snider, who recently announced his retirement from his position as president and chief operating officer of Freeport-McMoRan, graduated from NAU in 1979 with a bachelor of science in chemistry and geology. Snider began with Phelps Dodge as a laborer in its underground mining operations in Bisbee, becoming the president and chief operating officer in 2003. He currently serves as a board member for the NAU Foundation.

“We are very pleased to provide this support to NAU,” Snider said. “They have developed some creative methods for cultivating student interest at the pre-college level while also supporting a high-quality curriculum and innovation in the school of engineering and natural sciences. This demonstrates an ideal partnership that will yield positive results for both NAU and Freeport-McMoRan.”

The Freeport-McMoRan gift will be used to create an undergraduate mentoring and research office. This new office will expand undergraduate research opportunities in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences and serve as a central resource for students and faculty who are interested in undergraduate research.

Gift funds also will support an outreach and recruitment coordinator to manage undergraduate student recruiting activities for the college. The recruiting coordinator will initiate activities to encourage enrollment of undergraduate science and engineering students and conduct outreach to pre-college students to build interest in science and engineering.

A portion of the gift also will support a high-profile lecture series highlighting the importance to society of engaging more young people in scientific and engineering careers.