Initiative welcomes parents into the ‘Lope familia’
Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
Daniela Chavira didn’t have the same Welcome Week experience her parents did.
The mechanical engineering sophomore remembers being on the Grand Canyon University campus for the first time, awed by everything, overloaded by everything and soaking up every tidbit of information she could on scholarships, working on campus, leadership roles, important paperwork to fill out and academic counselors to see.
Her parents, who don’t speak English and didn’t go to college, didn’t glean the same things she did. They didn’t feel as much a part of the “Lope familia” as she did.
“It was very difficult for me to explain to my parents how higher education works,” said Chavira, who also is a first-generation senator for the Associated Students of GCU: “I wondered, how many parents are confused about scholarships and don’t know that their students can get them regardless of their immigration status?”
Chavira knows that information firsthand.
She herself is undocumented. Born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, she moved to the United States when she was just 10 months old, so it was important for her to share that scholarship information with other families like hers. She did so Monday morning at the first parent and family orientation for Spanish-speakers.
La Orientación para Padres y Familias was part of GCU’s new initiative during Welcome Week to support Spanish-speaking and first-generation students and their families.
Chavira spoke a lot about “las becas,” or scholarships and grants, that students can be awarded for various leadership roles on campus. It was a word parents said, a lot, during the orientation session, which featured everything from Family Weekend March 4-6, to Residence Life, getting involved on the GCU Parent Council, Public Safety, Student Care and the role of admissions and university counselors.
In planning Welcome Week activities, Director of Welcome Programs Charity Norman gathered a committee of Spanish-speaking and first-generation students and staff to come up with ideas to support that growing segment of the GCU community.
According to Kayla Fonseca, Student Conduct Coordinator for Residence Life, 27% of incoming freshmen identify themselves as first-generation.
“We wanted to do something that’s inclusive of that group of parents,” said Fonseca, who worked closely with Student Engagement Manager Cynthia Arevalo to put together the orientation sessions. “Cynthia and I had similar experiences as first-generation students with Spanish-speaking parents and just how much this would have been so beneficial to them. This is kind of taking from our own experiences to serve that group.”
Arevalo said GCU was motivated to put together a Spanish-language orientation for parents after receiving feedback from an Associated Students of GCU survey for first-generation students.
“I think the feedback came more from students who said, ‘My parents didn’t come, but if there was something for them like this (the orientations), they would have been more inclined to. We asked what services they needed, and from that stemmed a lot of what we’re doing,” Arevalo said. “A lot of students did mention that their parents need support for this journey, so we took what they said, because we listen to the students – that’s what we do – and tried to roll something out for them and their families.”
In addition to the Spanish-language orientation sessions, Spanish speakers might have noticed students and staff wearing “Pregúntame” (“Ask me”) buttons and “Bienvenidos a GCU” (“Welcome to GCU”) T-shirts.
High-energy student leader Sarah Sanchez, who was volunteering for Move-In outside of Chaparral Hall, was one of those students.
“It makes people feel more seen and welcomed,” said Sanchez, a senior majoring in sociology with a minor in worship arts. “It’s like, ‘Oh, they cared enough to offer this for us,’ which I think is so important and so important to the mission statement of GCU, which wants to be super inclusive.”
Oregonian Azul Pereyra also donned a “Pregúntame” button.
The junior entrepreneurship major/psychology minor learned to speak Castilian from her Argentinian family and knew she needed to step up.
What was most important to her, she said, is to make everyone feel welcome and that “this is the place where they have a voice. I think it’s really important to say, ‘You’re important no matter what. You’re not just a number for GCU. You have a face. You have a story. We’re excited to include you into this story.’”
That’s something Imelda Hernandez would tell you she’s thrilled to hear.
The freshman elementary education major attended Monday’s parent and family orientation for Spanish speakers with her parents. Although her mom, who moved to the United States when she was a teenager, can speak both Spanish and English, her father speaks only Spanish.
“Even I don’t understand how to translate certain words,” Hernandez said of trying to explain some of the complicated processes involved in higher education to her parents, such as filling out college applications (something she did on her own). “I didn’t want my father to be confused, so I’m glad they have the orientation in Spanish. At least he feels included in my college experience, since my parents didn’t get a college experience.”
Octavio Hernandez said the orientation was important to him, “so I can keep up with my daughter’s student life,” he said in Spanish.
Hernandez’s mom, Imelda Basurto, added, “It was nice to get all the information in Spanish, which is our first language.”
Senior University Admissions Manager Angella Mejia, one of the orientation speakers, expressed to parents, “Mi passión es la comunidad Latina,” or “My passion is the Latin community” and how GCU President Brian Mueller shares that passion.
One of the bright spots at the event, Ernest Garza, kept orientation attendees laughing, so much so that one dad in the audience shook his hand at the end and, with a big smile on his face, said Garza kept the session far from boring.
Garza, a GCU Parent Council member from Commerce City, Colorado, told fellow parents about how it was so hard to get his son to take out the trash before college but, after he returned home from GCU for winter break, he took out the trash, no problem, and after opening the refrigerator at home, told his dad he would never again complain that there wasn’t anything to eat.
He shared, in Spanish, how his son matured during his time at GCU.
“I love this school,” Garza said, adding that GCU hopes to start a Spanish-speaking Parent Council.
Daniela Chavira, who also is in the Honors College, was vice president of the GCU Latino Student Union and organized a student-led panel on immigration at GCU Arena, said the hope is that no one will feel like an outsider coming into the GCU community.
After hearing audience members laughing and joking, “I felt like they felt welcomed. Sometimes when you’re at a university, you don’t know that many people. And when this is your first student going into college, I think it makes parents very nervous, so it was important to just answer their questions.
“It was important to make them feel like they’re part of the Lope familia.”
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