Honors College keeps growing — and transforming
Second of a nine-part series on GCU academics
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
In the fall of 2013, 59 students would claim the title of Honors student from what was then known as the Honors Institute for its debut year at Grand Canyon University. No one could have imagined the growth that was to come.
Only two years passed before it became GCU’s ninth official college, the Honors College, and this fall it welcomed more than 1,000 new freshmen into the program, bringing its total to more than 2,250.
“We’ve experienced exponential growth in the last several years,” said Associate Dean Breanna Naegeli, who has nurtured it and watched it blossom since 2014. “We were fortunate enough to build a staff as our student body continued to grow. With that, we have been able to ramp up our student programming, the social and academic support resources and just think creatively about additional opportunities.”
Anna Cofrancesco was introduced to the Honors College when she was 19, back when there were only 200 Honors students. Now, as a program manager for the college, she works with the student worker team and continues to be impressed by them.
“You’ll be surprised how much I learn from them and how much I get trained from them, so it’s amazing what they bring to the table as well, not just as student workers but also as students within the Honors College,” she said. “They’re not afraid to come and talk to us because we do have an established structure. But we are also kind of easygoing — we’re all about collaboration.”
Despite the college’s significant growth, former Honors student and current Honors program manager Luke Amargo said its students are as close as ever.
“I don’t think the intimacy has been lost. I actually think it’s gotten incredibly better,” Amargo said. “The cool thing is that the intimacy carries on beyond the classroom and even into lifelong relationships.”
Amargo credits GCU’s Honors program with creating an environment where students are encouraged to strive to become leaders and humanitarians while also excelling in academics.
“They always activated themselves at the highest caliber without losing their fidelity for the local community, like getting involved with Habitat for Humanity, doing Canyon Kids, and I’ve seen Honors students involved and not wearing cardigans and looking all snobby with their nose stuck up to the world,” Amargo said. “They’re actually on campus, in the trenches with the other students.”
Of the 1,000-plus incoming freshmen, 82 were recipients of the 2019-2020 Honors College Academic Excellence and Servant Leadership Scholarship, will have an average cumulative high school GPA of a 4.3 and higher, and have an average composite ACT score of 27 and a math and verbal SAT score of 1,300. Incoming honors freshmen also bring to the University an extended resume of service and, in some cases, valuable business experience.
Honors program manager Dennis Williams also has been impressed by the new freshmen he has met.
“These students are coming out of high school and have already made such a great impact in so many ways,” Williams said. “They’re super excited about how they’re going to do that here at GCU within the Honors College.”
Naegeli also has noticed a difference.
“I think we’re starting to see an impactful shift in the Honors student body,” she said. “In previous years, we noticed Honors students to be hyper involved in high school. So, when reviewing their application, we see an endless list of club involvement, leadership positions, athletic activity and titles.
“Now it’s really shifted from being hyper involved to strategically and intentionally involved. It’s more than just showing up – it’s about activation and execution of those ideas to make a local or global impact.”
As a result, the Honors College incorporates more and more students who want to make a difference.
Naegeli believes that GCU’s Honors College is growing even more attractive to prospective students because of its growing reputation of not making their students choose between academics and social or athletic extracurricular activities.
“There’s a lot of other honors programs where the academic experience becomes so overwhelming and consuming that you really can’t enjoy the community and life experiences that come along with being a college student,” Naegeli said. “I feel like students naturally migrate our way because we don’t want them to have to make that choice. We believe there is a place for academic rigor, meaningful learning experiences and the developmental growth that occurs as a young adult.”
The evolution of the Honors College has been “really fun,” she said. It also is transforming the college.
“As our student population evolves, as the culture shifts year after year, as we get these new waves of exceptional leaders coming in, each year can look like a completely different story,” Naegeli said. “So that’s how we try to keep up with the madness.”
Contact GCU staff writer Ashlee Larrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-8488.
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