Honors Profiles

What are the people in the Honors Program like?

If you’re wondering what kind of people you can expect to meet in the program, here’s a glimpse of a few of our students, faculty, and alumni.

Students

“Honors and athletics at NAU are compatible!”
Rene Coggins, sophomore majoring in Accountancy, Hotel and Restaurant Management, and Finance
Check out Rene's video about her reasons for joining Honors here!
“My (secret) dream job is to have my own television talk show, but we’ll see how that pans out!”
Meghan Almaas, senior Public Relations major (with a minor in business), is originally from Canada but graduated from high school in Gilbert, Arizona.

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She has been heavily involved in the Honors Program. She was an Honors GURUS mentor and an Honors Ambassador for one year. She has also been an HON 100 Peer Facilitator .

During her time at the university, Meghan has completed two internships—one with the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau and the other with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.  

While at the Flagstaff CVB, Meghan learned about her local community and how travel and tourism is essential to the Flagstaff economy. 

Her internship at Phoenix Sky Harbor, where she produced copy for the website and completed various projects, also provided valuable experience.

Meghan is interested in film, music, and culture. She has tried to take at least one film class a year since she entered the university. Meghan has been playing the piano since the age of seven and continues to enjoy this hobby.  

She also has a huge interest in visiting museums and exhibits, though she says she doesn’t get to do this as often as she would like.

Meghan’s immediate future goal is to find a job in public relations. In the long term, she would like to work in the sports, entertainment, or travel and tourism industry. 

She says, “My (secret) dream job is to have my own television talk show, but we’ll see how that pans out!”

Learning to serve others 

Rachel Gardner, senior Biology major from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, began to get involved on campus as soon as she arrived in Flagstaff.

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During her freshman year, Rachel joined Cowden Residence Hall’s Hall Council.  

She was also involved with the Habitat for Humanity chapter during her freshman year, an experience she says opened her eyes to a world of need in her surrounding community, and which inspired her interest in service.

Rachel’s biggest commitment on campus is with Golden Key International Honor Society— she joined her sophomore year and currently serves as chapter president. 

Rachel is also an active member of Tri Beta Honor Society within the Biology Department, which gives her the opportunity to work with faculty and students in her field of study.

Rachel says her two-year experience as a Resident Assistant has been one of the most meaningful times of her life. In addition to being a Resident Assistant, Rachel has held several part-time jobs during her tenure here. 

She was an Honors Ambassador as well as a Media Assistant for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.

Rachel has volunteered consistently at Flagstaff Family Food Center. She also had various volunteer experiences with the Emergency Department at Flagstaff Medical Center and on-campus events through clubs, organizations, and residence halls. 

During summers in Texas, she volunteered at Central Texas Medical Center and a rehabilitation center.Though science is a huge interest for Rachel, she thoroughly enjoys many other things. Catching up with friends, trying new baking recipes, and exploring the outdoors when the weather is nice are just a few fun activities for her.

Faculty 

Lecturer, River Guide, Writer, Hiker, Painter, Baker 

Robyn S. Martin, a fourth-generation Flagstaff native, passionately shares her knowledge of the Grand Canyon and its surrounding regions with others.  

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Robyn loves to teach in Honors; her specialties include argument, Southwestern and environmental issues, and American studies. 

Robyn has taught several outdoor, environmentally-themed classes at the university, including one course on the San Juan River, another on the Verde River, and a Colorado Plateau restoration workshop. 

She hopes to continue to bring the Canyon and Colorado Plateau closer to her students through meaningful, hands-on academic experiences.

Her university roots run deep: her grandmother earned her teaching certificate from NAU (then the Arizona Normal School) in 1922; her parents earned their education degrees from NAU (then Arizona State College) in the 1950s. 

Robyn earned both her BA in English—where she also minored in History—and her MA in English (Rhetoric and Professional Writing) from NAU.

Robyn’s research and publications include ecological oral histories; some of that work was included in the recent text What Has Passed and What Remains, published by the University of Arizona Press. 

She was also featured in Writers on the Range, a series included in High Country News.

A life member of the Grand Canyon River Guides Association, she’s lived and worked in and around the Grand Canyon, where she ran the Colorado River for the first time at age 12, and has been hiking and exploring all over the Coconino and Colorado Plateaus since she was a child.

When she’s not hiking a trail on the Peaks or stretching in a bikram yoga studio, Robyn can most likely be found running a river somewhere on the Colorado Plateau, honing her skills as an amateur watercolorist, or teaching herself how to bake the perfect loaf of rye bread.

NAU artist in residence program teaches students sense of place 

Bruce Aiken, internationally acclaimed painter and 2012-2013 Honors Faculty in Residence.

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Renowned painter Bruce Aiken is involved at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in an exciting new way: the Honors Department artist-in-residence, an innovative role designed to encourage creativity in connection with the landscape of the Colorado Plateau. 

By working with both art students and honors students alike, he hopes to emphasize the importance of developing a sense of place and how thinking outside the box in this dynamic landscape can create opportunities for academic achievement in many fields.

 “This landscape has so much to offer students and I see my role at NAU as an opportunity to help students get in touch with this place and use it is as a resource no matter what field they are interested in,” Aiken said. “This unique landscape can provide for a lifetime of accomplishments and you don’t have to go far from Flagstaff to see it.”

Aiken, who has been an iconic Grand Canyon landscape painter for over 40 years, is a perfect example of the success such a landscape can give to those who seek it out.

