Welcoming our opportunities in 2016

Dear colleagues,

The beginning of each new year provides a perfect opportunity for reflection and planning. It’s a time to celebrate accomplishments, revisit goals and priorities and welcome new possibilities.

We accomplished a great deal together last semester and finished 2015 with a lot to be proud of. Through your efforts, we have been able to adapt to state budget cuts, broaden access to higher education both on the Flagstaff campus and via alternative methods of learning, address the increased demand for highly specialized programs, bolster impact-driven research, engage in community development and more.

I would like to thank all of you for your contributions and share brief highlights of what we achieved together during the last semester. I will discuss these and other highlights in more detail during a State of the University forum scheduled for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the High Country Conference Center.

  • Diversity and Inclusion – We are advancing our mission related to access and inclusivity with the creation of a Center for University Access and Inclusion. NAU will soon initiate a search for a chief diversity officer to develop and implement our long-term, comprehensive diversity strategic plan. In addition, Chad Hamill assumed his role as the president’s special assistant for Native American Affairs in December.
  • Enrollment – We are educating more students both in Flagstaff and through Extended Campuses, and 2,543 students applied to graduate in December. Fall marked our highest enrollment in university history with 29,031 students statewide. This is a 5 percent increase overall with increases of more than 12 percent in Hispanic students and more than 5 percent in Native American students. The growth in enrollment reinforces our commitment to providing access to educational opportunities, while also aligning with Arizona Board of Regents goals.
  • Research – We made great strides in solutions-driven research, from the molecular level of muscle movement to early language development and international public health investigations. Our research continues to be focused and relevant to our unique mission.
  • Strengthening Infrastructure and Service – We worked together to adjust to budget cuts across all academic and non-academic units, finding solutions to advance our efforts in Information Technology Services and in Marketing and Communications. And we concentrated our Extended Campuses statewide services into regional locations to better focus outreach efforts. Additionally, we are shaping the future through a comprehensive visioning process that will position us for tomorrow.
  • Community Engagement – We are grateful for the efforts of local businesses and the City of Flagstaff for their continued partnership. We have increased community engagement around the state, and enjoyed the hospitality of our partners on the Navajo Nation, who hosted our men’s basketball team for a game against Embry-Riddle in Fort Defiance in November. In addition, our Alumni Relations team will be connecting with Lumberjacks in Prescott, Tucson, Phoenix, Portland and Reno in the coming months.
  • International Engagement – We expanded partnerships in the region and the world, including a visit with three universities in China that have been collaborators for more than 20 years.
  • Capital Projects – The Student and Academic Services building will hold an open house next week, and the Aquatic and Tennis Complex officially will host its first meet in February. Look for details on both events in NAU News. We hope you will join us to celebrate these new facilities that provide enhanced and coordinated services for our students and community.
  • The Campaign for NAU – Our multiyear comprehensive fundraising campaign is approaching the $100 million goal to support student success initiatives, including research, programs and athletics. Thank you to all who made reaching this goal possible through your time, resources, donations and dedication to the Only at NAU story.
  • Athletics – All of our students give us many reasons to be proud, including our student-athletes, who work very hard to succeed academically and in sports. Our volleyball and golf teams won Big Sky championships, football went undefeated at home and soccer broke a few records along the way. Cross country had a great season, foreshadowing the track and field competitions to come this spring. Our athletes earned the highest graduation success rate in the state and share the top spot in the Big Sky with three teams posting 100 percent.
  • NAU Strong – We unified after the tragic events that took place in October, and Lumberjacks nationwide reached out to share their heartfelt support.

Last week, Governor Doug Ducey released his recommendation for the state’s budget. While his proposal is a step forward, we are still in the early stages of the conversation and we must continue to make a strong case for support by highlighting our many contributions to the state.

Arizona’s population continues to increase beyond the national average. This isn’t new for us. Growth in Arizona has outpaced the nation for decades. The Arizona Board of Regents, NAU and our sister institutions have worked diligently over the years to accommodate that growth and meet the demands of a dynamic and rapidly changing workforce.

Together, we have shown that we are a university on the rise. And together, we can take the next step in our evolutionary journey and meet the future with confidence—ready for the challenges and opportunities ahead. I welcome the challenges, knowing that we are united in our commitment to students, our community and the Lumberjack Family.

Let’s make 2016 our best year yet!


Rita Hartung Cheng