President’s Report
Rita Hartung Cheng, President of NAU


“Students bring their aspirations to NAU because we build a student-centered experience around their passions, ambitions, and preferences. We provide this experience through world-class faculty dedicated to teaching and research. Through a breadth of learning environments beginning with the Colorado Plateau, we show that engaged learning experiences can occur virtually anywhere.”

— Rita Cheng

Rita Hartung Cheng is NAU’s 16th president. Since her appointment in 2014, Dr. Cheng has been a champion of student success, access, excellence in research, and commitment to our communities across the state of Arizona.

Students smiling

“As the president of NAU, I am lucky enough to witness life-changing moments on a regular basis. From the excitement of a first-generation student arriving on campus to seeing students named Goldwater Scholars—the prestigious award in math, science, and engineering—I am energized and humbled by the many stories of student success.”
Rita Cheng

Students leave here prepared for success—in life, in their careers, and as engaged citizens.

Learning to serve, lead, and achieve

Learning to serve, lead, and achieve

Our student-to-faculty ratio remains 19:1 today, the same as it was a decade ago, though our Lumberjack family has grown by more than 7,000 students since then.

According to a recent Strada-Gallup survey, 90 percent of NAU alumni reported their experience at NAU to be “inspiring” and “if they had it to do all over again” they would still attend NAU.

As our alumni know, the university’s national reputation for high-quality educational experiences attracts world-renowned scholars to study, research, and teach at NAU.

Our main campus in Flagstaff—the #3 best college town in the US, ranked by both Business Insider and the American Institute of Economic Research (AIER)—anchors the region’s culture of innovation.

From NAU–Yuma, designated by the US Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, to Flagstaff, recently ranked #1 in diversity among the top 20 college towns by AIER—and well beyond—we are collaborating with Arizonans to create a better future.

NAU recently launched two new degree programs—an Indian Country Criminal Justice bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in building science. The Indian Country Criminal Justice degree is the first such degree in the country.
Providing innovative, rigorous academic programs
The need for nurses is double the average of other professions. In response, NAU has expanded programs and streamlined degree completions. Our Tucson BSN program has grown by 20 students, and we expect to award 200 BSN degrees annually by 2023.
Our BS in Dental Hygiene has grown significantly. The 2020 rollout of the Dental Hygiene Concurrent Enrollment Program will further increase access to our in-demand program.
Strengthening ties with communities across the state

Strengthening ties with communities across the state

The mountain peaks, pine trees, and food delivery robots on our Flagstaff campus are only the beginning. The hallmarks of an NAU education—vibrant programs and rich student experiences—are the same for Lumberjacks in Flagstaff, at our community campuses throughout Arizona, and online.

NAU Gilbert Campus
NAU Pima Campus
NAU Prescott Campus
NAU Mesa Campus
NAU Yuma Campus
NAU Statewide Campuses
Building partnerships that contribute to economic viability in our region
Our Hotel and Restaurant Management program is the
Hospitality program in the world
Hospitality program in the nation*

Building partnerships that contribute to economic viability in our region

Our students participate in internships, co-ops, and jobs at nonprofits, government agencies, schools, corporations, and businesses. Just within 50 miles of Flagstaff, NAU partners with 335 external employers.

Within the last year, these employers recruited for more than 1,000 jobs—jobs that are a critical part of our students’ education and their ability to enter the workforce with valuable real-life experience.

* according to CEOWorld Magazine and, respectively.
Honoring diversity of cultures, experiences, and perspectives
of this year’s undergraduate students are the first in their family to go to college

Honoring diversity of cultures, experiences, and perspectives

  • We recognize diversity as an integral component of success, and we serve a significantly larger and more diverse undergraduate population than most of our peers.
  • One of our distinctions is our number of first-generation students.
  • This year, nearly one-third of our students are from historically underrepresented groups.
  • Throughout our university’s history, we have invested in and are proud of our Indigenous students who come from American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities. We aspire to be the nation’s leading university serving these communities through academic programs and research.
NAU is recognized by NASPA and The Suder Foundation for its commitment to first-generation students. NAU prioritizes programs in advising, mentoring, and financial aid that ensure first-generation successes.
Students congregating outdoors on campus
  • 30,000+
    students are enrolled at all NAU campuses and online.
  • 22,000+
    students attend classes on the Flagstaff campus.
  • 5,600+
    students are enrolled in online programs.
  • 1,700+
    students attend classes at statewide campuses.
  • 6,800+
    students are freshmen.
  • 20,000+
    students are Arizona residents.
Native students participating in a dance

The NAU Office of Inclusion: Multicultural & LGBTQIA Student Services offers diverse cultural programming celebrating the rich heritage of NAU students, peer mentors, and a gathering place for student organizations including the Rainbow Coalition and the Black Student Union.

