Virtual celebration homes in on fun for everyone

February 26, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

From basketball and breakfast to TikTok and “Family Feud,” there’s something for all members of the Grand Canyon University family this week.

Homecoming is here again, and for the first time the celebration will be shared with another beloved GCU tradition: Family Weekend has become Family Week.

Because of pandemic precautions, the celebration will be online this year. Students, alumni and their families are invited to participate in several virtual events, from fan favorites to new activities. In addition to protecting the health and safety of the GCU community, this year’s virtual Homecoming/Family Week also works well with Alumni Relations’ efforts to further engage with online students and alumni, and the early returns show that it’s working.

Homecoming/Family Week will take place the week of March 1 through March 6.

“Our online learner base is a critical part of the GCU story,” said Noah Wolfe, Director of Alumni Engagement. “It’s important for us to create as many opportunities to engage with them.

“As we were processing some creative and innovative ways that our office could connect with and engage those individuals, we thought of virtual experiences. We were looking at what was happening with the pandemic and we said, ‘Man, a virtual homecoming might be the perfect opportunity to kind of kickstart that relationship.’”

The virtual format creates flexibility for people with busy schedules. The activities available for Homecoming and Family Week consist of the following:

  • Streamed GCU Alumni and Family Chapel (scheduled event: Monday, March 1, at 11 a.m.): GCU alumnus Nick Ely, Lead Pastor of Christ Church Central Phoenix, gives a special Chapel message. (Watch it here.)
  • A message from President Mueller (can be viewed at any time during the week): President Brian Mueller will share a special message for students, alumni and their families with updates on the state of the University and future projects.
  • GCU Virtual Campus Tours (can participate at any time during the week): Showcases GCU landmarks as well as new additions to campus that alumni might not have seen.
  • Cooking with the Herd (can participate at any time during the week): Students, alumni and their families can participate in a virtual class with chef Mike Willison and cook a breakfast of blueberry pancakes or ham and cheese omelet.
  • GCU Alumni Hall of Fame: The Office of Alumni Relations will highlight and celebrate this year’s Hall of Fame inductees virtually on its page. Inductees: Dan Snyder, Rachel Winkler, Garth Bailey and Scott Van Newkirk.
  • GCU Flashback Archives (can participate at any time during the week): Students, alumni and their families are invited to explore GCU’s history through a collection of photos and yearbooks.
  • TikTok Competition (can participate at any time during the week): Lope families are invited to participate in the creation of TikTok videos for a chance to win cash prizes for the Lope Shop. Participants can view and vote for other Homecoming and Family Week videos by looking up the Hashtag #HCFW21. Winners will be announced Friday, March 5, at noon Arizona time.
  • Live Student Performances (Tuesday through Friday at noon Arizona time): Performances streamed live from the Student Union Promenade can be viewed on GCU’s YouTube Page. Fans of the game show “Family Feud” are in for a treat. GCU’s very own emcee, Caleb Duarte, will host several events.
  • Lope Nation Watch Party (Friday, March 5 vs. Utah Valley at 6:30 p.m. Arizona time/ Saturday, March 6 vs. Utah Valley at 6:30 p.m. Arizona time): Lope fans are invited to join in on the Lope Nation Watch Parties and cheer on the men’s basketball team. The Lope Shop will offer discounts for the event.

In prior years, Family Weekend and Homecoming were separate events — Family Weekend in October and Homecoming in March. Combining the two probably is permanent, said Robyn Hord, Parent and Family Programs Coordinator. 

GCU’s Family Week will be combined with Homecoming.

“We’re really trying to create a legacy,” Hord said. “I’ve got parents of traditional students, but very soon those students are going to be alumni. … Once a Lope, always a Lope.”

Hord played a prominent role in organizing the Family Week portion of events and activities. With the celebration entirely online, Hord wanted to offer opportunities for students who could physically spend the week with their families and those who couldn’t.

“I had cute little postcards made, and I’ll be encouraging students to send a postcard home to Mom and Dad,” she said. “I used the graphic in this month’s newsletter and sent it home to parents as a packing slip and encouraged them to send care packages to campus, so hopefully we’ll be able to connect in different ways.”

Another way Hord hopes families will get involved is through the numerous TikTok challenges posted through the Homecoming and Family Week hashtag.

“There’s easy, medium and hard, and we’ll have first-, second- and third-place winners from each category,” Hord said. “Every year we do a one-minute Thunderbolt shopping spree at the Lope Shop and obviously we can’t do that at the moment, but we still want to have our parents win some cash prizes.”

As for the alumni portion of the week, Alumni Relations Program and Events Coordinator Emily Moran wanted to convert some of the most popular Homecoming events to this new virtual setting.

One of those events, Breakfast with Thunder, has taken on a new name.

“Instead of our typical Brunch with Thunder, we are doing Cooking with the Herd, where we’ll have Chef Mike demo-ing blueberry pancakes and ham and cheese omelets,” Moran said. “Cooking has been such a big thing during quarantine and people have really liked that kind of thing, so we were like, ‘Why not do a cooking show with Chef Mike from Canyon 49?’”

Another popular event that will look different this year is the annual GCU Hall of Fame ceremony. The inductees will be honored on the alumni page with their photos and bios. Plans are in the works for an in-person induction later this year.

Moran said this year’s new virtual look to Homecoming could lead to the implementation of virtual events for future Homecomings, in addition to the traditional in-person events once they are safe to resume.

“I think it’s great that it’s virtual because that means there are more people who can participate than just those within the Phoenix area,” she said. “I think it will be really cool to build that virtual connection because anyone can tune into this.

“Moving forward, it will be really cool to have things virtually but also have things in person so that people from all over can interact with us.”

And that easy accessibility of a virtual Homecoming celebration appears to be having promising results. After sending out the first registration email, the department received significantly more RSVPs than in previous years.

“It’s a record-breaking year for us so far,” Wolfe said. “It’s something we’re really excited about.”

It’s something that students, alumni and their families can look forward to as well.

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Magazine: Homecoming incorporates Chapel, GCU families

GCU Today: New Homecoming events bring out historic memories

GCU Today: Inductees honored, inspired at Hall of Fame ceremony

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