Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the February issue of GCU Magazine, an inside look at the unprecedented growth of the University in the last decade. To read the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Ashlee Larrison
When Maya Hinojos became a Grand Canyon University student in 2013, she never dreamed that her studies would overlap with her job as a sales associate for her father’s mattress company. But even before she shook hands on the Commencement stage with Dr. Randy Gibb, Dean of the Colangelo College of Business, she was shaking hands on a major business deal with the University.
The idea CCOB instructor Paul Waterman hatched and helped her develop was simple: With its influx of students and rapidly growing community of residence halls and apartments, coupled with the purchase of what would become GCU Hotel, the University needed beds. It was a vacancy Waterman thought the Hinojos family business, Comfort Pedic, could fill.
“Hey, have you ever thought of pitching your idea to GCU Hotel?” he asked her.
Hinojos had no idea where to start, but Waterman helped her create a successful business presentation for Gibb. It wasn’t long before the deal was done, and Comfort Pedic has sold more than 6,300 beds to GCU since 2016.
“Her family delivered in spades, and I think she’s come back and delivered more and more and more,” Waterman said. “She’s grateful for the community, and we’re grateful to have had a student like Maya.”
The gratitude goes both ways.
“They were willing to invest in my family business, which is around the community,” she said. “They could easily outsource, but they chose my company, that’s in the community, because they believe in the growth of the school and people around them.
“The environment that GCU creates within the University, with classes and extra-curricular activities, you really create a special bond with people there and the staff as well.”
It is a bond that keeps other alumni closely connected to the University – in fact, some of them haven’t left. Here are the thoughts of five other GCU graduates from the past decade:
When Weeks came to GCU as a freshman in 2009, she was one of about a thousand students living on campus, was the captain and first four year graduate of the Cheer team and was a life leader. She followed her Christian Studies degree by becoming Residence Life Manager.
“I was one of the first students who lived in Canyon Hall and that was really cool, but as we grow, we still have that community that’s remained, and I think that’s what GCU is known for,” she said.
It wasn’t known for well-attended basketball games in Antelope Gymnasium during her first two years as a cheerleader. She remembers begging other students to come to the games – which makes going to games these days in sold-out GCU Arena that much more meaningful.
“I get overwhelmed because 20-year-old Jesi would never have imagined this production,” she said, “and it’s just a really beautiful thing.”
The former GCU basketball star not only notices the difference; he strived for it as a student-athlete. He was on the team during the firs years of the University’s transition from NCAA Division II to Division I, a four-year probationary period in which the Lopes were ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
“It was special to me to play for GCU because I knew what I was doing,” said Garrison, now the athletic director at Glendale Prep Academy. “They made it clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to play in the tournament, so I took it very serious just to make sure that I could help build the brand to the point that one day people would want to come here to play basketball, like it would be a place to come and you could have a great basketball experience.
“I sacrificed every day for that, and game day was always special because I always thought about that. What would this be in 100 years? It may sound deep, but that was truly my thought process.”
The 2018-19 Associated Students of GCU president experienced that pay-it-forward mentality directly during his time as a student.
“Something for me that had a massive impact in my life, and I think is sometimes unspoken here but is so special, is the high level of dedication and tradition there is to individual pursuits of other people,” said Wolfe, now a developmental associate for the University. “Students are benefiting from people who were making an impact and an investment into this community at the beginning of the decade.”
When Wolfe was a freshman, struggling to keep an optimistic outlook on his first year of college, upperclassmen Jedidiah Woods and Micah Murphy noticed his struggles and invested time and effort to give his GCU experience a different look.
“When I got to asking them why, they talked about people who were before them who had done that in their life,” he said. “When I got to junior and senior year, I immediately snapped into this mentality of, ‘Where are some underclassmen and some freshmen that are coming in that are in the same position as I was?’”
That GCU community doesn’t end when students get their diploma, and that’s something that Herman, another former ASGCU president, learned after he and his sister both were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2018.
“Graduating high school they always tell you, ‘Oh man, the friends you’ll meet in college will be friends you’ll keep for life,’ and I didn’t really know if that was actually going to be true or not,” said Herman, who graduated in 2017. “But I’ve been so surprised, now being two years removed from college, how close I’ve stayed with those friends.
“Even people I was moderately close with in undergrad have stayed super close, especially through this. They have reached out weekly or monthly and are like, ‘Hey, I really wanted to check up on you.’”
Herman is in remission and is back to working toward his law degree but is still undergoing daily chemotherapy to complete his three-year treatment. He described his sister’s treatment as “tougher,” but she is heading toward recovery as well.
The community is what kept Florence on campus as a resident director after she graduated in 2018 with her degree in Business Management.
“GCU feels like home,” she said. “I just feel like no matter where I go, everyone’s super friendly. I feel like people care here. I think it’s very easy to get the resources that you need and the help that you need at GCU.
“I feel like a lot of other jobs just made me feel like I had to adult too fast, so to speak, and this job really still gave me that ‘Hey, yes, you can do this, but also, I’m going to be here every step of the way to answer your questions.’”
That sense of community also pushed Hinojos to reach her goals. She continues to supply GCU’s mattresses on top of opening her own company, Sleep Simple. Her father, Guillermo, said GCU played a key role in preparing her for that leadership role.
“The most valuable skills Maya acquired from GCU was leadership and teamwork skills,” he said. “The majority of her courses were team- based projects, which gave her an opportunity to learn from others and step up as a leader when she needed to.”
Watching his daughter continue to thrive and be supported by the GCU community, he said, is “a dream come true.” He can rest assured that she feels the same way.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or firstname.lastname@example.org