Scholarships, GCU award highlight Valle del Sol

September 12, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

Elizabeth Torres of Alhambra High School (left) and Vanessa Garcia of Bourgade High School are joined by GCU's mascot, Thunder, after receiving their scholarships.

Elizabeth Torres of Alhambra High School (left) and Vanessa Garcia of Bourgade Catholic High School are joined by GCU’s mascot, Thunder, after receiving their scholarships.

By Mark Heller
GCU News Bureau

Vanessa Garcia’s hands shook.

After a wave of high school peers and Grand Canyon University Learning Lounge staff congratulated her, the Bourgade Catholic High School senior eventually found a minute to exhale.

She had trouble remaining calm for a few minutes. Receiving a full-tuition college scholarship can do that to a teenager.

Garcia and Phoenix Alhambra High School senior Elizabeth Torres received GCU scholarships during the 26th annual Valle del Sol Profiles of Success Hispanic Leadership Awards celebration Friday at the Phoenix Convention Center.

GCU also received the Corazon Award, which honors leadership, outreach and service within Hispanic communities throughout Arizona and the Valley, as the University continues to help transform people’s lives and within neighborhoods surrounding the Phoenix campus.

Nearly a dozen tables at the event, which drew nearly 2,000 people, were filled by GCU students, west Phoenix high school students and GCU employees.

No student left empty-handed, but two of them were filled with joy and gratitude.

“I’m really shocked,” Garcia said after catching her breath. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Then she smiled and added: “My parents used to think I was going (to the Learning Lounge) all the time to fool around or hang out and not do much.”

Her interest in pursuing the arts – whether as a criminal sketch artist or in the health and beauty world – was fueled by her Learning Lounge tutors, GCU students who help grade school and high school kids with any subject(s).

“To see kids go through the program and where they come from, they’re so deserving,” said GCU senior Savannah Swanson, a Learning Lounge tutor since her freshman year.

Torres finds the Lounge to be her place to not only learn and receive help from future peers as she pursues either the medical or engineering fields, but also to hang out and talk about life issues and beyond. She plans to become one of the people she often has relied on the last few years.

“They’re more than leaders,” she said of her GCU tutors.

Strategic Educational Alliances Executive Director Joe Veres and Thunder, GCU’s beloved mascot, accepted the Corazon Award on behalf of the University, following an introduction by Phoenix City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela.

GCU was one of a dozen honorees (both people and organizations), largely because of its campus expansion and community initiatives such as the Learning Lounge and Habitat for Humanity. Valenzuela believes it has fueled the surge in neighborhood housing prices around the Camelback Road corridor, a decrease in crime rates and substantial employment for both recent GCU graduates and the community at large in the years following economic recession.

“If you still don’t see the intersection of progress and change the last five years in downtown Phoenix, then keep going west and you’ll find it at GCU,” he said.

It was even found in downtown Phoenix amid the hugs and congratulations from peers and mentors as college dreams became a financial reality for two more teenagers.

We’re trying to give them these opportunities, and hopefully they’ll become part of giving back,” said Learning Lounge tutor Bryn Finnefrock, a GCU junior “They’re actually going to be helping make the next step in GCU’s process, and that’s cool.”

Contact Mark Heller at (602) 639-7516 or



About the Author
Leave a Comment