Last week, I shared my notes just prior to the beginning of the Arizona Board of Regents meeting at NAU and on the eve of our Family Weekend. I have much to update you on today, including a truly special highlight that I have been eager to do since I was named NAU’s 17th president—a visit to NAU-Yuma. It has been a whirlwind of a week!
- The Arizona Board of Regents met at NAU last week for their annual September meeting in Flagstaff. The discussions with the Regents were wide-ranging. Our three state universities—ASU, UArizona and NAU—are all working hard to support the needs of our students and of our state. I am heartened by the sense of shared purpose and collaboration among colleagues who are deeply vested in the value of higher education. A highlight of the meeting was NAU’s update on our work in advancing Arizona’s New Economy Initiative. Thanks to an appropriation from the state, NAU has invested in an aggressive expansion of health care-related programs, including nursing, physical therapy, physician assistant and clinical mental health, to meet the needs of our state’s workforce and the care needs of our communities while promoting economic and community vitality into the future. This is important ongoing work that is tied to our mission of providing a statewide system of access to higher education, impactful programs and workforce development. I’m appreciative of the support of our Regents and the state for these efforts, and I look forward to continuing to build on them next year.
- I joined the NAU MFA in Creative Writing program for their Witter-Bynner reading, where we heard from Jamie Figueroa and my wife, Rima Brusi. It was yet another example of the diversity of experiences and enrichment this campus offers.
- To kick off Family Weekend, I had the great privilege of joining our College of Education students and donors for the COE Scholarship Reception. I am thankful to those who support our students and provide pathways to enable their success, and I am appreciative of our students who dedicate themselves to the noble calling as educators in service to our communities in Arizona and beyond.
- I visited our Student-Athlete High Performance Center for a reception that featured our Lumberjack Athletics family. I’m proud of the achievements of our student-athletes and feel a shared sense of energy and enthusiasm from our supporters and from student-athlete alumni. This state-of-the-art high-altitude training and learning center is nearing completion and will soon help us expand our academic and athletic achievements.
- On Saturday, I began my morning by congratulating second-year students at our Celebration of Academic Achievement. These students have persisted and excelled throughout a challenging time. I was pleased to join our deans and other colleagues in recognizing their hard work and achievements and celebrating alongside their friends and families.
- Lunch was spent enjoying beautiful fall weather and lively conversations with students and families at the Family Weekend BBQ.
- Saturday was capped off with an exceptional win for Lumberjack football! It was a great game to watch in the Skydome. At halftime, I joined VP for Athletics Mike Marlow and Big Sky Conference Commissioner Tom Wistrcill to officially accept the Big Sky Presidents’ Cup, which recognized NAU’s exceptional performance on and off the field last year. I’m proud of our student-athletes for all they have achieved and for the exceptional coaches and staff who support their success.
- I began this week by speaking with national colleagues from the Institute of Higher Education Policy and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about how we can collaborate and advance equitable postsecondary value in our work. Participating in a national dialogue and sharing ideas and best practice will help drive forward our mission at NAU and our work to develop a Strategic Roadmap that sets these goals in motion.
- The past two days were, as I noted above, spent in Yuma. There were many highlights as I met with faculty, staff and students from NAU-Yuma, our community partners, business leaders, educational partners and elected officials. Throughout the visit, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride in being a part of NAU and Yuma in advancing access to education. Key activities on my visit included the following:
- An engaging forum with NAU-Yuma faculty and staff to discuss our Strategic Roadmap, the integral place of Yuma in our statewide mission of access and many other important topics.
- Meeting with our longtime partners and colleagues at Arizona Western College, including a very warm welcome from Daniel Corr, president of AWC. I am excited for the collaborative work ahead and building on the strong relationship between our institutions in Yuma and throughout southwestern Arizona.
- I had a great conversation with Amanda Aguirre, president and CEO of the Regional Center for Boarder Health. Combined with our New Economy Initiative focus and nursing programs in Yuma, I am looking forward to strengthening and expanding our partnership.
- I met with Mayor Doug Nicholls and heard his passion for increasing educational attainment in Yuma and how we can work together to advance this goal.
- Meeting with students is always important and informative, to hear their experiences and remember why we do what we do. In Yuma, I met with a cohort of our nursing students and am humbled by their hard work, dedication and commitment to service in the future.
- I enjoyed coffee with some of our dedicated Yuma alumni chapter volunteers, who help keep the Lumberjack community in Yuma engaged and informed. I’m looking forward to visiting with more of our Yuma-based alumni in the future. This community is strong, thriving and ready to broaden the NAU-Yuma experience.
- State Rep. Charlene Fernandez and I spoke about the educational pipeline from K-12 to college and beyond. We have much work to do in serving our state and closing attainment gaps, but we also have many champions like Rep. Fernandez who are supporting this important work in our communities around the state.
- We hosted the president of Imperial College in California, Dr. Lennor Johnson, another close partner, whose students frequently complete bachelor’s degrees at NAU-Yuma. Our ability to serve transfer students near and far and offer pathways to degree attainment is a hallmark of NAU’s commitment to service.
- I concluded my visit with an excellent meeting with the Yuma Chamber of Commerce. Our connections with the business community are strong, and we can continue to offer support in terms of talent pipeline, career preparedness and graduate and certificate programing that make us a central educational partner in Yuma.
I want to offer my sincere thanks to the entire Yuma community for the warm welcome and the exceptional visit. While there is significant work ahead, being present with our NAU community and the broader Yuma community reaffirmed the importance of our work and the value of delivering on the NAU mission. I also want to thank the members of my leadership team who joined in this visit: Karen Pugliesi, Laurie Dickson, Christy Farley, Anika Olsen, Michael Bassoff, Matt Tantau and Katy Yanez. Our focus was collaboration and ensuring that our work translates to action.
In partnership with our NAU colleagues throughout the state,
José Luis Cruz Rivera