Part 2: What Makes a University?

Why Change, Why Now?

– President’s Blog –

June 10, 2022

Why Change from a College to a University?

The first modern American universities – Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago – modeled themselves on 19th century German universities whose emphasis on research in chemistry and engineering shaped the 20th century. Today, universities distinguish themselves in three areas: 1) Academics – teaching and learning across multiple disciplines, 2) Research – generating new knowledge for the good of humanity, and 3) Community engagement – serving people who live in the areas we teach.

For its first 30 years, Sonoran met much of these criteria. So, what’s different now?


From the foundation created over the past three decades, our institution is poised to emerge as a university with impact. New programs, complementary to naturopathic medicine and nutrition, will enhance students’ experience with interprofessional learning. Laboratory research and clinical trials will explore the healing properties of plants and other natural therapies. Expansion of naturopathic and nutritional care for marginalized people living in Arizona will empower individuals and communities, while adding a greater sense of purpose for our students.


The time is right for Sonoran University of Health Sciences to shape a healthier future. With a growing demand for whole person care, we saw an opportunity to grow our college into a university and include the College of Nutrition alongside the College of Naturopathic Medicine. Our high-quality programs and capability to generate new knowledge makes it possible to step into the role as leader in natural medicine and health sciences.


Teaching and Learning

Sonoran University’s future degrees and certificate programs will address humanity’s 21st-century healthcare challenges. The commitment to student-centeredness will be one of Sonoran University’s most distinguishing features. As stated in our strategic plan, “The University will be measured by the success of its students – their graduation rates and professional examination scores.” The University supports student learning by drawing upon higher education’s evidence-based research to incorporate best practices in teaching and learning, innovative technology and curricular design, faculty support and development, and collaboration between Academic, Student Affairs and Inclusive Excellence departments. I will elaborate on Sonoran University as a student-centered institution in an upcoming post.

A university’s interdisciplinary ecosystem infuses faculty, staff, and students with a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives to enrich scholarship and learning. Sonoran University of Health Sciences already reaps the benefits of the interplay between the Colleges of Nutrition and Naturopathic Medicine. Students and faculty members cross-pollinate by enrolling in, or teaching, electives in both Colleges’ programs. Meanwhile, collaborations and alliances with nutritionists and naturopathic physicians and their associations, help advance their respective fields. New programs in disciplines that complement the fields of naturopathic medicine and nutrition will elevate the professions and expand Sonoran University’s influence in healthcare.



The University’s research agenda is multi-faceted in that we are committed to investigating:

  • Medicinal plants – which already comprise 10% of the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines – and represent a rich source of medicines to treat current and emerging diseases. The Ric Scalzo Institute for Botanical Research is studying the medicinal properties of plants in treating COVID-19 and other infectious diseases (the Institute patented three promising formulas), identifying existing and novel botanicals to promote healthier responses to stress, and opening new vistas by exploring how plants affect gene expression through RNA-sequencing.
  • Lifestyle and other therapeutic interventions to address preventable illness and prematureThese include studies on the correlation between nutritional status and COVID-19 and ongoing clinical trials evaluating natural approaches for patients on the autism spectrum.


Community Health

Our legacy of Community Health began in 1996 when Sonoran medical students and faculty provided naturopathic care at a substance use disorder center. Today, the Community Health program includes five clinics serving: those living with HIV/AIDS, women and children working through trauma and experiencing homelessness, two elementary school-based health centers, and others recovering from substance use disorder. Over the past 26 years, our medical students and physicians have helped tens of thousands of patients across the Valley of the Sun.

Sonoran University of Health Sciences plans to add new Community Health centers that will:

  • Meet growing demand for those experiencing homelessness
  • Embed technology to remotely integrate our Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition students who are 100% online
  • Collaborate with healthcare organizations, other non-profits, and academic institutions to holistically address patients’ social determinants of health, including mental health, food, and housing insecurity.

Community Health will play a more prominent role in educating the University’s students and shaping their future as compassionate healthcare professionals, advancing the institution, and the professions that make up Sonoran University.


During the past 30 years as a college, Sonoran has made remarkable contributions and innovations. Sonoran University of Health Sciences aims high, ­to have even greater impact on the health of individuals and their communities, on future generations of healers and leaders, and for humanity by discovering new treatments for existing and emerging diseases.


Dr. Paul Mittman's Signature