Living and Learning Communities link new students
Story by Theresa Smith
Photos by Luke Amargo and Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
When Kayla Warren left her hometown of Payson to move onto the Grand Canyon University campus, she was filled with excitement and fear. She knew only one other person from her graduating class of 148 students who was starting classes at GCU in August 2017.
“Coming in, it is scary,’’ she said. “You don’t know anyone. Being in a Living and Learning Community (LLC) in the Honors College helped me to get that push to be involved as a freshman. It made me happy that I can find a home away from home.’’
Exactly one year after her nerve-wracking arrival, Warren helped ease the transition for incoming Honors College freshmen and LLC residents at a networking event for 444 students at GCU Arena.
“It was neat to see it play out and see our team come together and know what to do,’’ she said of herself and her fellow LLC ambassadors. “We were informing the incoming students and getting them together for talking, networking and connecting.’’
The LLC program is designed for freshmen who prefer to share a residence hall room, suite or floor with students of similar academic interests. Along with the connections they make organically, there are organized activities in Juniper Hall, the building housing six LLC’s: Honors College; Colangelo College of Business (CCOB); College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET); psychology from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS); and nursing and athletic training through the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions (CONHCP).
“We group these students together by discipline area,’’ said Breanna Naegeli, Associate Dean of the Honors College. “These students are opting in; they want more of an academic programming focus in their residence halls. They want roommates who are taking similar classes. They want people who understand their lifestyle, what they are going through.’’
Pre-med students might be in the same biology class while Honors students take “A Ripple in the Pond’’ together.
“So it creates that automatic, very natural innate community because students are surrounded by those like-minded peers from Day 1,’’ Naegeli said. “It is great for out-of-state students who maybe don’t have the core group of best friends or high school graduates who are coming along with them. They are trying to meet people and find someone with a common interest right away. It is a great way to get started.’’
Under the direction of Luke Amargo, LLC Programming and Peer Mentorship Manager for the Honors College, there are several events in meeting rooms or the lobby of Juniper, including a suturing clinic for biology students.
Jessica Landes, a freshman from Tuttle, Okla., was eager to opt into the Honors College LLC in Juniper upon her acceptance into the college.
“It has been really cool,’’ she said. “There are a lot of group activities RA’s (Resident Assistants) put together, and there is a huge sense of community. I like it a lot.’’
Landes shares a suite with five other Honors College students. The business management major compares notes with one suite mate who is also in CCOB. Two of her suite mates are in the College of Education, one is in forensic science and another is in sociology.
As a recently hired student worker in the Honors College, Landes increasingly shares her viewpoint about what makes the Honors College and her LLC special.
“When you are in an Honors class or in the Honors (residence hall), it is a really focused atmosphere,’’ she said. “I am proud to be in Honors.’’
Isabella Ellec, an Honors College freshman from Corona, Calif., sought similar experiences.
“I was looking for communities and when I visited Grand Canyon I noticed how welcoming everyone was and how happy and encouraging. And I really liked that,’’ said Ellec, who shares living space in Juniper with a pre-pharmacy major, two English majors from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and two CCOB majors.
A psychology major with a minor in theatre, Ellec works with her suite mates to balance academic time and social time.
“We want to be able have fun and have free time, but we also take this very seriously and we want to be able to do our best, so it is finding that balance,’’ she said.
Watching movies, baking and dining with her suite mates and floor mates spice up her time in Juniper when she is not volunteering to help victims of sexual trafficking, helping with makeup and hair for theatrical productions or tutoring younger students in her student worker job as a learning advocate (LEAD).
LLC ambassadors are upper class student workers who help plan and execute the programming in the LLC’s, including inviting speakers and forming intramural sports teams.
One of those ambassadors is Josephine Cabrera, a graduate of nearby Bourgade Catholic High School. A junior in the Honors College, she is majoring in business administration and minoring in marketing,
As an LLC ambassador, she calls herself a “middle man’’ between the Honors College and the students in the LLC.
“We don’t work as much with the students as Life Leaders and RA’s, but our presence helps with academic resources and we program intensives, which are very helpful because students from the same college can hear from clubs and faculty members from their colleges,’’ she said. “We also help with one-on-one mentorships and group mentoring.
“As ambassadors, we embrace similar values that the Honors College embraces. We want students to be close to God and we want them to succeed academically.’’
Warren has used her LLC ambassador role to gain leadership experience.
“It has been incredible preparation to be a leader and to lead the freshmen,’’ she said. “Going to a college away from home can be overwhelming, so we want to give them a head start.’’
Warren is impressed by the nursing students in an LLC who made quick connections and became study partners last fall. It is part of the vibe at Juniper that she felt while living there last year as an Honors College freshman.
“It has a different feel,’’ the aspiring journalist said. “It is academically centered, where we were all in the same mindset — here for academic reasons. If I was struggling in a class, I could go down the hall and seek help from a student. It worked well for me as a freshman, and now I am glad to be of help.’’