Honors College surpasses 1,000 graduates
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
What started as a modest 59 students in the then-Honors Institute in 2013 has grown, eight years later, into a vibrant program that has reached an important milestone: graduating more than 1,000 students.
“This significant milestone brings a lot of emotion, joy, overwhelming gratitude and, simply, nostalgia in reflecting on our short but expeditiously-paced journey,” said Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli of the Honors College, which gained its standing as Grand Canyon University‘s ninth official college in 2015. “The early days of the Honors Institute brought forth a lot of unknown, little predictability, and required exceptional faith and grit. … However, the interest in rigorous academic programming was evident, the program’s co-curricular offerings were expanding, and the level of exceptionally gifted and ambitious students interested in GCU was growing.”
As of this spring, the Honors College touts 2,500 students from all areas of academia. It is quite the leap from the uncertainty of those early days, but it is one that Naegeli and the rest of the Honors staff has made gracefully.
“I had faith in what the Honors Institute, at the time, could be and how it could evolve over the years,” she said. “I knew we had ambitious, driven students seeking out GCU that would enjoy and thrive from a program like this. At this point, we just had to go put in the work and make it all happen.”
Since being the sole Honors Program manager in 2014, Naegeli’s role would evolve and allow her to continue to grow the department, which now includes four program managers.
One of those managers, Gabby Marrama, returned to her alma mater when she was hired earlier this year after having graduated with her degree in Advertising and Graphic Design in 2018.
“As a student-turned-alum now full-time employee, it really has come full circle for me,” she said. “It’s been so encouraging to meet the students who are here now, and it just keeps getting better and better.
“Dr. Bre has done an incredible job of finding something new each year to add to the Honors experience. For me being a student and having that experience and coming back, it’s been so exciting to see.”
Naegeli says Marrama is a great example of the quality graduates the Honors College and GCU continue to produce.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Who are these Honors students and what type of student makes up the Honors College?’ and students like Gabby really exemplify that times 10,” Naegeli said. “Many of our graduates have a passion for GCU and want to give back to the GCU and surrounding community and are wanting to give back and help shape and grow the next generation of GCU graduates. Many of our graduates flourish, venture into industry or graduate programs, and then immediately look for opportunities to return and pour that experience back into the GCU and Phoenix community. For Gabby, now having industry experience, she’s coming back to GCU, and since day one she’s been coaching a team of Honors student workers on everything she’s been able to learn.
“It’s a testament to who our Honors students are and, from an administrative perspective, it’s been an absolute pleasure to see that story.”
More than 250 Honors students will receive their diplomas between April and August. It is a graduating class Program Manager Dennis Williams describes as resilient, especially when he thinks back to his favorite memory since starting his role with the Honors College in 2018 – the 2021 Honors Banquet.
“With the year these students have had, there was a moment I actually just took a mental snapshot of what was happening there,” he said. “I thought back to a few years ago, coming into the Honors College and talking with Dr. Bre about the vision for the Student Advisory Board and where she wanted to see them go, and it was really about letting that board become the face of the Honors College.
“To watch them run the show and watch them represent the Honors College … for me, it was honestly a little emotional. There was a moment that I sat back and thought, ‘This is amazing.’ I had to pinch myself because it was everything that we had wanted to build with that Student Advisory Board.”
Reaching 1,000 graduates is a notable accomplishment, but Naegeli views it as the beginning of the next chapter.
“The big tagline that we have in relation to the Honors College is ‘embrace the challenge,’ and I think that goes not only for our students but also for our college administration and for the University,” she said. “We never want to settle and say, ‘OK, we built this great program, let’s just put it on auto pilot and see where it goes.’ We’re always looking for new opportunities to strengthen what it is we have so we can best serve our students, the University, the community and our partners.
“It’s great that we’ve reached this milestone of 1,000 graduates, we are thrilled and ready to celebrate; but this is definitely not the last chapter in our book. There is plenty more to come, and we’re excited to keep challenging ourselves and our program to rise to the occasion.”
Contact GCU staff writer Ashlee Larrison at [email protected] or at 602-639-8488.
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