GCU grad key player in Rescue Mission partnership
Editor’s note: Reprinted from the February 2021 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here.
By Ashlee Larrison
As a Phoenix native, Nathan Smith always had Grand Canyon University on his radar.
The young basketball player would compete in tournaments on a campus so small, it looked like a community college to him. Little did he know how much it would change and the impact it would have on his life.
“I really watched it grow, especially under Brian (Mueller, the University’s President), into something significant,” he said. “I always just sort of loved it. When it came time to go to college, they had the coursework that matched what I wanted to do.”
In 2014, Smith joined Phoenix Rescue Mission as a part-time project coordinator and, through the Rescue Mission’s partnership with the University, began pursuing his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“It was better than I expected,” Smith said of his experience as an online student. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but I had done some community college classes online and those were really hard to do.”
Being at GCU also grew his faith.
“What I wanted was a Christian look at broader topics,” he said. “I really thought that Grand Canyon had a really good balance of being really faithful to the social sciences but bringing in a Christian worldview as well.”
As Smith got further into his program, his career began to flourish. In 2016, he received his first big promotion, taking over the Community Engagement Department. Smith was in charge of overseeing homeless outreach and food distribution, where he found further success.
“We went from averaging, say, getting 10 people off the streets in a month or five people off the streets in a month to getting up to 30 people on average off the streets in a month,” he said. “We went from serving a few hundred households a month with food to serving several thousand households with food in a month.
“My team just had a lot of success, so that put me on the radar for another promotion.”
In 2020, not only did Smith earn his degree, but two months before completing his program, he was named Chief Program Officer.
“I got those two big accomplishments at the same time, so it was pretty nice,” Smith said. “Those two things have always gone together.”
The father of three daughters hopes his ability to juggle his blossoming career, schoolwork and family responsibilities inspires others. And with his connections to GCU and the Rescue Mission, he is heavily involved in their partnership.
“I think we’re going to make tremendously more impact than we had in the past, so I’m excited for it,” he said.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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