NAU’s Impacts: How the university changed over time

The NAU Honors College building shown during construction, Sept. 14, 2017.

NAU first opened its doors to students in 1899 and has since undergone major changes in an effort to better serve the Lumberjack population. According to the NAU history page, these adjustments have included multiple name changes ranging between Arizona State Teachers College, Arizona State College and the current name of Northern Arizona University. In 120 years of operation, the school has proven itself as a home for students to learn and grow. 

The university is dedicated to being an institution that allows attendees to explore their aspirations and achieve many possibilities. With more than 60 majors available to choose from, there are endless opportunities to learn from the classroom and hands-on experience that better positions students for jobs within their future fields. 

Senior Abigail Moran discussed her experience at NAU as she reflected on her past four years and gears up for graduation. More specifically, she talked about how the school has transformed her ever since moving from Missouri to Flagstaff. 

Moran said one of the biggest influences since starting college was the major she chose to pursue. She is currently enrolled in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management and explained it is something she loves — and has enjoyed ever since beginning in Flagstaff.

“It’s an amazing program and they really set us up for success,” Moran said. “Especially right now, the hospitality industry is really up and coming again and it’s not where it used to be two years ago. Most people I know are graduating with jobs, which is incredible considering the circumstances.”

Another positive Moran has seen stems beyond the students and reaches the greater Flagstaff community. She said the city and NAU are strongly connected, and organizations within the university are thoughtful when it comes to local involvement. Moran is currently involved in a sorority on campus and said she has observed a big influence with organizations like Greek life. Her sorority has benefited from finding local connections, which Moran said helps them as students better integrate themselves into the community. 

Similarly, NAU has shaped its surroundings through internal developments, which eventually caused Flagstaff to adapt and adjust. Senior Macy Maine said she has watched immense growth around the city since she came to the school in 2017. 

Maine explained as the student population continued to grow, the town had to expand as a result, which facilitated a big impact on nearby areas. She added that NAU must continue to monitor this influence to ensure it remains positive for the people of Flagstaff. 

“I think NAU’s biggest impact on the community has been its growth,” Maine said through Instagram’s direct messaging system. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen two new student housing developments built in town and an increase in the weekday traffic around the university.” 

Faculty offered another perspective about NAU’s effects on the surrounding community. Donelle Ruwe, a professor in the Department of English since 2003, has seen many additions to campus and multiple changes to culture itself. 

Ruwe said over the years, as she watched campus expand, Flagstaff had to grow and adapt with it. These changes included new housing, buildings and other infrastructure efforts around the city. 

She explained it has been interesting to watch campus evolve from her office window throughout the years as NAU expanded and enrollment increased. However, she added one aspect has not changed during this time: the students. 

Ruwe said the school’s attendees tend to be from different backgrounds, which helps to create the culture around NAU. As the institution has continued to grow and attracted more students, she recognized the school’s location in allowing for a more diverse and accepting campus. 

“I think that NAU is increasingly aware and working to recognize its position as an institution that is uniquely qualified to work with Indigenous peoples and Native American students,” Ruwe said. “We are also a Hispanic-serving institution, so we are really working to represent the face of America in the southwest and to meet the needs of students that one finds in the southwest.”

NAU’s impact does not end with students, as different departments are dedicated to better implementing themselves in the community and using their resources to instigate changes. Ruwe said the Department of English has worked itself into the city’s art scene and additionally created a relationship with elementary and secondary educators.

“I think that Flagstaff and NAU are really intertwined,” Ruwe said. “I think that my department does a lot of the artistic life of Flagstaff, we sponsor all kinds of readings and student activities, like the poetry slam. [We want to] create an awareness of culture and the joy of reading and I think that all of that has really helped to develop the character of Flagstaff.”

NAU’s impact on students is incredibly valuable as they prepare to enter the modern workforce, Ruwe said. As the university strives to meet the needs of its students, the projects and efforts it invests in will likely change too. With many resources available, students can look forward and work toward integrating themselves into the communities around them, while creating lasting impacts.