  • NAU attracts
  • 2,000+
    Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students from
  • 110+
    tribal nations throughout the country.
Amirhossein Arzani working at a computer with another man

The National Science Foundation ranked NAU #75 in the nation for public institutions without a medical school and #93 among all universities without a medical school, based on research expenditures. NAU also rose to #196 in national research rankings among all universities. The NSF’s Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) annual survey ranks more than 900 colleges and universities.

Research interests of Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Amirhossein Arzani include cardiovascular mechanics, computational fluid dynamics, and dynamical systems. His lab develops advanced computational modeling tools to study and model cardiovascular disease progression.

Expanding the boundaries of knowledge and creativity

Expanding the boundaries of knowledge and creativity

NAU is committed to pursuing the discovery, advancement, and application of knowledge in research areas unique and important to the region.

In 2019, NAU reached $58.9 million in research expenditures. As our research dollars grow, so do opportunities for undergraduates to participate in faculty-mentored research in areas that interest them.

Every spring NAU hosts an undergraduate research symposium featuring a wide range of subjects from designing tiny affordable homes to treating veterans with PTSD to identifying the role of culture and identity in treating patients in northern Arizona healthcare facilities. Last year, the symposium featured 240 presentations, 500 posters, and 3,500 attendees. The number of students presenting at the symposium has grown from 1,110 in 2013 to 1,554 in 2019.

Abe Springer, Professor in the School of Earth and Sustainability, conducts ecohydrology research in the Grand Canyon, mentoring undergraduate students like geology major Cecily Combs.
Developing solutions for a better world

Developing solutions for a better world

Our faculty are working across disciplines making significant discoveries, advancing academic knowledge, and improving lives. Here are just a few of the ways NAU faculty are changing the world.

Associate Professor Chad Trujillo received the Farinella Prize for contributions to the planetary science field.
Assistant Director of the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute and Assistant Professor of Microbiology Emily Cope is conducting a study to develop a novel therapeutic for asthma with low-cost dietary supplements for patients.
O’neil Guthrie, Communication Sciences and Disorders Associate Professor, received a $551,000 contract from an industry partner to investigate a therapy for noise-induced hearing loss.
Center for Ecosystem Science and Society Professor Ted Schuur joined the American Geophysical Union’s 2019 Class of Fellows, an honor given to only 0.1 percent of the AGU membership annually.
Center for Ecosystem Science and Society and School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems Regents’ Professor Andrew Richardson (pictured) and researcher Bijan Seyednasrollah have launched xROi, an interactive toolkit for time-series extraction to improve the quality of large data sets.
With $2.7 million from the National Institutes of Health, Regents’ Professor Julie Baldwin worked with the Center for Health Equity Research and College of Health and Human Services to reduce the burden of childhood dental disease in two American Indian communities.
Fatemeh Afghah, Associate Professor in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems, received the $450,000 Air Force Young Investigator Award for research enabling smart drones to monitor disaster areas.
Promoting scholarly excellence through undergraduate research
NAU students participate in research and internships each year.

Promoting scholarly excellence through undergraduate research

NAU students are focused on discovery, working with faculty on important projects. Here are just a few of the ways our undergraduate students are changing the world.

Chemistry major Noelle Waltenburg is working to develop an opioid vaccine that could be administered in rehabilitation facilities.
Recent graduate Jordan Ojeda worked to increase the rates at which Hopi men are screened for colorectal cancer.
Recent graduate Daryn Erickson performed research testing mosquitoes for the viruses that cause West Nile, Zika, and dengue fever.
Kyle Ghaby, a national Goldwater Scholar, used a supercomputer named Monsoon to test possibilities that could benefit millions of diabetics and pre-diabetics with the goal of making insulin temperature-resistant.
A large professional telescope

NAU Innovations: Whether it’s exploring deep space or cyberspace, the human microbiome, or the global ecosystem, NAU generates technologies to meet the needs of the 21st century.

  • 19
    new patents awarded
  • 50
    new invention disclosures submitted
  • 46
    new patent applications filed

The Center for World University Rankings has NAU in the top 4.6% of academic rankings worldwide based on quality of faculty, learning environment and research performance, publications, and more.

NAU's Impact section image

“Being good stewards of NAU’s future means we can continue to provide an education that empowers, deliver research that enlightens, and generate progress that expands opportunities for the people of Arizona and beyond.” — Rita Cheng

NAU’s academic programs at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus (PBC)—a 30-acre medical and bioscience campus located in the metropolitan area of downtown Phoenix—include graduate degrees in Occupational Therapy, Physician Assistant Studies, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Training.

Transforming Arizona and Arizonans
$2.6 B
is generated for the state of Arizona from the university’s economic activity.

