Donor support leads to highest NAU Honors

Four years ago, Isela Ramirez, '14 BA Education, began her undergraduate journey as a shy, first-generation student from Arizona's border region who cried walking home from class, embarrassed by her inability to speak English. Now, she presents at conferences, mentors other students, and will graduate with Northern Arizona University's highest honors. Isela received the coveted Gold Axe Award and the prestigious President's Prize in December 2013, and attributes her success to her mentors, professors, and the donors who contributed to the numerous scholarships she has received.

Mentoring comes full circle

According to Isela's long time mentor, NAU Honors Lecturer Barbara Youngs, "Isela does not avoid what makes her nervous—she just works harder."

"Driven to succeed," is how Barbara refers to Isela's dedication in her freshman year, when she devoted herself to her writing and speaking, taking her education very seriously. "Getting her to giggle became my main objective," Barbara notes.

But Isela smiles easily now, having excelled in her academic endeavors and participation in dozens of campus groups and activities, including the Statistics and Mathematics Club, the Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, and Literacy Volunteers. Referring to the esteemed President's Prize, Isela humbly admits she was surprised to win. She beams, however, in reporting that she received a standing ovation at the bi-annual awards ceremony.

Isela deeply honors the close guidance she has received from Barbara and others in NAU Honors, and has used those lessons to help others as well.

"If someone like me can succeed, why can't everyone?" Isela says. "Once I understand others' backgrounds and stories, I have insight to their needs. Once I gain their trust, we can work towards their success."

This attitude guides her as a Peer Advisor for NAU's Inclusion and Multicultural Services, a program which supports historically underrepresented students. "I like working with students who face the same challenges I did," she explains. 

Scholar meets donors

As a member of the Lumberjack Alumni Ambassadors, Isela had the opportunity to volunteer at last year's Campaign for NAU gala event. She was elated to meet Dr. Lawrence Perko, retired Regents Professor, and his wife Kathy Perko, '87 MAED, who founded the Perko Family Honors Scholarship, an award Isela has received that helped make her success possible.

"It was our privilege to be part of encouraging Isela's education," Larry Perko proudly notes. "She is a wonderful and talented girl, and we are so blessed to know her and so very proud of the small part we have played in her outstanding success at NAU."

"If someone like me can succeed, why can't everyone?" Isela Ramirez