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Saluting our Schools

Northern Arizona University fosters diversity

The NAU environment welcomes diverse students, especially Native Americans. The Multicultural Engineering Program is designed to help them succeed


Northern Arizona University (NAU, Flagstaff, AZ) is reaching out across both geographic and academic landscapes to serve diverse communities. Satellite campuses and distance learning address the needs of students unable to access the main campus.

Diversity is a major focus at NAU. A diversity curriculum requirement was established in 2004. One course on a U.S. ethnic diversity topic and one on a global diversity topic must be included at some point in every student's undergraduate career. A Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP) is in place to support diverse tech students.

"The school has created an overall environment that fosters diversity," says Wolf Dieter Otte, associate professor of computer science and assistant chair of the electrical engineering and computer science department. He's one of two native German speakers on the EE and CS faculty, which also includes a native Greek speaker and a female Native American. "I've always felt welcome as a foreign national."

Within the College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences, NAU offers masters degrees in civil, electrical, environmental and mechanical engineering and computer science. Engineering specialties address the latest technology advances.

Undergrads can transition seamlessly from the bachelors program into the masters through the school's Integrated Program (IP). "The IP lets our best undergraduate students participate," says Otte. "My hope is that it attracts diverse students by providing a richer, more personalized experience."

NAU grads are in demand
Students are in demand before they graduate. Large corporations like IBM (Armonk, NY) and Honeywell (Morristown, NJ) recruit on campus. Government agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey (Washington, DC) and small technology development companies also hire NAU grads.

Relationships with business develop through departmental advisory committees that include industry representatives who are usually NAU alums. Connections are also made as students work on their required senior-year capstone projects, when engineering students work on teams that tackle projects suggested by industry partners. Recent projects have included a red light detector to improve traffic safety and a portable transient detection system to sense and record transient voltage in residential power lines.

"The capstone class is the team equivalent of an engineering thesis," says Otte. "Its two semesters draw on all the skills that students acquire during their career at NAU: pure engineering, social skills and communication skills. Students learn how to talk to a client by working with our industry partners."

NAU helps students succeed
Satellite campuses in Yuma and Phoenix offer degree completion programs to students who aren't able to come to the Flagstaff campus. NAU collaborates with community colleges like Coconino Community College (Flagstaff, AZ) and Yavapai Community College (Prescott, AZ).

The university's Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals brings tribal professionals to the campus to work closely with the university. The institute has undertaken projects like a study of the impact of climate change on southwest desert communities, and indoor air quality improvement.

The Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, also located in Flagstaff, provides office space and resources like intellectual property consulting, marketing services and patent law to students and community members with business ideas.

MEP offers services that students need
NAU provides support to retain students through successful completion of their degrees via learning centers and the MEP, which also administers scholarships sponsored by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.

Program coordinator Alexis Baca-Spry tells students how the MEP can help them during the first week of classes. Students know where to find her to connect with tutors or resolve other issues that could interrupt their college careers.

MEP offers one-on-one tutoring with tutors who have successfully completed the course in which a student needs help. For one computer class, so many students requested tutors that a weekly group session was set up.

Baca-Spry arranges academic success meetings, weekly or biweekly, with students to review how they are doing in their living situations as well as their academics. She has connections to campus resources like the counseling center, disability resources and Native American Student Services.

The computer lab can get noisy and distracting, so the MEP has a dedicated study space with five computers and room for twelve students who need a more peaceful setting.

"Some students thrive on the open walkway and glass windows of the computer lab, but others need quiet," she explains. "If you want to be social, you choose a different location. When we really need to concentrate, we want to have a place for that. We are full all the time."

The MEP managed a Department of Energy internship program in 2011 for seven Native American students, both undergrads and grads. The program focused on creating a pathway for these students to successfully move from high school to college to careers with the National Nuclear Security Administration. One student worked on the problem of uranium in groundwater on the reservation, and another worked on coal gasification. Seven more will participate in 2012.

"Inclusion isn't just on paper in our strategic plan," says Otte. "It's a good environment that welcomes diversity, especially Native Americans."

D/C


College of Engineering, Forestry & Natural Sciences

College of Engineering,
Forestry & Natural Sciences

nau.edu.cefns

Main campus: Flagstaff, AZ
Engineering enrollment: 1.625 (1,600 undergrad, 25 graduate)
Graduate & UG tech degrees offered: BS and MS in civil, electrical, environmental, mechanical engineering and computer science; MEng in civil, electrical, environmental and mechanical engineering
Ways to matriculate: Full time and part time on campus

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