Raymond Van der Riet's resume is impressive. He served in the military. He’s proficient in several languages. He has a law degree. He’s comfortable in international diplomacy. He runs marathons. And he dabbles in quantum physics.
It’s possible only a few of these skills are actually on the job description, but those Renaissance-man attributes make Van der Riet the ideal new director of ASU at Lake Havasu.
“Raymond has been with ASU at Lake Havasu from the beginning and has been integral to the development and growth of this important component of the ASU knowledge enterprise,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost. “His relationship with the community in Lake Havasu City, his vision for the future of ASU’s work in western Arizona and his passion for teaching will help to further the reputation of the Havasu location as he works to create a learning environment unlike any other.”
Born in London and raised near Cape Town, South Africa, Van der Riet said the common denominator in all of his work is finding interesting and innovative projects that can make a difference in society.
“I’ve believed in this project from day one,” Van der Riet said. “I can see big things for this location and I’m on a mission to move it in the right direction.”
What is ASU at Lake Havasu?
ASU at Lake Havasu's genesis was also interesting and innovative. The idea was given seed funding with a $1 million grant from Mr. and Mrs. James J. Santiago, longtime Lake Havasu residents and principal owners of Beachcomber Resort and Island Suites. Another $1 million was raised by the Lake Havasu City community through bake and T-shirt sales, payroll deduction campaigns and other fundraising activities in the wake of the Great Recession.
The location is a former middle school. It opened in its new form in fall 2012 — the same year Van der Riet started. Its main aim is to give students lower-priced alternatives to higher education.
It offers bachelor’s degrees all tied to the degree programs at the Phoenix-area campuses. It also includes exploratory majors in humanities, health and life sciences, and social and behavioral sciences.
“ASU looked at a few other locations but no one matched this community’s passion,” Van der Riet said. “I feel such an obligation to this community because there is such buy-in to see ASU succeed.”
The buy-in was a no-brainer say many of its supporters, including Cal Sheehy, vice mayor of Lake Havasu City and vice president and general manager of the London Bridge Resort. He called ASU at Lake Havasu “a valuable resource.”
“It’s the only four-year university in northwestern Arizona and provides an opportunity to increase the educational attainments in our community,” Sheehy said.
He said in addition to providing a large economic benefit to Lake Havasu through investment, salaries and staff and student purchases, ASU also stimulates minds through a community lecture series given by PhD-level experts in fields of study that range from the opioid epidemic to water conservation and management.
A program poised for growth
Speaking of water, ASU at Lake Havasu is located at the edge of 19,300-acre lake and at the foot of several mountains. And with easy access to volleyball, boating, picturesque hiking and mountain biking, ASU’s Havasu students are an active bunch — on and off campus.
The active lifestyle is one reason why students chose the Havasu location, and Van der Riet and his colleagues aim to introduce this special environment to an increasingly larger national audience. ASU at Lake Havasu, Van der Riet says, should be a destination for students who want a great education on a campus with well-developed connections to the great outdoors.
ASU at Lake Havasu is currently home to 130 students, and Van der Riet expects the student population to more than double in the next five years. A lot of that growth will come from initiatives being implemented by the newly formed 42-member community advisory group, comprised of key city stakeholders who help him explore ideas on student recruitment and retention, branding, fundraising for scholarships, awareness campaigns for potential students, and promoting local ASU pride.
“Raymond is a dynamic and trusted leader who is not afraid to get his hands dirty and work alongside us in creating a better environment for education and business,” said Lisa Krueger, director of the Lake Havasu City Chamber of Commerce. She said the chamber supports the college in many ways, initiating and participating in a payroll deduction fundraising campaign and providing literature and referrals about ASU to prospective residents and businesses.
The community advisory group recently concluded an innovative agreement with Arizona’s state parks department to allow ASU at Lake Havasu to place an ASU-branded beach hut right next to the lake. The group also funded the purchase of six kayaks, two paddle boards, and three mountain bikes to be housed in the beach hut. Use of the equipment is open to students free of charge. Van der Riet said the ultimate goal is to have a permanent recreational structure on the beach.
“ASU at Lake Havasu students will truly have the best of all worlds,” he said. “A world class education with access to fun resort-style living.”
Top photo: Students complete labs for their ecology class at Lake Havasu beach. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now