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Creating opportunity

Alumna Lisa Bacus was raised in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, where a third of the population lives below the poverty line and a university education sits financially out-of-reach for most. Despite her excellent grades, her family’s financial situation limited her options to pursue a higher education. However, support from financial aid enabled Bacus to attend Northern Arizona University, a decision she knew was life-changing from her first steps on campus.

“I was blown away by the beauty of the university,” Bacus says. “The campus was large enough that it had a great curriculum and resources. At the same time, it was just small enough to feel like home. I knew from the day I started that Flagstaff was the right decision.”

Bacus majored in business management and Spanish, embracing campus and community life. Outside of class, Bacus enjoyed working with the service organization Cardinal Key or exploring the outdoors—inside class, Bacus appreciated the one-on-one education Northern Arizona University is known for.

“I never had a professor say they didn't have the time to speak with me,” Bacus says. “They always had the time to answer questions and ensure I understood the material.”

Upon nearing graduation, Bacus was torn between two potential careers. Through conversation and guidance from her most influential instructor, Professor Mel McKnight, she says she discovered which path was right for her.

“McKnight took the time to help me reach within and realize where I would be happiest,” Bacus says. “I’ll never forget that.”

The right path

The pathway Bacus chose has taken her on a journey. In 1986, she got her start in an entry-level customer service position with the Ford Motor Company. Two decades later, she was running global marketing for one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world.

Today, Bacus works as the Executive Vice President and Global Chief Marketing Officer at the Cigna Corporation.

“It's been extremely rewarding,” Bacus says. “No two days are alike. The challenges of the industry make it very dynamic, and the growth opportunities for the business make it very exciting."

The global scale of the business means Bacus spends much of her time visiting dozens of countries a year. However, there is one annual trip that she always makes.

“I always come back for Homecoming,” Bacus says. “I’m always looking forward to seeing friends and former alumni and reconnecting with them. Northern Arizona University is a community."

Giving back to a new generation

For the past several years, Bacus, her husband, and a former work colleague, Robert Parker, have collaborated with the university and the Lion’s Club of Nogales to create a scholarship for a student-in-need from Nogales. Bacus says she gives back because she knows the opportunity makes a difference in the lives of others. 

“Every year, we get heart-warming letters from the students sharing their gratitude and their appreciation for the opportunity to be able to further their education,” Bacus says. “We stay in touch with all of our students, including some who have already graduated. It is great to be able to have that connection as a friend and a mentor.”

Bacus’ own opportunities at Northern Arizona University meant that she never thought twice about giving elsewhere.

“When my husband and I were talking about giving back, since we're both alumni of the university, we wanted to make sure it was to Northern Arizona University, and for a student who needed an opportunity.”

As Bacus continues her work with Cigna, she says she loves to hire graduates from The W.A. Franke College of Business to work for her because she knows they – much like her – are ready for the challenges of the global economy.

“There is something unique about the DNA of a student from Northern Arizona University,” Bacus says. “They are so incredibly committed. They have a strong work ethic, they are very collaborative, and they know how to work in teams. Most importantly, they are extremely appreciative.”