Giving back

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Nogales native establishes business scholarship.

Lisa Rojas Bacus, ’86 BA, BSBA, was born and raised in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, where a third of the population lives below the poverty line, and a university education is financially out-of-reach for most. But thanks to receiving scholarships, Bacus was able to complete her education and today works as the Executive Vice President and Global Chief Marketing Officer at Cigna Health Insurance, an international health services organization, and is responsible for Cigna’s global marketing activities. In order to help students have the same opportunities as she did, Bacus and her husband Brian, ’87 BSE, established the Nogales High School Hall of Fame Scholarship. 

The Bacuses and a colleague and friend, Robert Parker, ’89 BS, partnered with Northern Arizona University and the Lion’s Club of Nogales to create the scholarship which supports a successful high school graduate in pursuit of a business degree at Northern Arizona University.

“This scholarship is for people who are in need,” Bacus says. “We want to help students who have a ton of potential."

Fernanda Maria Avila wins 2013 award

Last year’s recipient of the Nogales High School Hall of Fame Scholarship is Fernanda Maria Avila, a junior with a dual major in business management and Spanish – coincidentally, the same degrees Bacus earned in 1986. The town of Nogales straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, and while Avila grew up on the Mexican side, she attended high school on the American side. She excelled as a high school student, but faced financial obstacles upon graduation. Avila explains that scholarships—like the one from the Bacuses—are what enabled her to pursue a university education.

“Even a small amount of money helps,” Avila says. “It encouraged me to be a good student and follow my dreams. I'm grateful and happy to have received the aid that I did."

Avila is thankful for her opportunity to attend Northern Arizona University, and she loves what it has to offer in terms of environment and education.

“This university is student-focused,” Avila says. “Flagstaff is a student-oriented town, and I love it.”

Making a difference as a friend and mentor

From her first day on campus some 30 years ago, Bacus, too, fell in love with the beauty of Flagstaff. As she progressed toward earning her degree, she also developed a deep appreciation for the breadth and depth of the programs offered by the university.

“My time at Northern Arizona University provided all the foundational elements I needed to succeed in the business world,” Bacus explains. “The one-on-one interaction with the professors and their dedication to students ensured that I understood and grasped the concepts so that I could apply them in the future.”

After graduating, Bacus was hired by the Ford Motor Company, and over the course of two decades, she worked her way to becoming the director of global marketing strategy. Now with Cigna, Bacus is responsible for international relationships, and she travels across the globe. However, between flights to places like Turkey and Singapore, Bacus always finds time for a personal trip—she returns to Flagstaff and her alma mater each year for Homecoming.

Last year was particularly special. Over Homecoming Weekend, Bacus and Avila met for the first time. The two instantly connected and were able to talk about their shared hometown, life in Flagstaff, and Avila’s dreams of becoming a small business owner. Bacus says these interactions, and the satisfaction of helping someone succeed, are what makes it all worthwhile. 

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

Plans for a successful future

After graduation in 2015, Avila plans to serve as a missionary through the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. As a lifelong ballerina, her dream is to use the skills and knowledge learned in The W.A. Franke College of Business to open her own dance studio. Avila believes that the support she has received from the Bacuses helped her along this path.  

“I'm grateful to Lisa,” Avila says. “We have the same major, and she grew up in Nogales, and she’s very inspiring. I'm excited to get to know her better."

Bacus says she holds a special place in her heart for Northern Arizona University. In addition to the scholarship she established, she sits on board of the NAU Foundation. Giving back makes sense, she believes, especially with students like Avila.

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