To start off The NAU Review’s new Humans of Flagstaff feature series, NAU Communications sat down with the university’s 17th president to get to know him on a more personal level. Read our questions and his answers below.
Q: Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.
A: I was 8 years old, living in Honduras. I had a friend nicknamed Chepo. We were not well-off, but he lived across the street, and did so in deep poverty. I learned to play fútbol (soccer) from him. He would often play barefoot. One day he stepped on a sharp object. My mom had to drive him to the hospital for stitches. All along the way he was just so happy and grateful that he had been playing barefoot. I remember being perplexed and asked him why. “Because otherwise my shoes could have been broken.” Those were his only shoes. He was a brilliant and talented boy, and I can’t help but think of him often when faced with the challenges we have when working to secure the conditions under which everyone—regardless of their background—has a fair shot to reach their full potential.
Q: What have you been most proud of this week?
A: I am most proud of how the dedicated, determined, fervent efforts of so many members of our NAU community led to a successful welcome back to our members of our Lumberjack community to the in-person sites we operate across the state and to our online programs that so many rely on to advance their educational journeys. The pride reached its highest point in the week on Sunday, when thousands of our Jacks demonstrated their optimism for what lies ahead through their participation in the traditional NAU Letters event! The vibrancy and energy in the air was palpable and heartwarming.
Q: What are three things on your bucket list and why?
A: I’ve lived a most remarkable life. But in response to this question, I’d offer: 1) Moving to a remote, yet accessible, tiny house in retirement—with plenty of book space and good WiFi; 2) Living long enough to celebrate many of the major life milestones of each of my kids and grandkids; 3) Having Rima holding my hand and looking into my eyes when it comes to saying goodbye to the world as we know it.
Q: What is your favorite way to spend a day off?
A: It depends on the season and how much physical and mental energy I have left leading to the day off. Lately, these days are few and far apart, but I’ve enjoyed spending time around family, catching up on my (non-academic, non-work) related reading, watching a good “bingeable” TV series while partaking in (perhaps immodest) levels of Chunky Monkey ice cream, all the while trying to claim enough space on the sofa away from our dogs Leia and Louie so as to be comfortable.
Q: What is your philosophy in life?
A: Engage. Push yourself to do the best you can. Never settle for injustice.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: We were both faculty members at our alma mater, the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez—she was in the Department of Sociology and I was in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The story is quite interesting and has many layers—and it will be told differently depending on who you ask. Here’s my Cliff’s notes version. One of her star students was going out with one of my star students. They—and another student—conspired to have us meet. The excuse was a “writing across the disciplines” research project. One student told Rima she should interview me for the study. Others suggested to me that I should agree. We met, talked about writing and so much more. I just knew I needed to see her again. I emailed her some articles and suggested we have coffee to go over them. She and her friends were trying to figure out if I wanted to date her or have her join a book club—a date with a syllabus? Long story short, the coffee became a dinner. And a few months later, we were engaged. Our first trip together outside of Puerto Rico was to the region we now call home, here in northern Arizona.