By Laura Huenneke, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
One of Northern Arizona University’s most distinctive features is its close connection with Native American nations. Our long history of commitment is more than just a statement in a strategic plan, although that statement has been written in those plans for decades.
But what does the university really mean by expressing its aspiration to be the leading institution serving Native Americans?
We mean that NAU intends to produce results. Such as our national ranking as a top producer of Native American bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and our listing among the best colleges in the nation for Native Americans. And that our Applied Indigenous Studies Department features a unique emphasis in nation-building. Plus the Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention and the new Center for American Indian Resilience focus on culturally meaningful health issues. Most tangible is the beautiful Native American Cultural Center in the heart of campus.
This week, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the successful Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. ITEP serves tribes across the continent, not only providing technical assistance but also building capacity for governments seeking to manage their own environmental resources.
ITEP does an exceptional job of understanding needs through external advisory committees and groups, rather than university “experts” deciding what tribes need to know.
We have a long way to go, though, to improve student success and graduation rates and to build collaboration in research and service. As we revise our strategic plan and define our major goals, all of us need to keep examining NAU’s special relationship with tribes while asking what impacts should we be aiming for.