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Benji Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Coconino’s Maya Tijerin (42) battles inside against Prescott defenders to complete a layup Friday at Coconino High School.

'Be your own hero': NAU graduates nearly 3,000 at winter ceremony

Whether they know it or not, new NAU grads have the power to be heroes if they only exercise it. 

“We have all these movies about superheroes coming out recently,” Claire Schonaerts, Northern Arizona associate professor of elementary and special education, told Friday morning’s commencement ceremony at the Skydome. “Humanity is in need of heroes. Why invent a Hollywood hero, when we have all the heroes we need right here?”

Nearly 3,000 students from NAU’s Mountain, online, Yavapai and Yuma campuses graduated Friday.

Schonaerts encouraged graduates to make a difference not only in their own lives but in the lives of others. She pointed to notables like Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid in South Africa, and journalist Nellie Bly, who changed working conditions for women and children and the care of prisoners and the mentally ill.

“For the last several years, you’ve focused on getting A's and B's. Now, I want you to focus on four C's,” Schonaerts said. “Communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.”

Consider the ways you communicate with others, she said. Choose your words wisely and with consideration for others. Value the gifts that others can bring to your life and job and collaborate with others.

Be the person who initiates the change you want to see in the world, Schonaerts said. Be a leader, be a follower. It takes courage to be a leader, and sometimes it takes courage to be a follower.

Be creative, for your creativity will spark creativity in others, and use the critical thinking skills you’ve developed over the last several years of your education, Schonaerts said. Do an unbiased evaluation of the information that you take in, the better to both assess the problem and the possible solution.

“Commit yourself to others,” she said. “You have the power to make a difference.”

NAU President Rita Cheng highlighted a handful of outstanding graduates during the morning ceremony, including Cindy Winkler, who waited more than 40 years before finishing her degree.

Life, raising a family and work all got in the way of Winkler achieving her dream of a college degree for many years, Cheng said. But she was finally able to achieve it after a lot of hard work through NAU’s Personalized Learning program. Winkler is now looking to apply for the Teach for America program.

Cheng also mentioned the mother/son duo of Sharon and David Despars. Sharon had promised her son for many years that she would enter college when he did. When he reminded her of her promise, she signed up for classes at NAU.

Sharon walked across the stage Friday morning to receive her bachelor’s degree in Logistics and Supply Chain Management. She returned to the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome in the afternoon to watch David receive his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.

“It’s an exciting time for you,” Cheng told the graduates. “It’s the start of a new phase of your life. You are now prepared to do more. Seek out new possibilities. Chase what scares you. We need your willingness to find new answers. It’s time to work hard and exceed your own expectations.”

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County to accept new proposals for Rogers Lake-area property

Coconino County is on the lookout for potential uses for a 30-acre housing compound at the edge of Rogers Lake that it received as part of a 240-acre donation in 2011.

The property, located about 10 miles southwest of Flagstaff, includes a six-bedroom residence above a 16-stall equestrian stable, a three-bedroom caretaker quarters with a five-car garage and a 6,000 square-foot unfinished foundation.

For the past three years, Northern Arizona University has used the property for a summer artists-in-residence program, but has decided not to renew its contract after February.

“We have a sense that this property might fulfill a community need for a unique meeting venue, a unique place to have weddings and family reunions and that sort of thing,” said Cynthia Nemeth-Briehn, director of the county’s parks and recreation department. “It is an opportunity, frankly, to capitalize on a very unique space with some magnificent views."

Tucked into ponderosa pines, the property looks out on the expansive Rogers Lake wetlands backed by the San Francisco Peaks. The county has permitted two weddings and one meeting at the site, but so far hasn’t actively marketed the property for those uses. The charge is about $1,000 per day to rent the entire property.

The property was donated to the county by the estate of the late St. Louis Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, who died in 2008. She bought the property in 1999 and built the living quarters and caretaker residence but never lived there. It sat unused until NAU started the artist residency program in 2015. 

Last week, Nemeth-Briehn presented county supervisors with two options for future management of the 20-acre compound area and buildings: find a private partner that would manage the site, including event rentals or other uses, or take those responsibilities in-house.

