Student work helped him keep promise to grandpa
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Torrey Martin grew up with his grandparents in Alabama. His late grandpa’s dream was for him to go to college because he didn’t graduate high school and laid asphalt.
“Education,” he told Martin, “is the ticket out.”
After a high school teacher told him he was good at math, Martin took the first step of his grandfather’s dream, walking on the campus of Grand Canyon University in 2013.
“The day I moved here was the first day I saw campus,” he said.
The next steps were going to be tricky. He needed to make some money to keep going to GCU.
“I needed a job,” he said. “I didn’t have transportation.”
But that day Martin was surprised to learn that student workers at GCU had jobs that didn’t always involve mops, mowers or deep-friers but comfy offices with padded chairs.
“You mean they have desk jobs here?” he asked.
By the end of that day, he had his first job – in Student Affairs.
Martin, today an adjunct professor at GCU, said student jobs set him on a path that his grandfather could only dream of.
Approximately 3,000 student workers will help GCU and Grand Canyon Education hum in the 2021-22 academic year, performing office work, taking tickets at GCU Arena or your order at campus eateries, and hundreds of other duties in nearly every department.
Martin can attest that it means more than a bit of extra money.
He went from his Student Affairs job to a student worker gig in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, where he heard that a more “mathy job” matching his skills was available in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
He helped administrators at CHSS with office tasks but just as importantly began to build a network of faculty in his major, Secondary Education with an Emphasis in Math. He could watch them up close, learn how to collaborate with administration and learn to properly develop his own pedagogy.
“When I first came out here, I don’t know if I was as good at math as I thought I was. I met a professor in CHSS who affirmed that. He said, ‘You can do this and teach others. Now that you know your own struggles with math, you can help others.’
“That professor, Jonah Beaumont, was so passionate about people going into math – like really feeling good about those skills – that he was just dying to help you get there.”
By the time he was ready to graduate in 2017, Martin was plugged into the schools looking to hire a math teacher, and he landed a job at the nearby Alhambra Elementary School District teaching seventh grade.
He wasn’t done with his student worker connections. He got his master’s in Math Education at GCU in 2019 and began working as an instructional assistant. That led to getting a job as an adjunct professor in 2020 while maintaining his position at Alhambra.
“I was fortunate to have the progression; I was able to watch full-time faculty members teach, and once I took over, they kept mentoring me,” Martin said. “Everyone has chipping in and helped me because they knew me personally.”
Adam Eklund, Director of Program Operations and College Assessment and one of his CHSS employers as a student, said Martin is a good example of the benefits of student work to gain professional work experience but also connections.
“I can imagine that Torrey would not have known to apply for an instructional assistant position at GCU, which ultimately led to his adjunct role, if he hadn’t started the path as a student worker,” he said. “So the role just creates so many opportunities for students to succeed after their undergraduate experience.”
The scenario plays out across campus.
Holly MacLeod, Guest Services Manager at GCU, will employ 100 students this year as guest service representatives (GSRs), and they will become like family. She even bought them T-shirts last year with their theme song, “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
“They make a significant difference in the success of everything we do,” she said. “I know we make a difference in their careers. The skills they learn as GSRs, they use for the rest of their life.”
Some end up getting jobs at GCU or Grand Canyon Education.
“Students workers get to meet people who have already been to college, and they help and support you,” Martin said. “Whenever you are frustrated, they know exactly what to say.”
Martin hopes to eventually earn a doctorate degree and one day be a full-time professor, like those who helped him as a student worker.
What would his grandfather think of that?
“I think he would be real proud,” he said. “I know my grandmother in Alabama is elated.”
He regularly sends her money to buy what she needs.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.