Notes from the President: April 11, 2024

Dear Lumberjacks,

It finally feels like spring has arrived in Flagstaff. This week, I share my notes from out of town as I tend to family matters for the week—knowing that our university is on a strong trajectory and guided by our mission-driven leadership team. Even though I do not have NAU commitments this week, it has nonetheless been an eventful period since my last edition of Notes.

Before surveying the activities of the past two weeks, I must address a recent concern that has impacted Indigenous members of our NAU community. Earlier this week, a post on one of our university’s social media channels regarding the solar eclipse offended the cultural beliefs and traditions of many of our Indigenous students, faculty, and staff. This oversight was particularly regrettable and avoidable given that we had just highlighted the cultural significance of the eclipse to these communities in an NAU Review article. Given responses to the post, I tasked two of my Cabinet members, Vice Presidents Ann Marie Chischilly and Dr. Justin Mallett, to host an in-person community forum to gain a deeper understanding of our community’s perspective on this issue and to better inform our university’s communication and engagement strategies moving forward. The post in question has also been archived.

Our dedication to Indigenous Peoples is unwavering: It is a commitment reflected in our Access2Excellence initiative, our earnest efforts to incorporate Indigenous Knowledges and perspectives into our curriculum, and the record investments we are making in our Seven Generations Signature Initiative, among many other efforts. Acknowledging where and when we fall short reinforces our commitment to align our actions with our values and pursue tangible improvements. I am grateful for the community’s feedback, which is indispensable as we work to educate, support, and empower our students from every background. It is our collective aim to enable each student to realize their full potential and to actively contribute to a future that upholds justice, inclusion, and sustainability for all.

Below are my notes:

  • Following the week highlighted by the Showcase of Strategies for Student Success—which I reflected on in my previous notes—I closed out the week spending time with my youngest son on a college visit as he prepares to embark on the next chapter of his educational and life journey this fall.
  • As work got underway last Monday (April 1), I was leery of some of the news stories on my feed that seemed a bit . . . hard to believe . . . but I was quickly back into the swing of things with class, preparation for NAU Giving Day, and more.
  • Tuesday featured two separate engagements with philanthropic supporters alongside our Advancement | Foundation team. I’m inspired by the commitment of our partners and their enthusiasm to contribute to NAU’s vision for elevating excellence.
  • In the afternoon, I joined faculty, staff, friends, and partners at the High Country Conference Center to celebrate the incredible efforts that have led to the launch of NAU Health. Our innovative College of Medicine, the elevated and enhanced College of Nursing and College of Health and Human Services, and our distinctive and much-needed portfolio of behavioral health programs are contributing to meeting the needs of communities in Arizona and beyond. Since announcing this bold endeavor last fall, I am excited by the progress we have made to design the College of Medicine and set the course for doubling the number of health-related degrees awarded by 2030. My thanks to our leaders who are making this vision a reality and to the many partners in the region and throughout the state who are contributing their time, resources, and expertise to ensure NAU Health meets the needs of our state now and into the future.
  • The next morning, I met with one of our Regents and then headed back to HCCC for the all-day convening of our Medical Education Advisory Board. The previous evening’s celebration brought our colleagues together, but this was a day set aside for the hard and important work to consider how our 125-year-old institution of higher learning is poised to disrupt the way we think and go about educating medical professionals and structuring the delivery of health care for the benefit of those who have long been shortchanged because of who they are, where they live, or what their net worth—measured in dollars, not humanity—is. I’m inspired and eagerly await our next steps as we build a College of Medicine dedicated to the people and communities who stand to gain the most from responsive, holistic, accessible primary care.
  • Following my participation in the design summit, I was off to class in the afternoon and throughout the day I checked in and engaged in a record-setting NAU Giving Day. With well over 2,000 Axe of Kindness and nearly $800,000 raised, NAU’s community of supporters showed up in force to provide support to essential programs and supports in every corner of our university that contribute to access, success, and excellence in our mission.
  • Thursday, my calendar shuffled around a bit due to some university business and family priorities. In the morning, I visited with our Human Resources team for a conversation about their work and the future of talent management, equitable practices, employee training, and more at NAU as we strive to be one of the leading universities for workplace practices that empower our mission-driven faculty and staff to reach their full potential and be a vital part of building a better future through education. I then had several conversations related to NAU’s statewide educational footprint and goals as we sharpen our approach to meeting Arizona’s attainment imperative with timely and responsive programs, pathways, and partnerships that drive economic mobility and social impact. This is an area of significant emphasis as we think on how to maintain our excellence in Flagstaff, Yuma, the Phoenix Bioscience Core, the North Valley, and other statewide sites, and look to the future where the Arizona Attainment Alliance (A++) enhances these sites and strengthens the potential for a fully integrated statewide ecosystem focused on attainment.
  • Friday, I joined more than 450 leaders from throughout the state, representing more than 100 school districts, at NAU’s 10th annual Professional Education Program Career Fair, where the talented students from our College of Education look to pursue impactful careers serving students in K-12 settings. With nearly 125 years of expertise as a teachers’ college, I know firsthand that NAU’s College of Education graduates are among the very best and are ready to make a difference in Arizona’s classrooms!
  • For the remainder of the day, I hosted a lunch with Flagstaff-based philanthropic supporters; joined students at Dr. Rima Brusi’s Educational Research and Attainment Lab in the Honors College to share insights from our work at NAU and hear more about our students’ efforts in research, community outreach, and multimedia educational content creation focused on broadening access and communicating the value of postsecondary attainment; and closed out the day with several calls.
  • As I mentioned in my opening, this week I’ve been out-of-town tending to family matters, but have kept in close touch with my team and know this is a busy week on campus. I’ll highlight just two events of significance: first, thanks to our Department of Politics and International Affairs and support from the Arizona Board of Regents, NAU hosted Congress to Campus, with two former members of congress—Karan English, who represented Arizona’s 6th congressional district, and Tom Petri, who represented Wisconsin’s 6th congressional district—visiting, engaging with our students, and modeling civic engagement and civil discourse through an honest, bipartisan conversation on their experiences as elected officials. Second, tonight marks the spring edition of the Gold Axe, Distinguished Senior, and President’s Prize awards for our students. I’ll be cheering on all these exceptional students from afar and am so proud of all that they’ve accomplished at NAU—and know they will do much in their work ahead!

In closing, I wish all of our faculty, staff, and students the best now and always. We are just a month away from Commencement—the end of another banner year for NAU, the beginning of the next phase in our graduates’ lives, and the promise of renewed opportunity and optimism. Let’s finish the year strong together!

In partnership,

José Luis Cruz Rivera

NAU Communications