Transforming Arizona and Arizonans

Today, more than 30,000 students are enrolled in 170+ NAU undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs supported by 4,900 faculty and staff and an operating budget of $630 million. The university’s impact on the state is substantial—since the year 2000, 68 percent of individuals who earned a degree from NAU live and work in Arizona.

Students in the new Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences – Nutrition and Foods program are trained in nutritional guidelines for specific health issues, such as diabetes or hypertension. They will work to meet public needs in Arizona and beyond through advocacy and nutritional standards awareness.
Preparing the best educators

Preparing the best educators

NAU has a long history as a leader providing access to teacher-preparation programs for Arizona students. We are continuing that tradition with more than 850 Arizona Teachers Academy students. The majority are residential students seeking degrees in elementary education and special education. Hundreds of students are already benefiting from this, pursuing teacher certifications where they live and work and preparing to graduate as debt-free as possible. Our first graduating class received diplomas in May and those graduates are in their first year of teaching in Arizona.

Collaborating on solutions to local, national, and international challenges

Collaborating on solutions to local, national, and international challenges

  • Professor Ben Ruddell and Professor Eck Doerry’s flood research project is developing smart-image processing techniques to determine water level from a simple snapshot image. The results of this research will enable residents and cities to better prepare for monsoon flooding.
  • NAU Associate Professor Dirk de Heer and Professor Priscilla Sanderson are partnering with the Navajo Nation Tribal Epidemiology Center to conduct an impact study of the unhealthy food tax—supported by a $1.4 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. In 2014, then-Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly signed the Healthy Diné Nation Act into law, mandating a 2 percent tax on “unhealthy foods” to help reduce overconsumption of soda, fat, and processed foods.
  • A company in South Korea—a country with few forest resources—is paying to import biomass from Flagstaff. In addition to bringing income to the state of Arizona, the company’s partnership with NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute helps forest restoration efforts and prevents wildfires. This project, led by Professor Han-Sup Han, has strong potential for regional economic benefits including the creation of jobs, the expansion of the wood products industry in northern Arizona, and the possibility of attracting other wood products industries to the area, potentially even scaling it into a hub.
  • A team of researchers from NAU’s Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, including Regents’ Professor Bruce Hungate, Professor Michelle Mack, Professor Paul Dijkstra, Professor Egbert Schwartz, and Research Associate Benjamin Koch, are collaborating with national partners on a project funded by a three-year, $3.3 million grant from the US Department of Energy to investigate how soil bacteria, viruses, and fungi contend with global warming. The study will help scientists better understand the rapidly changing global carbon picture.
NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute collaborated with public and private sector partners on a pilot study that examines the economics of exporting wood fiber from northern Arizona to South Korea.
Professor Ben Ruddell (shown) and Eck Doerry are collaborating with the cities of Flagstaff and Phoenix to predict flooding.
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through leading research

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through leading research

NAU researchers are using advanced scientific knowledge and know-how to fight the coronavirus pandemic, working across disciplines to get results, including:

  • disease experts at NAU’s Pathogen and Microbiome Institute, who launched the new COVID-19 Testing Service Center to evaluate new drugs against the virus
  • NAU physicists, biochemists, and pathogen scientists, who are collaborating to develop new COVID-19 vaccines and testing methods based on nanotechnology
  • NAU data scientists, who are working together to map the nation’s supply chains and develop predictive disease models
  • NAU public health experts, who are collaborating with local communities and health officials to better understand the spread of the disease and address inequities in care
The undergraduate research program offered by NAU’s Pathogen and Microbiome Institute prepares students for real-world challenges with hands-on experience studying diseases, including COVID-19.
Joe Mihaljevic, a mathematical epidemiologist and assistant professor in NAU’s School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems, is leading a new project to create computer modeling systems to predict outcomes of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, across four northern Arizona counties—Coconino, Navajo, Apache, and Mohave.
A student embraces his family at commencement
  • $2.6B
    is generated for the state of Arizona from the university’s economic activity.
  • 24,000+
    jobs are supported by NAU
  • 84%
    of last year’s graduates are already employed in Arizona.
A NAU student and a child look at a piece of paper together
  • 850+
    students are Teachers Academy participants.
  • 225
    new teachers will be placed in Arizona’s classrooms by 2020.
  • 720
    new students enrolled in the Academy in FY19.
Text reading 'NAU 120 Years, 1899-2019' over an image of students forming the letters 'NAU' in a large open field

About our 120th class:

  • Their top majors are Biology, Biomedical Science, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Elementary Education, and Nursing.
  • Their average age is 22.
  • Forty-two percent of these first-year students are students of color, making this freshman cohort the most diverse class in NAU history.
  • The most common first names among this year’s first-year students are Emily and Jacob.