Supervisors quickly decided the county didn’t have the expertise for that sort of management and decided to begin a search for a private entity that would operate and maintain the property and use it in a way that is compatible with its surroundings, including the nearby Rogers Lake County Natural Area.

"We shouldn’t be in the tourism business. I think we should let the private sector be in the tourism business," County Supervisor Art Babbott said.

It will be up to the board to decide if the proposal has to make money, Nemeth-Briehn said.

She also developed conceptual cost estimates for a public-private partnership model. They took into account a basic county investment in operations and maintenance and potential revenue projections if a private partner were to use the site for a bed and breakfast, just as a campground, or as a meeting and wedding venue. In nearly all of the scenarios, the county would lose money each year, based on it receiving either a 5 percent or 10 percent cut of the private operator’s total gross revenues.

The county receives a portion of revenues in other public-private partnerships like the Pepsi Amphitheater and the North Pole Experience at Fort Tuthill.

Although the majority of the board was supportive of going forward with a public-private partnership on the Frontiere property, Babbott said he also wanted to discuss the option of disposing of the property.

“This is a facility that is beautiful in location but is a financial black hole for us and that is going to continue to suck resources and capacity at a level that I don't think we've even prepared for yet,” Babbott said.

Supervisor Jim Parks was hesitant as well, but gave the go-ahead to solicit private proposals. He said he would like to reevaluate the arrangement in two or three years, then discuss if selling the property would be a better option.

In that case, there's a need to consider whether selling off the property runs counter to the county’s goals in acquiring the Rogers Lake area for open space and managing it into the future, Supervisor Matt Ryan said.

Supervisor Liz Archuleta pointed out that the county has already rented the facility three times without doing any advertising.

“I do believe there is a niche for it,” Archuleta said.

Courtesy of the Astrogeology Science Center, United States Geological Survey.  

Grover in front of a garage on Flagstaff’s east side in the early 1970s.

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NAU President Cheng receives $180,000 bonus from Board of Regents

Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng will be getting a bonus in her Christmas stocking this year from the Arizona Board of Regents. This year Cheng will receive the largest bonus out of the three state university presidents: $180,000 on a base of $390,000.

This year, Arizona State University President Michael Crow and former University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart will receive a $25,000 bonus and ABOR President Klein will get $20,000.

Cheng will be getting $180,000 because she had a larger number of goals to meet than the other presidents, according to materials provided to the ABOR Executive Committee. In order to receive her at-risk compensation this year, Cheng had to provide a written plan on the future of NAU’s remote campuses and distance learning programs, reach a 75 percent freshman retention rate, increase research expenditures and the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded and increase the number of community college transfers, among other items.

“Achieving these goals set by the Regents is important for the future of our university and provides a clear direction from our governing board related to expectations and outcomes,” Cheng said in an emailed statement to the Arizona Daily Sun. “I came to NAU to ensure we are achieving our goals to provide access to an affordable, quality, education, and that our students are successful in the classroom and in life once they graduate. I am proud that our success is being recognized.”

Subtracted from each president’s bonus, including Cheng’s, was $15,000 for serving on ABOR’s Enterprise Executive Committee. The committee is supposed to evaluate the current core classes at each university and make recommendations to Board of Regents on ways to improve the quality of the classes for students. This year, ABOR’s Executive Board voted 4 to 3 against approving the bonus for this committee. Many of the board members stated during the meeting that they felt that not enough progress had been made by the Enterprise Committee to justify the bonuses.

ABOR approved the “at-risk compensation” for the state’s three university presidents and ABOR President Eileen Klein during a special meeting Wednesday. The compensation is based on performance on a set of goals that is set each year by the Board of Regents Executive Committee.

The committee reviews the performance of each president and then votes to determine if they’ve earned the at-risk compensation amount set by the committee for each goal.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona University president Rita Cheng talks with NAU sophmore Natalie Ono Thursday morning as Ono works to welcome incoming students as part of the Welcome Jacks team.