By Jeannette Cruz and Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
The student leaders gathered at Grand Canyon University Arena on Friday morning probably weren’t surprised to hear that GCU has been named one of the 10 best college campuses in the United States.
After all, their appreciation for life at GCU is one of the reasons they were willing to cut short their summer vacation and begin training for the new academic year. Student opinions were part of why Niche, which specializes in data on educational institutions, put GCU on a prestigious list that includes Stanford, UCLA, Virginia Tech and Yale University.
But for many people at GCU, the news was both affirming and exciting. Among the many big moments and initiatives they’ve experienced in recent years, this is a big one.
“GCU has grown so fast, a lot of people don’t know what’s happened here,” said Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students. “The fact that people are starting to notice is pretty flattering, and I think students will be excited to hear that.
“But the students already know how great this campus is. For the staff to get this kind of recognition will give them a great sense of accomplishment.”
The Niche list wasn’t put together randomly. The company takes information from the U.S. Department of Education, plus college statistics and student reviews, and combines it with ratings of classrooms, labs, performance venues, housing, food and recreational facilities.
Senior Sandy Morton was moving into campus to finish off her final semester in the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions when she heard the news.
“Wow! This makes me feel more at peace with the fact that I chose the right university,” she said while unloading her car.
When asked if she was surprised by GCU’s recent accomplishment, Morton said the University “really does a great job of taking care of us and definitely accommodates the extra needs as we experience more students.”
Meanwhile, her friend Adrianne Mejia grew emotional as she loaded her car to leave the University. Mejia graduates from the College of Nursing next week.
“Grand Canyon has grown so much in every aspect – from student life to facilities to its nursing program – and it’s great!” she said. “I like walking around campus and seeing all of the familiar faces … I’m honestly very sad to be leaving this place, but it has helped me grow a lot.”
Over at GCU Arena, Matt Hopkins, Director of Residence Life, looked out at the throngs of student leaders and said, “They’re the engine of the deal. They make the culture attractive. There’s no way we could do it without them.”
Jeremy Mack, Director of Student Engagement, also was at the Arena for the training. “I think we’ve got phenomenal students, and we wouldn’t be top 10 if we weren’t attracting students on that level,” he said. “And I don’t think we’re by any means done with what God has called us to do.”
But the campus culture also is the result of considerable staff planning and input, and that’s why Janay Poole, Director of Housing, said she wasn’t surprised by the top-10 rankings. “Everything is so student-centric here, and we move so fast,” she said.
“The interesting thing about GCU,” said Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology, “is that because both the student leaders and student body contribute so much to the campus, when you ask them how they feel about the campus experience, they’re so invested they’re going to think highly of it.”
Moyo Harris, Student Engagement Manager, put the spotlight on student advocates on campus.
“The Associated Students of GCU really tries to be in tune with its role on campus – including taking surveys, listening to the students’ needs and wants, and creating a more uniform vision on how to support students all across campus,” she said. “We have a marketing team, the Senate, diversity awareness, spiritual life, volunteer opportunities – our students are amazing.”
Michael LaHaye, Veterans Resources Coordinator, said the University is working hard to embrace student-veterans and set them up for success.
“We really care about engaging students. Speaking specifically about our veteran population, it helps empower them. College life should be memorable, and we understand that they are unique students not only because of their military experiences, but most of them also have families at home, children and they are working full-time while working through school. This is their city. This is their life.”
To make sure student-veterans feel welcomed on their first few days on campus, LaHaye said he is hosting a large barbecue to create community and connections.
“My goal is to put my hand on them from day one and learn how I can help them individually,” he said. “A lot of them have anxiety when they come, and they use the Veterans Center. It is through that positive interaction that they learn to adapt outside the wire.”
“What we’ve done at GCU is how universities should be run, and I think people are finally paying attention to that. It’s only a matter of time before we are number one,” said Dr. Joe Veres, executive director of Student Development and Outreach and manager of the Learning Lounge, where students can get peer-to-peer assistance with their academic challenges every day. “Whatever we can do to support our students, we are willing to do.”
Teja Dightmon, a Food Services employee for three years, expressed her joy walking onto campus every day.
“I love my job, and that’s why I’ve stayed for so long,” she said. “People here are just nice, and they create a positive working environment. I can’t wait for them to come back. They always ask how I’m doing or how my summer went. Those interactions are pretty special.”
GCU faculty member Sheila Jones and student Audrey O’Sullivan were meeting up for coffee at the Student Union.
“We do this at least once a year,” said Jones. “She called me because she is getting ready to come back to school, so we are just catching up on things.”
When they heard the news, Jones and O’Sullivan exchanged smiles.
“I’m not really surprised that we are in the top 10,” said Sullivan. “I have really good counselors and supporters who try to work with me and fit me into what my needs are and what my abilities are.”
Jones added, “I love all of my students and the families that come to campus. I feel like I am part of something bigger here. I think that’s what GCU does so great – we make sure that our students are more than just a number.”
Public safety officer Jerry Coleman was overjoyed to hear the news.
“This is a big deal for me because I’ve been here for over two years, and since then I’ve had the opportunity to get my master’s degree and was also accepted into the doctoral program at GCU,” he said. “GCU will help you to reach your purpose. It’s a great time to be a Lope.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or email@example.com.