Honors College orientation still a big hit online
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Every journey in Grand Canyon University’s Honors College begins with Launch Week, an introduction to the opportunities that await students. This year’s version was no exception — but was very different.
For one thing, the delayed arrival of students on campus because of the pandemic meant Launch Week had to be online. For another, it was two weeks instead of one.
Still, more than 900 incoming Honors students took part in multiple Zoom sessions over those two weeks to meet the faculty and each other. Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli was thrilled with the turnout and the participation.
“I think it was really positive and uplifting for us because these students, those coming in for fall 2020, they already experienced a massive disruption to the end of their senior year (of high school),” she said. “Many of them missed out on prom, senior nights and high school graduation ceremonies, so they have ample reasons to be frustrated with the impact of COVID-19 throughout these significant milestones. We were concerned the enthusiasm for an online start to their college career might suffer, but we’re experiencing the exact opposite.
“They’re coming in with a fresh attitude, the utmost positivity. They’re ready to get engaged, and they genuinely don’t care if meeting people is strictly virtual.”
Launch Week, which kicked off in late August and concluded as classes began, spent the first week giving students a rundown of global studies programs, career and internship preparation as well as Honors courses. A student panel gave the newcomers a chance to pose questions to student leaders.
The newly added second week focused on the clubs available through the Honors College and delved into the social aspects of college. At the end of the week, students broke into smaller Zoom groups to get to know each other better.
“For the first time ever, we introduced students to each of our clubs and organizations so that they could start signing up and getting more information before the school year even started,” Naegeli said. “What we’re learning is that even though school is online for the first three weeks, they still want to get involved, they still want to be engaged. For them it really is the start of the fall semester, and they don’t want to wait until September 28 to start taking action and meeting people.”
As a result, more than 100 students signed up for peer mentorship programs, and there also was an influx of applications for professional development programs.
“They’re really game-planning how they’re going to maximize this fall semester,” Naegeli said. “They know they have classes, they know that’s the priority, but now they have some time to really strategize and plan their full year out.”
With so many changes to the traditional look to Launch Week, it easily could been a challenge for the Honors College staff. But Program Manager Anna Cofrancesco said it was a positive experience — thanks to the students.
“They made it easy, honestly,” she said. “During our Virtual Honors Speed Friending Hour, I was coordinating a multitude of breakout sessions among our students, and it was incredible to see their energy and excitement to build new friendships.”
Program Manager Cathleen Daly also was impressed with the students’ level of engagement.
“While students were logged on, it didn’t feel like we were just talking to our screens,” Daly said. “They had their cameras on, they were actively engaging with other students and our staff by asking questions through the chat and sharing their interests, and throughout the week they even began to recognize each other from different sessions and would reconnect with one another. It was really neat to see them not only be proactive in planning for their GCU Honors experience, but also building real connections through our virtual event.
“It was so encouraging to see this level of virtual student engagement prior to the start of the fall semester. The entire team is excited to continue to creatively stay connected with our students this year.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].