Doctoral learners make grand return to campus
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Almost a full year after the pandemic forced doctoral residencies to first be suspended and then held off campus, learners finally are back in the facilities of Grand Canyon University.
And they couldn’t be happier about it.
The College of Doctoral Studies (CDS) suspended in-person residencies when the pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, then created modified in-person residencies at off-campus venues starting last summer.
“After moving the residencies off campus to help with pandemic safety, I’m very excited to have our doctoral learners back at GCU’s 27th Avenue location,” CDS Dean Dr. Michael Berger said. “This campus is their collegiate home, and our faculty and staff are eager to welcome them home.”
There’s an added bonus for the learners: They have a firsthand view of GCU’s vaccine Point of Dispensing site at 27th Avenue while they reconnect with peers and faculty members.
Although holding residencies at Phoenix-area resorts was a nice change of pace, it wasn’t as good as being on campus.
“They first came going, ‘Wow, we’re at a resort,’ but then as the residency would go on, the disconnect with the University became kind of apparent,” Dr. Kay Hansen said. “They were beautiful places and we had great rooms, but the collaboration and the camaraderie that you feel when you’re here on campus was a little more decreased.”
It took only a few days for CDS faculty members to see the effect being on campus has on learners.
“My learners have mentioned how it’s increased their motivation and their engagement, and they’re happy to be back,” Dr. Melissa Singer Pressman said. “I know what we try to do with all of our residencies, whether we’re here or off campus, is instill that sense of GCU community. And it’s a lot easier to do when we’re here on campus – they can see the purple way, and they’re just really excited to be here.”
Especially when it came to learners having a front row seat to see how the University serves its community up close and personal. Especially when it comes to vaccine distribution efforts.
“They’re seeing we’re one of the places in this city that has stepped up,” Hansen said. “It’s so well done and so organized, and I think our learners are seeing this happen and it just gives a lot more of ‘Wow, you’re giving things to the community, too,’ which is one of the things that I think Brian (Mueller, GCU’s President) really likes and is part of his mission for this university and for the area.”
For Dr. Kristina Harshman, having the ability to allow her learners to see the University in action makes all the positive stories they’ve heard about GCU that much more real.
“We always talk about the different things that GCU’s doing for our educational community but also for the community as a whole,” she said. “They can’t help but see it since it’s right there. It has really made it real for them, which is pretty cool.”
To make the return to campus as safe as possible, CDS has prioritized safety protocols such as the use of masks, social distancing and disinfecting shared surfaces and areas. Davette Alonzo, pursuing her Ed.D. Degree in K-12 Organizational Leadership, noticed that it made her experience in her first residency feel that much safer.
“I was very concerned coming in and a little worried, but I feel safe here,” she said. “I feel like I’m able to learn comfortably, and I’m confident in what I’m doing because of the support all around.
“I was hesitant coming, but I prayed on it and I was preparing for it whether I was going to be vaccinated or not, and I told myself I was going to have to make a choice. I made the right choice coming here.”
Luke Steobel, enrolled in the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Higher Education Leadership program, had his first residency before the pandemic and his second one this week. He has seen the same levels of engagement and professionalism in both.
“The safety measuring and things that are in place, they don’t come at the expense of really being able to have a positive residency experience,” he said. “I feel like the experience and what I’m getting out of it is the same.”
Ph.D. learner Amy Jo Green also got to experience her second residency this week after having her first residency in October at one of the off-campus venues. Green felt an extra sense of comfort this time thanks to her vaccination but also because of the safety measures the University has implemented.
“I’m not going to say I don’t miss the resort because it was super nice, but it’s also nice to be close to campus and to see what the GCU Hotel is all about. It’s just a lot easier for everyone involved,” she said, smiling.
Another factor that Green says could help ease the minds of learners uncertain about the return to campus would be the college’s flexibility with its learners.
“I think if you do have a situation where it’s not a good time for you, they’ll be really flexible and work with you,” she said. “It’s just making the best decision for your individual situation. I think that the flexibility that GCU has shown to accommodate everyone’s needs and safety has been really important.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].