GCU nurses share extraordinary achievements
Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU Today Magazine
They grew up worlds apart, one in Swaziland with missionary parents and four siblings, the other in a smaller military family that over the years lived on more than a dozen Air Force bases in the United States.
Their paths to Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions also were divergent. The science enthusiast toured GCU’s campus as a high school student, was intrigued by the cadaver lab and enrolled as a freshman, while the athlete transferred as a college senior after the future of her school’s track and field program became muddy.
But once they met, Bekah Hansz and Lauren Graham discovered they had much in common. They were the same age and came to GCU from the same city, Colorado Springs. They shared career aspirations in nursing and were interested in the military, specifically, Army ROTC.
And now, the two women share the honor of being named distinguished military graduates — Graham in 2013 and Hansz in 2014 — by the U.S. Army. As such, they were among the top 10 percent of cadets in their respective classes, competing not only with other students around the country earning bachelor’s degrees in nursing, but also those in business, engineering and other sciences.
“Lauren and Bekah have a sense of selflessness and patriotism and, as nurses, they are truly committed to the general care of people and defending their country, too,” said Major Michelle Bravo, executive officer of the ROTC Sun Devil Battalion, which trains GCU and Arizona State University students to become leaders, then commissions them as second lieutenants in the Army. “They were very good cadets and they will be exceptional lieutenants.”
Nursing, military in the genes
That’s already proving true for Graham, who graduated from GCU 15 months ago and was assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She works on a medical/surgical ward, caring for wounded American soldiers in one of the world’s best rehabilitation facilities for veterans.
“I love working there — it’s such an inspirational place,” said Graham, 23, whose mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were nurses. “Mentally, the soldiers are so strong, and physically, they want to get better and get back to serving their country.”
Graham is no stranger to the military. Her dad, Glenn, is a colonel in the Air Force, and she was raised on air bases around the country. She discovered an interest in and knack for pole vaulting in high school and joined ROTC, which offered her a full-ride college scholarship. She enrolled at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to compete in pole vault and pursue a nursing career.
At UCCS, she managed a packed schedule of classes, meets and training until 2012, when her coach left and it became apparent the school was not going to replace him. Graham connected with Todd Lehman, an assistant track and field coach at GCU, who coaxed her to Phoenix. GCU’s nursing faculty and admissions staff helped transfer her credits and set up her courses.
“It was definitely an act of God,” said Graham, who arrived on campus in August 2012 and met Hansz, a GCU junior and ROTC cadet.
Nursing and the military bloomed on Hansz’s family tree, too. As a child growing up in Africa, she learned from a neighbor who was a nurse how to remove stitches and reduce fevers.
Years later, she visited Phoenix during Destination GCU in 2010 and imagined the hands-on training she would get in the University’s cadaver lab. She signed up for 23 college credits and, looking for a way to pay for college, ROTC.
“I enjoyed the discipline, the exercise, the whole experience,” said Hansz, 23. “The people in it made it all worth it, and the prospect of coming out of college debt-free, well, I was quite happy.”
By the time Graham arrived, Hansz understood ROTC culture and helped Graham make the transition. They were in the same military science class, prepared for summer training and went to Hawaii together once.
The CONHCP arranged for Hansz and Graham to earn credit for doing clinical work at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu when they weren’t training with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks. They worked 12-hour hospital shifts and visited Pearl Harbor and the beach, just briefly.
“Every night, I would pick them up from Tripler in the van after their shift and I would get all these wonderful stories — ‘I helped deliver a baby!’ — ‘I helped amputate a toe!’” Bravo said. “They were so excited about the nursing they were doing.”
GCU’s will-do attitude
Bravo credited GCU’s nursing faculty, including Dr. Cheryl Roat, with helping students make room for everything in their schedules.
“Dr. Roat is so supportive of our program, and she loves the Army nurses that come to her because she knows they’re going to be qualified, committed and dedicated,” Bravo said. “And there’s a difference in our GCU kids, too. They bond and stay in touch.”
Army nursing students tend to be bright, driven and busy, and you can’t help but want to see them succeed, said Roat, the nursing college’s director of regulation and compliance.
“Time-management priorities, self-discipline and servant leadership are essential to both the military and to the field of nursing,” she said. “We value what these students are striving for, and we’re so proud to be part of this program.”
Graham was named the University’s top senior scholar athlete in 2014 and set the GCU record for women’s pole vaulting with a 4.03-meter vault in 2013. “I made such wonderful friends in ROTC, and I could see by going through training with them how much the camaraderie, teamwork and discipline helped me in my sport,” she said.
Hansz had her own brand of adventure as a ROTC cadet, traveling to South Korea for a summer internship and to Romania to teach English to Romanian Naval cadets. And she got engaged, to GCU alumnus Gavin Wilcox who proposed after their graduation on Dec. 12. Graham also is engaged, to Jake Greenwald who plans to be a chaplain in the Army. Wedding dates are pending.
Hansz and Graham are modest about their national military distinction for academics. “I’m very honored because there are so many smart and amazing nurses who also graduated with me,” Graham said. Added Hansz, who awaits her Army assignment, “I did my best in nursing school just to do my best. But the icing on the cake is this.”
Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or [email protected].