Kickstart does a number on freshman angst

August 25, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Mark Heller
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

After Anthony Acosta spent the better part of two hours introducing himself to several Grand Canyon University freshmen Wednesday night, asking questions about them, answering questions from them, running around and recruiting other freshmen to join his Kickstart group’s ice-breaker game of “My ship is sinking,” he insisted he’s an introvert.

Plenty of evidence to the contrary was on display during GCU’s Kickstart session with the Class of 2020, but the juxtaposition between his everyday self and seemingly the opposite during the night’s leadership situations was intentional.

Students were given random numbers from 1-200 to form Kickstarter groups.

Students were given random numbers from 1 to 200 to form Kickstart groups.

The junior Health Care Administration major from California spent his middle school and high school years doing public-speaking exercises, volunteer work, multiple sports and anything else that was needed from his high school class of 86 peers.

Not knowing anyone at GCU, Acosta came to the University wide-eyed and sometimes anxious.

“I’m naturally quiet, but public speaking or class presentations is where I thrive,” Acosta said after spending more than 90 minutes helping mentor a collection of randomly selected freshmen. “I wish they had this when I was a freshman.

“I’ll be signing up to do it again next year.”

After soft launching last spring, the Kickstart program was in full swing Wednesday night. It’s a concept Charity Norman, GCU’s new student and family program manager, saw when she was a college freshman in Ohio.

The hope is for Kickstart to increase in size from Wednesday’s estimated 1,500 incoming freshmen participation and become a permanent piece of Welcome Week. Norman said freshmen, and especially incoming commuter students, can greatly benefit from the event — the commuters “might otherwise not enjoy the same connection to GCU, fellow students and our campus.”

Each of the exactly 200 “kickers” or mentors (sophomores, juniors or seniors) also volunteered during Welcome Week. Each wore orange hats and GCU T-shirts, and each mentor was free to come up with team-building and ice-breaker exercises in the five days between their training and Wednesday night.

The Kickstarter goal is to make freshmen comfortable at GCU as quickly as possible.

The Kickstart goal is to make freshmen comfortable at GCU as quickly as possible.

Incoming freshmen were randomly given a number (1-200) that corresponded with their “kicker,” and their activities, discussions, campus tours (or all of the above) began.

“The most important thing is to meet each other and make them feel more prepared for life at GCU than before they came,” Norman told her 200 volunteers.

The activities included games of red rover (for example, asking anyone from California to join a group), classroom tours, Q&A sessions on the Quad with their “kicker” and their new classmates, learning some of the Havocs’ routines and cheers at GCU athletics events, or what Acosta joked as his “friendship-breaker” — the sinking ship game, in which students were asked to form smaller groups and think fast on their feet.

The ultimate goal is for the mentors to check in or meet with some (or all) of their freshman students in the next week or two. Perhaps yearlong or lifelong friendships eventually will emerge from a night of random meet-and-greet interactions.

Whatever happens from here, a lot of “ice” already has melted.

“It was cool to ask other students anything we wanted to know,” said Jocelyn Smith, a freshman business student from nearby Glendale, Ariz. “There’s been a lot to learn and process, but the first few days of being here have been amazing.”

Contact Mark Heller at (602) 639-7516 or

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