Doctoral learner’s first look at GCU is an eye-opener
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
If Jayme Miles looked comfortable Thursday morning as she settled into a cushy chair outside her classroom, well, it’s because she was.
But the chair wasn’t the only reason.
The vocational counselor from Winchester, Va., is in the doctoral program at Grand Canyon University, and she was on campus for the first time to take part in one of the residencies that the College of Doctoral Studies puts on regularly to help learners march onward toward completing their dissertations.
Was she enjoying the experience? Was the chair comfy?
“I’m very proud to say that I’m from (GCU) and I’m a product of the education,” she said. “The campus is beautiful, the people are super friendly, and the professors are very friendly and open to helping.
“You put all the pieces together and you realize that all of this has come together and they’ve helped me achieve my goals. It’s pretty amazing, actually — a little overwhelming.”
Had never been west
And, once again, there was another reason. This week marked the first time the lifelong East Coast resident — she grew up near Pittsburgh — had ever been on the left side of the Eastern Time Zone.
Miles also got her master’s degree, a combination of an MBA and Master of Science in Leadership, from GCU in 2015, but she was an online student and didn’t visit campus. She also got her undergraduate degree online, from Bellevue (Neb.) University, and never made the trek west.
So Miles decided it was time to see first-hand what GCU is all about. The cost of the residency, with lodging at Grand Canyon University Hotel and meals on campus or at the Canyon 49 Grill, is covered by financial aid, which meant her only new expense was the price of the plane ticket.
Miles was in the doctoral program at another university before switching to GCU, and it quickly has become apparent to her that the level of assistance GCU offers is unmatched — this week has only confirmed her perception.
“The professors have been much more helpful,” she said. “They’re helping us not only to know the steps that we need to take, but they’re helping us to develop our self-efficacy, which is super important at this level. If we’re not self-efficacious in our education and pursuing it on our own, we’re never going to get through the certification process.”
Important social aspect
One of the professors doing that work this week is Dr. Jason Ward, a senior doctoral adjunct who has been a lead instructor for at least three or four GCU residencies a year since 2011. He views the face time between instructor and learner as important, but there’s a learner-to-learner component that’s equally valuable.
“We do spend a lot of individual one-on-one time with every learner and it gives them a renewed focus, but they leave residency at the end of the week — and I hear this every year — feeling rejuvenated and ready to hit the road running,” he said. “It’s a jumpstart to getting them motivated and moving in the right direction.
“This is also very wonderful for interpersonal experiences and relationships. When they leave residency at 5 o’clock, they go out with one another and enjoy one another’s company talking about their research, but in a more informal setting. They are able to bounce ideas off one another. That part of it is one area that sometimes is lacking for learners in the online sector.”
For the first time, the residency featured another important experience: a Mini-Conference on Tuesday night with talks by doctoral leaders and instructors, including Ward. It was organized in conjunction with the DC Cohort Leadership group.
Having everyone together on campus also makes a difference. As Ward put it, “It makes the focus more, ‘OK, I’m at school and I’m learning.’ I think that’s really important even though they’re adult learners and they can learn in any setting.”
Miles has noticed it, too. She attended a residency at the other university when she was in that program, and this week has given her an entirely different feeling.
“Grand Canyon has been phenomenal,” she said. “It has real people behind the professors, which the other university did not. You have somebody who is walking this journey with you and is going to help you achieve your goals. That’s profound. And I love the way the classrooms are clustered together.”
Said Ward, “The residencies are really the highlight of the doctoral experience and program. Whether the learners are in a ground cohort or are online, they still have this extended experience with other learners and they live with one another for an entire week. It gives them the opportunity to really dig deeper into what they want to study and get additional help.”
Miles is about halfway through the three-year doctoral program, and she already is planning on returning for another residency next year and, of course, commencement.
She probably won’t stop there.
“I’ve got two more trips out here,” she said, “but I think it’s going to be more than that.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.