NAU’s College of Health & Human Services graduates share their stories
With each year’s graduating class, our alumni community grows—going in many directions with their careers, but all tied to NAU and their time as a Lumberjack. Read what they have to say about their NAU experiences.
Thomas Puzey, Class of 2017
Thomas “Rivers” Puzey became a professional athlete because he needed a stable career. On April 17, 2017 he crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 16th place, logging the fastest time of his life (so far) and having a marvelous time doing it. Later that spring he would graduate from NAU’s physical therapy program.
It wasn’t easy for Puzey’s professors, who worked with him to ensure he could get the necessary clinic hours and classes even as he traveled to races and events. As if all of that wasn’t enough to fill his day, he’s also in a massage therapy program, aiming to become a medical provider who understands the big picture biomechanics of the human body with the pressure techniques and know-how to respond to each patient differently.
“My approach in terms of my career goals has been directed by what I would like to receive as an athlete if I were to walk into a clinic, the skill set I would want a practitioner to have,” he said.
His sometimes non-traditional approach had opportunities to shine throughout his program. Karen Mueller, a professor of physical therapy and Puzey’s advisor, said he brought his life experiences into a clinic working with an 85-year-old woman with Parkinson’s disease who wanted to ride a bike but wasn’t steady enough to do so on her own.
Puzey and a classmate came back with a tandem bike from a local shop, then rode with the patient to help build her confidence and balance.
“After several sessions, this patient was able to ride a regular adult bicycle without assistance,” Mueller said. “Rivers filmed her riding the bike, and the patient’s joy was a delight to see.”
Read more about his journey on the NAU News webpage.
Danielle Cox, Class of 2017
From both of her grandparents to aunts and cousins, Danielle Cox was destined for blue and gold.
But despite her aspirations, working 12-hour graveyard shifts as the charge nurse in the Intensive Care Unit of Flagstaff Medical Center didn’t allow her the option of going back to school to pursue her bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Doing so would force her to quit her full-time job—a luxury she couldn’t afford.
Aware of the pressure to obtain her BSN, Cox looked into nontraditional ways to obtain her degree and discovered Northern Arizona University’s Personalized Learning program. The online program is competency-based, and allows students to work at their own pace and progress at their own rate.
Cox was the first Personalized Learning student to graduate from the RN-to-BSN program, completing the 33 credits needed to obtain her degree in less than six months.
Earning this degree puts her one step closer to obtaining her master’s of science in nursing, which she plans to pursue after graduation—enabling her to teach if she chooses.
Cox joins her family as the eighth NAU alum to graduate.
Read more about her journey on the NAU News webpage.
Dawn Rivas DNP, RN, Class of 2012 & 2017
“In 2012, I graduated from NAU with my MS–Nurse Generalist degree. During commencement, Dean Debera Thomas whispered to me, ‘When are you going back to school for your doctorate?’ It was the first time I had thought of furthering my education. She had confidence that I could accomplish such a task! That kind of mentorship motivated me to graduate for a third time with my Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
I am now the Interim Assistant Director of the Nursing Program at NAU.”