They’re learning how to dodge freshman miscues

July 25, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

At the end of the first day of orientation, the students had a team-building exercise — they played dodgeball in Antelope Gym.

By Karen Fernau
GCU News Bureau

Freshman education major Brianda Lopez plans to use both paper and digital calendars to stay on track during her freshman year at Grand Canyon University.

Brianda Lopez

Vanessa Garcia, a freshman majoring in advertising and graphic design, will store files for each class on her laptop.

Biology major Amber Mantes will color code her notes to prioritize learning.

Theirs are just a few of the valuable tips shared and learned during Grand Canyon University’s first LEAD In orientation for the 100 inner-city high school seniors recently awarded Students Inspiring Students scholarships.

“I am going to learn what I can during orientation to make sure I am successful,” Lopez said. “Being on campus and learning what I need to know is making me feel more excited.”

For Lopez, Garcia and Mantes and the other scholarship recipients, the four-day orientation this week is more than just an academic hug. The nuts-and-bolts sessions are designed to prepare them for the classes they will take, technology they need to master and experiences they will have on campus.

They cover a multitude of topics, from organizational tools, study skills and Microsoft efficiencies to balancing school, work and family.

“When classes start, it’s a bit like drinking out of a fire hose. We want them to be prepared for the challenges they will face before their first class,” said Shari Stagner, GCU’s Program Manager for K-12 Student Development and Outreach.

Vanessa Garcia

Case in point: During orientation, SIS students learn the basics of Microsoft Excel.

“Math and sciences classes all use this program, and we don’t want them learning the subject and Excel at the same time,” she said. “We want them to know what’s expected of them.”

Students Inspiring Students, now in its second year, is GCU’s groundbreaking program designed to raise academic achievement at Arizona schools.

Before being awarded SIS scholarships, recipients received academic assistance as high school students in GCU’s Learning Lounge, a free after-school tutoring program that improves academic performance of students, from underperformers to overachievers.

In turn, while at GCU the SIS scholars provide 100 hours per year of mentoring academic support to high school students at the Learning Lounge.

The Lounge also plays an important role in the SIS orientation. LEADs, which stands for learning advocates, are the top-tier GCU students who lend academic assistance in the Learning Lounge. They are conducting many of the orientation sessions this week.

Along with academic skills, the Monday-to-Thursday orientation is designed to help students build supportive bonds at GCU. Each day ends with a team-building exercise, from dodgeball to games.

“We want them to turn to each other for support, to help each other with the challenges they will face,” Stagner said.

One of the most daunting challenges is balancing the competing demands of school, work and family.

Amber Montes

“I struggle with balance,” Lopez said. “I really like being involved and find it hard to say no to anything. I am going to pay close attention to ways I can balance school with life.”

Stagner began the orientation with sage advice.

“It’s normal to feel nervous, excited, anxious,” she said. “We are here to help you get over these feelings and be successful.”

Dr. Jim Rice, a GCU graduate with nearly 46 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent, also assured students that they “are in the right place.”

Rice speaks from experience. He told SIS recipients that he, too, grew up in the GCU neighborhood and attended nearby Alhambra High School. He’d never planned on going to college and never once talked to his single mother about higher education.

That was until GCU offered him a basketball scholarship.

“It was a fork in the road, one that led to who I am today,” said Rice, a member of GCU’s Board of Directors and Hall of Fame athlete.

“Have the courage to take the right fork in the road, to choose what’s best for you.”

Contact Karen Fernau at (602) 639-8344 or




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