Meet our donors
Get to know recent donors who have turned their vision and dedication into contributions supporting Northern Arizona University.
Lynn and Steve Valbuena
Lynn and Steve Valbuena appreciate Northern Arizona University’s dedication to serving Native Americans, and they follow Lumberjack Football with enthusiasm and regard for NAU Athletics’ deep commitment to student-athletes’ academic and athletic success. Thus, this California couple has generously supported NAU Football, with students like Chima Ike, as well as the Native American Cultural Center. While the Valbuenas are neither alumni nor Arizonans, they are devoted to NAU and its programs. Lynn is a new member to the NAU Foundation Board of Directors, additionally she is a member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a major supporter of NAU’s Native American Cultural Center. Lynn is also a trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian and for the Autry National Center Museum. Steve Valbuena is Assistant Head Football Coach at Fullerton College.
'14 BS, Political Science
Chima Ike appreciates donors like the Valbuenas, and he is inspired by them. “I will definitely give back when I am able,” Chima said. “How could I not give back to a place that has given me so much?” Chima is a defensive tackle for NAU Football and transferred here from Fullerton College where he played for Coach Valbuena. Thanks to the support from people like the Valbuenas, Chima is proud to be part of NAU Football, and he felt connected to the team and the community as soon as he arrived. “There was an immediate bond,” Chima explained. “I knew I was part of something bigger than me.” As Chima prepares for another great football season – and law school after graduation – he is deeply grateful to donors like the Valbuenas for their dedication to NAU.
National Math + Science Initiative
According to Dave Saba, COO of the National Math + Science Initiative, NMSI strengthens America’s competitiveness by enhancing students’ math and science education ensuring all Americans have the skills to thrive in the knowledge economy. Higher level education is integral to this goal, and by partnering with the NAUTeach Program, the right people are recruited and developed into effective instructors improving performance in Arizona schools. NAUTeach answers the challenge to train more math and science teachers via a streamlined process ensuring higher levels of aptitude and expertise among those teachers. NAUTeach utilizes some of the best practices in education, and the program’s strong track record and proven results demonstrate its effectiveness in helping build a strong, competitive American economy. Great teachers that complete the program increase and strengthen the pipeline of Arizona students entering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.
The NAUTeach Program
Center for Science Teaching and Learning
A veteran science educator, Dr. Pradeep Maxwell Dass is welcomed as the new director of the Center for Science Teaching and Learning (CSTL). A biologist with a lengthy international career, Dass was impressed with the NAUTeach Program. “There has been a gap, nationally, between the vision for STEM education and classroom practices. Here at NAU, the gap is being closed.” Dass sees corporate-sponsored funding from NMSI as crucial to the success of STEM education. In fact, it has helped the CSTL grow from its original 47 students to more than 300, maintaining high graduation and employment rates. “Teachers from our program are competing very well at the first year level. The partnership between NMSI and the Center will truly improve science and math education in Arizona and across the nation.”
Edwin B. Kurtz, PhD
NAU Heritage Society Member
Dr. Ed Kurtz, former Arizona Plant Physiologist, chose to retire in Flagstaff, as many do, because it is such a beautiful and healthy location. However, there is another reason Dr. Kurtz admires this university town. “Northern Arizona University prioritizes the development of strong relationships between faculty and staff, and that is very important to me.” In fact, this was a guiding principal for Dr. Kurtz’s long and successful career as a biology professor, and he continues to correspond or visit with many of his previous students. NAU is proud to have the loyalty of this donor who, as an orchestra and opera aficionado, supports the NAU School of Music and KNAU. Because his current giving evolved into a planned gift, his support will help musicians in perpetuity. Although a scientist himself, when considering his philanthropy, Dr. Kurtz smiled and said, “Music wins every time.”
NAU School of Music
Dr. Todd Sullivan, director of the NAU School of Music, appreciates the giving strategy of a donor like Dr. Ed Kurtz. “His gift is easily compared to the notion of crescendo,” Dr. Sullivan said. “First he believed in the School of Music’s programs and students; those beliefs led to many years of consistent support; and ultimately, his loyalty led to a planned gift which will benefit musicians forever.” Visionary donors can and do transform the music programs, according to Dr. Sullivan. “We rely on donors who simply love music and who give from that place of passion.” Legacy gifts complete the evolution of the School of Music, and with the excellent faculty and the recent improvement in facilities, the NAU School of Music is ready and able to attract the highest caliber of talented music students. “We relish our growing reputation as the best undergraduate-focused music school in Arizona,” Dr. Sullivan said.
