President’s Prize, Gold Axe, Distinguished Senior winners honored at ceremony Tuesday

Lorie Smith, Benjamin Flory, Nicole Pablo and President Cruz Rivera

President José Luis Cruz Rivera presented the President’s Prize, Gold Axe Awards and the Distinguished Senior Award to students at an awards ceremony Nov. 15, honoring their hard work and accomplishments during their careers at NAU. The students came from a pool of applicants, selected by the Office of Leadership & Engagement. The program is co-sponsored by The Office of the President, NAU Alumni and ASNAU.

Cruz Rivera honored 30 Gold Axe winners, including three President’s Prize winners—the highest honor awarded to undergraduate students. Additionally, nine students were honored as Distinguished Seniors of their colleges.

“It is humbling and inspiring to be able to recognize our students, who have accomplished so much and contributed to and enriched our community in so many ways,” Cruz Rivera said. “They are committed to serving others, raising awareness and advocating for a future that improves lives and contributes to a more just, equitable, inclusive, prosperous and sustainable future.”

The President’s Prize winners are:

  • Benjamin Flory, an environmental and sustainability studies major, who spent his undergraduate career doing research on food insecurity. Flory will continue his work in graduate school, studying ways to grow food in desert climates in the American Southwest, the Middle East and Africa, as well as a desert a little further afield; he hopes to work with NASA’s lunar greenhouse and help pave the way for crop growth in space.
  • Nicole Pablo, a nursing student who enrolled in NAU’s American Indian Nursing Program and started her clinical rotations in Fall 2020 on the Navajo Nation when COVID infections were rampant; she spent every day treating COVID patients in a completely full hospital. She returned to Tséhootsooí Medical Center in Fort Defiance for her final preceptorship.
  • Lorie Smith, an elementary education/special education student at the North Valley campus, who attended school while raising her three young children, including two with severe allergies and disabilities. She used her experiences to advocate for a bill that requires insurance companies to cover prescription nutritional formulas for people with digestive and metabolic disorders.

Group of Gold Axe winners and Distinguished Seniors on a stairwellThe Distinguished Seniors are: Mikayla Goldman (College of Health and Human Services); Ivan Rubalcava (NAU Yuma); Gabrielle Sheitelmann (NAU Online and Statewide); Melissa Valenzuela (College of Arts and Letters); Lauren Portillo (College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences); Xuefeng Jiao (College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences); Andrew Oxley (College of Education); Luis Carlos Estrada (The W. A. Franke College of Business); and Christina Meeks (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences).

The standard bearers for each college are: Steven Aldridge (NAU Online and Statewide); Patricia Enloe (College of Health and Human Services); Tyler Derzay (College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences); Diana Smith (College of Education); Jaron Parr (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences); Coleman Owen (The W. A. Franke College of Business); Ilse Roark (College of Arts and Letters); and Tulsi Patel (College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences).

Gold Axe winners






























Distinguished Seniors

NAU Communications