Summer sweat pays off for Student Engagement

June 27, 2018 / by / 0 Comment

From left, Brittney Calton, Kaitlin Runion, Cody Dumas, Pablo Ciscomani and Jeremy Mack, Director of Student Engagement, discuss plans for the upcoming school year all designed to welcome and engage GCU students.

Story by Theresa Smith
Photos by David Kadlubowski

“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.’’

The classic summer lyric by Seals and Crofts evokes a laid-back aura, yet the atmosphere in Grand Canyon University’s Student Engagement offices on a late June day kindle a decidedly different feeling. With hundreds of events to plan for the 2018-19 school year, it is not the time for the Student Engagement staff to relax.

Jeremy Mack, Director of Student Engagement, oversees 13 staffers who lead Associated Students of GCU (ASGCU), Canyon Activities Board (CAB), Clubs and Organizations, Commuters,  Diversity Office, ROTC, Veteran’s Center and Thunderground. Each Student Engagement staff member oversees dozens of student leaders.

In the 2017-18 academic year, 583 activities fell under the umbrella of Student Engagement, not including hundreds of events planned and executed by the 126 clubs on campus. Although the number of events is staggering, it is not critical, according to Mack.

“It’s not the volume (of events) but the engagement,’’ Mack said. “We want to make students feel welcome on campus while making friends. We want to help students engage with other students, from the largest club, AZ HOSA (Arizona HOSA-Future Health Professionals, formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America), one of the largest nursing clubs in the nation with more than 400 members, to small and large events, from Mr. GCU, to Winter Fest, to the Hanging of the Greens.’’

Brittney Calton, Associated Students program coordinator, oversees three teams within ASGCU: Freshmen Class Council, Diversity Council and Volunteer GCU. 

Her work with students over the summer began on June 25, when the four ASGCU executives arrived on campus to begin their preparations, including helping plan approximately 50 events during Welcome Week. The week involves more than 1,000 student volunteers, including approximately 50 in ASGCU leadership roles.

“ASGCU are scholarship student leaders who were selected for their roles,’’ Calton said. “They applied, they were interviewed and were selected. They serve the student body — that’s their purpose, to give either a service or a program for the student body.’’

While gaining leadership experience is often emphasized in preparation for college, Calton and other Student Engagement staff members do not require applicants to be experienced leaders.

“One thing that we really appreciate about our students is that they have diverse backgrounds and interests,’’ Calton said. “Some of them, maybe they weren’t involved in high school, and they regretted it, and they are just looking for a way to get involved. So they go out on a limb and they apply, and we see something in them that we want to invest in, so we offer them a position. Many of them are returning from last year, and now they’ve moved up, and they have more of a supervisory role.”

Four criterion are critical: being teachable, being available, being responsible and having a good attitude, according to Calton.

Fitting the criterion is the 2018-19 student executive team: president Noah Wolfe, executive vice president Stephen Steininger, chief of staff Aly Halbakken and administrative vice president Tim McGill. They arrived on campus on June 25 to prepare for the fall semester.

“They hit the ground running and we started cranking on the planning, the goals and the outcomes for the entire year for their team,’’ Calton said. “Because it is student government and it is their administration, we guide them, but we let them be very creative in the campaigns they choose to run, and the initiatives they want to pursue.’’

For 25 hours per week, in exchange for summer housing and a summer meal plan, the student executive team works with Mack; Calton; Pablo Ciscomani, clubs and commuter coordinator; Cody Dumas, student government coordinator; and Kaitlin Runion, clubs and organizations coordinator.

“We’ll show them the shared access to the drive where all the files are stored from previous years and the current year. That’s where a bulk of  the planning happens,’’ Calton said. “We’ll go over budget procedures, we’ll go over corrective action, which is discipline process, we’ll go over public speaking, and we’ll go over relational communication — so how do you talk to a new student who comes to your event, how do you befriend them and make them feel comfortable?’’  

The training, known as summer intensives, occur twice per week for two hours each. 

Planning events for Welcome Week is among the most time-sensitive matters. Ignite, for example, is one of the most spiritual events, as students gather in the darkness on the quad, light a candle, say a prayer and dedicate the new school year in a positive and profound way. Wolfe will make a speech and Pastor Tim Griffin, Dean of Students, will offer a blessing.

“It is a very special event,’’ Calton said.

Calton and Runion talk about upcoming activities at GCU.

Ciscomani guides the clubs as they plan events and seek ways to add members. Among the most unique clubs is Medieval Combat Club, which grew from a group of students casually meeting to official club status in 2017.

“It involves larping (Live Action Role Play), where a bunch of students get together and use rope swords, cardboard armor and engage in live action role play fights and battles,’’ Ciscomani said.

“That’s always fun. I love that club, in particular, because it provides an area of community for students who might not have found it in any other club, like HOSA, or academic clubs, or even the social clubs, like Lopes Outdoors. This is a very unique population of students who have found a sense of belonging in the Medieval Combat Club

“That’s why I love doing what I do; it’s not because, ‘Oh, we have all these clubs.’ I look at all these clubs as an opportunity for a student coming into school to say, ‘Oh where do I fit in?’ We have over 100 different clubs you can fit into, or we have all these different events, through ASGCU, HOSA or the CAB or spiritual life; there is always something for  students to find their niche in.’’

Several clubs are applying for grants this summer for Welcome Week, including the Forensics Science Club, which plans a mock crime scene designed to teach students how to fingerprint, like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). The computing club seeks funds to develop a new chip, and the Modern Board Gamers Guild is using funds to buy numerous board games for a board game night. The Hip Hop Club and Lindy Lopes are planning events while eSports strategizes to attract even more club members at the Fall Club Fair on Aug. 27.

As campus enrollment continues to grow, Ciscomani strives to meet new needs.

“With more students, there are more passions, which leads to creating a club we do not have or joining a club we already have and making that bigger,’’ he said.

Club collaboration is also part of summer planning as the Black Student Union, Latino Student Union, Hui Aloha and Filipino-American Student Association are working together to organize a celebration during Welcome Week.

“It will be a time for different dishes to be shared, and different performances,’’ Ciscomani said. “I love it when our clubs collaborate and do something bigger than they could do individually. ”

The bottom line is engaging students, and if it requires summer sweat instead of summer chill, then Seals and Crofts will have to wait.

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].

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