In addition to being a presence on campus, he is working to develop unique programs he hopes can become an integral part of what sets NAU apart from other universities. One program was a recent three-day drawing workshop, hosted by the Honors Program, where both honors and art students went to the South Rim and Lees Ferry.

Aiken showed students how variable this landscape can be and gave them a sense of what this place has to offer for painting and drawing. 

Another program Aiken worked with this past fall is the Grand Canyon Semester, a program with a long history at NAU and a long history for Bruce, who has been involved as a guest lecturer since its inception.

One student, Madeline McKain, a senior photography major from Pittsburgh, Penn., who is both in Grand Canyon Semester and was a participant in the workshop, was excited about the opportunity to work closely with Aiken.

“Bruce is outside the academic world, which is so important because he has a different perspective to contribute. He can lead to exciting connections in this area that I would have never had known about if he hadn’t introduced me to these ideas.  Plus, he is really willing to help make these connections and help students succeed and that is a really great support system to have,” McKain said.

This current spring term, Aiken will be even more involved in the art department by teaching a master painting class. Aiken is also planning another art workshop through the Honors Program during spring break.

In addition to working with students on campus, Aiken is also reaching out to the wider community of Flagstaff as a part of his residency.  He recently gave a talk as a part of the Cline Library lecture series called The Lens and Brush: the Impact of the Camera on Modern Painters

The talk covered the historic aspects of the camera, how the camera affects artists working today and the effect of the camera on Aiken’s own work. 

Ultimately, Aiken sees his residency as a step towards taking the NAU art department and programs to the next level.

“Flagstaff is the ground zero for everything Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau.  Innovative science and research monitoring is happening here, Grand Canyon photographers live here, conservation initiatives start here.  I want to connect NAU students to what is available in terms of careers, creative energy and muses in this incredible landscape.  There is no reason NAU shouldn’t be one of the premier landscape painting art colleges in the United States.”   

 

Bruce Aiken's faculty in residence position is partially funded by a gift from Arizona Public ServiceAPS_logo 

 

 

Looking back to help others move forward 

George (Wolf) Gumerman, PhD, a professor of anthropology and the director of the Northern Arizona University Honors Program, took the role of principal investigator of the Footprints of the Ancestors project four years ago.

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His goal was to help connect Hopi youth to the traditions, language, and culture of their tribe, in order to help preserve the customs and allow the tribe to thrive. What he didn't fully realize was that the project might also rescue many of the teenagers from the difficult circumstances they face in everyday life.

The Footprints project brings together Hopi high-school students and elders, cultural specialists, archaeologists, and anthropologists for trips to places of cultural significance, usually archaeological sites in the American Southwest, including Homolovi State Park, Navajo Nation Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Chaco Canyon National Park, and the San Juan River.

While there, the youth interact with the elders to trace the footprints of their ancestors, focusing on themes such as health, food, community, language, and sustainability. They volunteer to harvest crops, maintain orchards, restore gardens, or plan races in honor of the running tradition of the Hopi.

The students document their experiences along the way, working with Gumerman and others at NAU to produce DVDs, websites, and museum exhibits that communicate their own perspective on what they've discovered during their experience. Through the collaborative learning, Gumerman often finds that the youth have life-changing moments.

"To see what some of these kids go through and how they survive in the face of problems like alcoholism, you realize that it's a hard life that they deal with," he says. "The purpose is to get youth connected with their past and build relationships, but our secondary goals are to get them to stay in school and help them apply to college."

And Gumerman knows those goals are being realized. After a trip to Mesa Verde, he waited with one girl for her mother to pick her up. When she finally arrived—after being delayed with a flat tire—Gumerman took the opportunity to tell her what a wonderful addition her daughter was to the program. The mother broke into tears, confessing that prior to joining the Footprints project, the girl was ready to run away from home.

"She told me what a difference it has made in her daughter's life," he says. "I could see that getting the youth out with the elders starts to give them a sense of purpose."

Alumni 

“NAU is great about employing undergraduates to assist professors.” 

Isaac Bickford, a 2010 Honors Program graduate and Forestry major, chose our Forestry Program over those offered at other universities because of our strong emphasis on ecology and restoration rather than timber production.

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Isaac knew he’d made the right choice when Dr. Pete Fule, Associate Professor of Forestry and Managing Director of the Ecological Research Institute, invited him to travel to Northern Mexico to assist two graduate students in data collection.

While in Mexico, Dr. Fule suggested that Isaac also collect data for a research project that would be his own; they discussed several ideas, and together developed and refined the scientific question they wanted to address, and how they would go about answering it. 

“I was surprised at the amount of independence I was allowed in this project,” he says.

“At the beginning of my research project, I wanted to double check everything with my mentors, but towards the end, I was more comfortable presenting my own ideas. 

About half way through, I realized that no one knew more about my project than I did, and that I was the person who needed to start making the decisions. This realization helped give me confidence.”

The goal of Isaac’s project was to determine if two pine species in Northern Mexico differed in their sensitivity to drought, and to see if this drought sensitivity varied across the range of elevations in which they grow. 

The results of this research can be used to better understand how these species of pine trees will respond to droughts predicted by climate change models.

Isaac has learned a lot about science in general from studying the very specific questions addressed by his research project. Isaac’s advice to incoming freshmen: talk with their professors and express their interests. 

“Most of these professors are involved in research of their own,” he says, “or they have colleagues working on just about anything that might interest someone... NAU is great about employing undergraduates to assist professors.”