Scholarship winners are new faces of west Phoenix
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the August 2017 issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Rick Vacek
Here they come again, another group of 100 full-tuition scholarship winners eager to show that the Students Inspiring Students initiative will make a huge difference in west Phoenix as well as at Grand Canyon University.
They can count on the support of the 2016 recipients.
They can count on each other.
And they can count on the GCU administrators who passionately want to help them succeed …
… including their “GCU mom.”
That’s what the learning advocates (LEADs) in GCU’s Learning Lounge call Shari Stagner, Program Manager for K-12 Student Development and Outreach, and this former teacher looks at the scholarship winners the same way she used to cradle her elementary school students.
Under the terms of Students Inspiring Students, recipients receive academic assistance at the Learning Lounge, GCU’s free after-school tutoring program, while in high school. They then pay it forward by providing 100 hours a year of mentoring and academic support in the Lounge while at the University.
Students at more than 65 inner-city K-12 schools are now getting academic help at the Learning Lounge. And through the financial donations of businesses throughout the Phoenix area – along with GCU’s matching contribution – those students also have the opportunity to earn a full-tuition scholarship. For many, it’s an opportunity to be the first in the family to attend college.
Picking Stagner’s brain about it is like asking the most enthusiastic coach about the team’s performance – the thoughts try to outsprint each other to see who can reach the dreams first. “Can you tell I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it?” she says sheepishly.
She admires their resilience and grit just for getting such excellent grades – the class of 2017 scholarship winners has a cumulative GPA of 3.97. “I just have so much respect and admiration for them,” she says.
She can’t wait, given her science background, to try new experiments, such as the four-day LEAD In session in late July where they heard from influential campus speakers, got tips about navigating the GCU experience and, through games at the end of the day, bonded.
But, mostly, she dreams their dreams about helping their neighbors build a better community. No talk of going across the world. They want to make this place better. Right here. West Phoenix.
“A lot of these kids, they just want to contribute to their community, and that says a lot,” she says. “I haven’t heard any of these students say they want to go somewhere different. Not one.
“I’ve heard them say that they’re excited about what impact it will have on their family. I’ve heard them express a pride in making their family proud. A lot of them talk about the example that they’re setting for their siblings – I’ve heard that a lot.”
They would do well to learn from the success stories of their Students Inspiring Students predecessors, such as Luz Arreola.
When the class of 2017 gathered for the first time in April at GCU Arena, Arreola gave one of the speeches and talked about being a role model. Now, she says, her younger sister wants to go to GCU, too.
Little sis would do well to get a dose of Luz’s appreciation for the scholarship, which fueled her determination. The business administration major always seemed to be on campus (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. regularly), made friends in the commuter lounge, and she introduced herself to all of her teachers on the first day of classes.
“I knew I wanted to be different – I wanted them to notice me,” she says. “I wanted them to help me in any situation I had with homework or anything. They knew my name in class and would call on me.”
She could learn from how Luz dealt with adversity.
“There was a moment before my first semester ended when I was just at that breaking point,” she says. “I went home one day and cried. It was too much homework, too much stress. I felt lonely and didn’t have any friends or social life.
“But the Learning Lounge helped with that a lot, and I would go to teachers and they were always available for me. They saw that I had that desire to bring my grades up.”
And the aspiring Lope should take note of how Luz became an ambassador for the New Business Development Center, which, in turn, helped her get a job as a bank teller. See how it all fits together?
This is what it’s all about, Stagner says. This is where the dreams start. This is how students truly inspire students.
“It was a great first year for these students and a great first year for us,” she says. “We learned a lot from these kids, and we’re really excited about the next group coming in. They feel triumphant, and I’m right there with them. It is a triumph. It is.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.