Mueller named Business Leader of the Year
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
An event on Thursday night at the Phoenix Convention Center made it easy to see why Grand Canyon University has placed such an emphasis on technology education.
Steven Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, said it’s easy to see why GCU President Brian Mueller has made that push successful.
The occasion was the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation, where Mueller received the Ed Denison Business Leader of the Year award. Afterward, Zylstra recalled a 2008 meeting that occurred soon after Mueller came to the University.
“We talked about the need for more engineering programs and more programs in the IT area. Now GCU has everything. It’s incredible,” Zylstra said. “We’re really excited about the programs it has for the tech industry. I think GCU is beginning to become known for that.”
Mueller, who flew back to Phoenix from Colorado late Thursday afternoon to be at the ceremony, reflected on how much has happened since he took over.
“It’s really the culmination of a lot of people working really hard at a very innovative concept that has exceeded all our expectations,” he said. “We had big plans. It was a major risk that we took. But it’s an amazing example of how, when you bring a group of people together and you trust that God will be in your efforts, here’s what can happen.
“Not only is it just incredible what’s happened, it has happened in such a short period of time. It gets you thinking about what might happen in the next eight years.”
Mueller said a big part of the success on the ground campus is the 17,500 students who are “good students and great kids and so willing to give of themselves and participate in the things that are going on.”
“What will happen when that number is 30,000 students and we have 5,000 employees instead of 3,500 employees? If God continues to bless us in this way, there literally will be thousands and thousands of people who will be blessed as a result of it.”
An important part of the equation, Mueller added, is the fact that 70 percent of GCU students are studying in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields as well as business and entrepreneurship. That puts the University in step with what Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is trying to accomplish.
“It’s a state that has shown it’s open for business, especially in science and technology,” Zylstra said in his opening remarks at the event Thursday, adding that venture capital investments in the state were $123 million in the first half of this year, $4 million more than all of 2015.
Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority, said that on a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, all the talk was about what’s happening tech-wise in Arizona.
“We are becoming recognized around the country as a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity,” she said.
Said Mueller, “It’s inspiring in a lot of ways, but especially for those of us who are committed to Arizona and want to build our businesses and raise our families and our grandkids here. It’s so exciting to be in this state, with everything that’s happening.”
It was particularly inspiring to listen to the projects of the four high school students who were honored as the Future Innovators of the Year. The only thing more complicated than the names of their projects, such as “The Effect of the Algal Extraction Method on the Amount of Crude Lipid Recovered for Economically Feasible Biofuel Production,” is how they went about fixing the problems.
Zylstra is working with GCU leaders, especially Dr. Michael Mobley, executive director of the Center for Integrated Sciences, Engineering and Technology, to help bring students like that to the University and challenge them with cutting-edge programs. But, he said, he knows where the tech push originates at GCU.
“Brian Mueller is known as a great leader around the town. Everyone knows that,” Zylstra said. “Whatever he touches seems to turn to gold.”
And Mueller is bullish on making that continue for GCU in particular and the state in general.
“The future is really bright for Arizona regardless of what happens in political elections and what happens in Washington and whether you’re optimistic or pessimistic as a result of that,” he said. “Good things are going to happen here.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].