After just 1 meeting, Women in Business Club is a hit

November 15, 2021 / by / 0 Comment

The first Women in Business Club meeting packed the lecture hall with more than 130 attendees. (Courtesy of Marli Grace Photography)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

The friendship of Havilah Houston and Belle Rakestraw developed even faster than the skateboards zooming past them on this perfect fall day.

Vice President Belle Rakestraw stands next to Club President Havilah Houston (at microphone) as they greet the women attending the first meeting. (Courtesy of Marli Grace Photography)

As they sat across from the Student Union at Grand Canyon University, they talked about how they met last year, when they lived two doors apart in The Grove residence halls. The effervescent Houston was a resident assistant and Rakestraw was an equally outgoing freshman, and the relationship quickly progressed from RA-resident to mentor-mentee to just a solid friendship.

Good friends tend to talk about a lot of things, and over time they came to realize how important it is for women to feel similarly connected, particularly in the business world. A good place to start would be their college, the Colangelo College of Business.

Then came their great-minds-think-alike moment.

“Wait, I have an idea,” Houston said.

She suggested the concept of a business group for women.

“No way! Me, too,” Rakestraw responded.

They had been thinking the exact same thing.

Thus was born the Women in Business Club, with Houston as president, Rakestraw as vice president and four other student leaders. It will meet for the second time at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the lobby of the CCOB Building.

Houston wants to help women be more confident about entering the business world. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

“We both said, ‘How cool would it be if other girls got to experience this, especially within the CCOB? It’s not easy being a female entering the business world,’” said Houston (pronounced HOW-ston). “We independently saw the need – but we didn’t know if it was going to be a club, a society, a program.”

But Women in Business isn’t just another club among the 95 on campus. It already is making its mark.

For the first meeting, the club received 130 RSVPs. Even more students than that showed up.

Within two days, it had 400 members.

No wonder Tuesday’s gathering is in the CCOB lobby rather than a classroom. It offers a second-floor vantage point that undoubtedly will need to be utilized, given the first turnout.

CCOB Assistant Dean and club advisor Dr. Allison Mason had wanted to start a club for women ever since a “Women Leaders in Sports” panel spoke to students in March 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and plans of that nature had to be put on hold until this year. Houston and Rakestraw started the application process for club status last March.

“This just felt like the right time,” Mason said, “but also because Belle and Havilah are so awesome. They’re amazing. They have so much energy and they’re excited about it and they’re really good at marketing and getting the word out.

Dr. Allison Mason is thrilled with the response to the club — and with the fact that Houston and Rakestraw are running it. (Courtesy of Marli Grace Photography)

“I’m excited because we’re going to provide a lot of opportunity for networking and mentorship. I just wanted to help females understand how to lift up and support other women in their industry.”

Said CCOB Dean Dr. Randy Gibb, “These young women are so impressive! They have the passion and initiative to not only start but to follow through and execute on their ideas. The Phoenix area has such amazing and successful women leaders, many on our CCOB advisory board, that it is only fitting that our growing business school has something like this emerge from our students.  And the leadership of Dr. Mason is significant in her role as advisor … everything is aligned for a great, collaborative student experience.”

The club already is actively involved in GCU events – more than 40 volunteered for the recent NASCAR Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Monthly meetings will feature panel discussions, and the plan is to bring together another “Women Leaders” panel during the spring semester.

They shouldn’t have any trouble attracting some big names.

“We’ve gotten lots of support from industry professionals across the Valley and across the U.S. – women with incredible titles in their companies who see themselves when they were in college about to enter the workforce, wishing they had a club like ours,” Houston said.

Rakestraw, only a sophomore, already is a mentor for some women.

“Now they seek to serve and be that in our girls’ lives. Everyone wants to give and to pour back into what they see as their younger selves.”

But the club won’t stop there with the mentorship. In addition to directors for special events (Maya Strautman) and marketing (Abby Kammeyer) and a secretary/treasurer (Abbie Gage), the board already has a mentorship director (Harley Hawk) who will manage a student-advising-student program planned for early next year.

Rakestraw already finds herself mentoring other women even though she’s only a sophomore.

“We operate around this vision, this mission to instill confidence in the women of the Colangelo College of Business and also just enhance our learning experience while building a community of women,” said Rakestraw, who also is vice president for public relations and marketing on the Honors College student advisory board.

“How influential and how necessary it is to have mentors and mentees in your life. You can always learn something new. We hope that’s what this program will be for other girls.”

Oh, and one other thing. It’s not just for women. Houston said guys have come up to her and said, “Can I show up?”, expecting her to say no. But the answer is most decidedly yes.

The idea is to create a collaborative environment for women before they start working their way into the business world. (Courtesy of Marli Grace Photography)

And it’s not just for business majors, either.

“I love that word ‘advocate,’” said Houston, who has become an applied entrepreneurship major after previously focusing on communications. “One thing we’ve been trying to clarify as far as our brand positioning is that we’re not an exclusive club when it comes to majors.”

Her roommate, for example, is a psychology major but wants to open a practice someday.

“That’s a business!” Houston said excitedly. “She’s not a business major, but I want her to feel like she’s welcomed and she’s involved and she can glean from what we have to offer, our services, our program.

“Similarly, it’s not just exclusive to females only. That’s who we are catering it to, but at the end of the day, women and men equally work together in the work force. If half of our room is guys, we would love that. It’s that cross-collaboration and learning – what does that look like?”

The club hopes to have members from colleges across campus — not just business majors. And guys are welcome, too. (Courtesy of Marli Grace Photography)

The club appears to have staying power, too. Houston also is president this year of TEDxGrandCanyonUniversity, which has become a force in part because of its strong succession plan. She already is talking about who will succeed her, and four of the leaders are only sophomores.

The hardest part of putting this all together, it seems, is just that it took so long.

“We did wait eight months, and that time of waiting was hard – it tested our patience,” Rakestraw said. “But the Lord’s timing and hand has been so in this club. We’re trusting Him with the rest of it and are doing what we can to be active in any periods of waiting.”

It was worth the wait. The crowd Tuesday night should bear that out.

“It’s just a great opportunity for students to meet each other and come alongside everyone,” Mason said. “Everyone we meet, they’re super interested and want to get involved.”

Imagine all those potential new friendships, just like what Houston and Rakestraw have. It may have been a long time coming, but Women in Business is going places … fast.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: All business: Colangelo Scholars lead the way

GCU Today: TEDx verifies students’ pandemic perseverance

GCU Today: Panel of women business leaders sets the pace


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