Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the April issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Rick Vacek
Yenni Sanchez Perez remembers walking onto campus as a freshman in 2016 feeling like a “lonely little bird” as she tried to find her classes.
Sean Oliver says he was ready to walk out of one of his first freshman classes, Christian Worldview, when he saw the list of assignments. “Then the instructor said it’s split up among groups and I said, ‘OK, let’s go!’”
In time, that early nervousness gave way to a sense of belonging, and now these little birds are ready to fly: They’re about to become the first two Students Inspiring Students full-tuition scholarship recipients to receive their degree – and they are graduating in only three years.
“At Grand Canyon University, we learn that it is not us inspiring our students, it is our students inspiring us,” said Dr. Joe Veres, Vice President for Student Success. “Yenni and Sean are the epitome of that definition.”
The SIS program is an extension of GCU’s Learning Lounge, a free after-school academic-assistance program designed to improve the skills and confidence of both underperforming students and those taking advanced-level classes.
The idea is simple: Students can come to the Learning Lounge while in kindergarten through 12th grade, and if they are awarded the SIS scholarship they pay it forward as college students by providing 100 hours per year of mentoring and academic support at a Learning Lounge site to assist the next group of high school students behind them.
Sanchez and Oliver, who both are graduates of Franklin Police and Fire High School in Phoenix, felt a lot more confident once they’d gone through a semester or two and knew their way around campus, and Sanchez said the small class sizes at GCU also made a difference.
“I really like that because it gives me that opportunity to know that professor well, and I get to ask one-on-one questions or for more help on my homework,” she said. “I know that at another college I wouldn’t be able to do that because the classes are a lot bigger and there are a lot more students.”
Sanchez’s degree is Government with an Emphasis in Legal Studies, and she wants to teach government to high school students to make them more informed. Oliver, who as been driving a truck to make money when he’s not going to school, is a criminal justice major and wants to become a police officer – and maybe even graduate to the FBI or protecting the President someday. His advice to SIS students coming behind him: “Don’t be scared. Be friendly, get to know people.”
The GCU flock sticks together.