CDR Al Sack, ’71 BS in ED, USN (Ret)
Al Sack is an experienced problem solver attributing his success in the U.S. Navy and D.C.’s corporate arena to skills he honed studying history at NAU. “I had innovative and influential professors, in small classes, who helped me develop critical thinking skills that were ultimately vital to my career.” CDR Sack wants the connection between liberal studies degrees and career success to be clear for NAU students, so he has helped launch the pilot program “History Department Mentoring and Job Assistance.” The hope is that the tiered mentoring system will expand to other colleges across campus. He stated the role of NAU alumni is crucial to the fruition of this program. “Alumni success will inspire and teach students how to prepare for their careers in the highly competitive job market.”
History Department Mentoring and Job Assistance Program
NAU history professor, Dr. Chuck Connell, believes liberal studies students are often unaware of the job skills they attain studying in fields like history. “They are astute critical thinkers, writers, leaders, and they have tremendous ability to analyze and critique,” Dr. Connell explained. Yet these students typically believe the best (or only) options for future careers involve further education, but that is not necessarily so. “Al Sack is a perfect example of how a history degree led to a successful career,” Dr. Connell said. Al’s leadership and consultancy are a testament to the great contributions a history student can make to the world. Dr. Connell agrees that the pilot program “History Department Mentoring and Job Assistance” is in line with NAU’s tradition of strong student-faculty relationships and that it will improve outlooks and opportunities for NAU liberal studies students. He looks forward to continued work with him and many other successful NAU Alumni.
The Morrison Family
At the root of the Morrison family’s generosity is a commitment to helping NAU students, especially those whose success is dependent upon scholarships and mentoring. According to alumna Laurel,’85 BA, '96 MED, the Morrisons are Lumberjack fans and have happily supported NAU athletics for 15 years. Their close ties to NAU have allowed them to see the positive results of close relationships between students and their coaches, professors and mentors, and they felt compelled to also support NAU's Blavin Scholars program. “We want students to go to college, succeed, and experience a life better than their childhood,” Bill explained. For the Morrisons, giving back is a family enterprise, and high school students Ben and Elena take part in Lumberjack activities along with their parents. They all attend Blavin Scholars dinners, soccer and football games, and, of course, the legendary Morrison tailgate featuring Laurel’s renowned green chili. “NAU is my school,” she said. “It has always had a great community feeling.”
’14 BS, Blavin Scholar
Dr. Sara Alemán
The success of NAU’s Blavin Scholars Program can be attributed, in part, to the mentoring relationships developed between students and NAU employees. This program combines NAU’s dedication to accessible education and the Blavin family’s commitment to improving life for former foster children. Sharon Downer is a Blavin Scholar, and she said that Dr. Sara Alemán, who is her program mentor, is truly amazing. “She and I have become great friends. We have the same values, and she’s a wonderful role model.” Dr. Alemán has prioritized mentoring throughout her career as a sociology professor, and she fondly remembers the nurturing relationship she had with a grade school teacher who influenced her current belief. “Young people are our gift; it is our job to help them navigate and succeed.” Dr. Alemán appreciates that Sharon has given her a positive view of today’s youth. “She reminds me to see the positive of the world, and because of her I have more hope for our future.”
The E. Eugene Carter Foundation
E. Eugene Carter, PhD
Trustee, E. Eugene Carter Foundation
“I believe that people should go beyond making charitable contributions to institutions that are already a part of their lives. It’s easy to write a check to your alma mater, but it’s work to determine how to really support people, to find an institution that shares your priorities, and to move an institution in a direction that accomplishes something you really want for the world. Philanthropy is, in part, about changing society and changing the world.”
The Carter Opportunity Scholarship is a unique program. Talented NAU engineering students are selected after a successful freshman year, and then upon their graduation, the E. Eugene Carter Foundation makes payments on their subsidized federal loans. NAU is one of several schools that the E. Eugene Carter Foundation has supported in this way.
’14 BS Environmental Engineering/Spanish
Vivianna Gamez Molina
“When I heard the news that I had received the Carter Opportunity Scholarship, I immediately know the positive impact this would have on my studies. I can now focus more on my classes and absorb the material with greater confidence in how it applies in the field. At the end of all this hard work, I will not only have improved my own life but life for my family. At some point in my future I will give back as Dr. Carter has done. I know I can make an impact on future generations.”
Vivianna is interested in water systems. In addition to the Cater Opportunity Scholarship, Vivianna is an intern at the NAU/NASA Space Grant program. She is a first generation student and is always willing to go the extra mile to meet every challenge that comes her way.