Welcome Week is here, and the Move-In is easy
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
“I’m not carrying anything. This is easy!” the mother of an incoming first-year student at Grand Canyon University said Monday morning as she followed the Welcome Crew into Acacia Hall.
Another mom walking out of nearby Ironwood Hall noted that the car already was empty at 7:03 a.m. … after the appointment was at 7. “So easy,” she said.
Yes, the relief was easy to see as another Welcome Week dawned and GCU began the process of filling the campus with a record 9,000 incoming students and 23,500 overall.
The new appointment system was working smoothly, for parents as much as anyone. But it points up a simple fact about Move-In: It isn’t just for the incoming students, especially those going away to college for the first time. It’s about putting their parents’ minds at ease, too.
“Parents are very nervous, obviously, when their sons and daughters are freshmen and are leaving home permanently for the first time,” GCU President Brian Mueller said.
“So when they come to campus and they see how welcoming the atmosphere is for the students, I think they feel welcome, too. It feels comfortable. I think it’s a lot easier for them, as a result of that, to be able to turn around and go home.”
Parents like Mark Escandon. He already had completed the hardest part of the journey – driving to Phoenix from his home in Kent, Washington. Now he was sipping from his cup of iced tea as he walked casually into Juniper Hall.
“Today was awesome,” he said. “We pulled in at our time. Three students came out to help us, and I just stepped back. They took everything out of the car and put it in the cart. I just parked the car in the garage and am going to help start moving stuff around the room.”
This could have been far more stressful for Escandon considering that he was doing a Move-In two-fer Monday. Not only was his son Mitch coming in as a freshman; his daughter Nellie, a transfer student, had an appointment for later in the day on the other side of campus.
Two at once? How does that happen? Like this: Mitch spent a lot of his time during the pandemic applying to colleges, and one of them was GCU. Then he visited campus.
“He came down here and he loved it,” his dad said. “Just the feel he got from it, the vibe.”
Nellie also was looking for a college and learned that GCU had the program she was seeking, too. All it took was Mitch’s nudge.
“GCU is exactly what she needs,” he told his parents.
The next step was to figure out how to get them both to Phoenix. Mark and Nellie drove the packed-to-the-gills car, and Mitch and his mom, Shannon, flew – with six suitcases. The car will be left with the kids, and Mark and Shannon will fly back to Washington on Tuesday.
It also was quite a trip for Beth and Jeff Straley. They came all the way from Castle Rock, Colorado, but this is their second child to come to GCU – so they knew what to expect Monday.
“The Welcoming committee made us feel like we were part of the experience,” Beth said of when they moved their daughter Lauren in previously.
“We felt loved and welcomed,” Jeff chimed in.
“Yes, we felt loved and welcomed,” Beth agreed. “We were giving a piece of our heart away.”
Beth also liked the orientation session for parents and students in GCU Arena, which she jokingly called a “boo hoo/yahoo.” But that helped, too.
“It was really fun to be reassured and get that community feel,” she said.
That’s another aspect of welcoming parents to campus: Their children are joining a community, and the parents are part of it, too.
“Really, really important,” Mueller said of orientation. “It’s a way, in a group setting like that, to get the students ready for what this is. We’re an event-driven campus. We get together in large groups all the time.”
But there also needs to someone there for them on a personal level in their place of residence. That’s where the resident directors come in – such as Lauren Olive, who has taken over as the RD in Acacia Hall.
Olive graduated in April with her sociology and social work degree, but she didn’t want to leave. After three years as a resident assistant, now she’s in charge. And much of her day Monday would be spent greeting parents.
“A lot of them come to the desk and want to talk to us,” she said. “They just want to know that their kids are going to feel at home here and they’re going to be comfortable and they’re going to be safe here. Whatever we can do to reassure that, we try to provide.
“I remember when I moved in, my parents were pretty nervous about me coming onto the campus. But when they saw the Welcome Crew and everyone cheering and unloading stuff and helping us out and wanting to interact with us and meet with us, they felt a lot more at ease and comfortable.”
The pandemic added to parents’ concerns, but it also has added to the anticipation for the new academic year.
“This year I feel like the energy is definitely on another level,” Olive said. “Everyone is super excited to be back on campus, and things are open. You can just tell with the residents coming in – they’re excited to see faces and they’re excited to talk and communicate with people. A lot of them, this is their first time seeing people in a really long time.”
Said Mueller, “Last year was a good year, but it wasn’t easy. There were challenges. It wasn’t the same as it always is. And, of course, with the delta variant this summer, people were nervous. There’s been a lot of work put into all this. Our students want this to be back to the way GCU was typically, so everybody is excited for all of what’s going to happen this year on campus, and I think doubly so because of how challenging last year was.”
But as car after car traversed campus byways Monday to begin the Move-In process, many families already were planning for the future. Mark Escandon, for example, already had thought ahead to the perfect weather Phoenix will enjoy at Thanksgiving.
“We were smart and said, ‘Why bring them home for Thanksgiving? Why don’t we go down there?’”
Easy … just like the Move-In process.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].