How a campout led to buy-in for student leaders
Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
You gotta get up pretty early to outwork the newly elected student government leaders, Camden Marasco and Tyson Cantrell.
During last week’s election campaign, they charged out the door in the middle of the night to get prime locations for their vote-for-us tables on Lopes Way and Colter Circle.
“Those are the Boardwalks of Monopoly,” said Marasco. “You’ve got to have those.”
But when they arrived at 3 a.m., there stood the opponents’ team to win the prime spots.
Defeat? Not so fast. Their next move showed a work ethic and marketing savvy that helped earn Marasco the vote for president and Cantrell vice president of the Associated Students of Grand Canyon University.
That night they camped out at the two locations. Hundreds of students who filed past in the dark from intramural games naturally wanted to know why they were sleeping outside draped in blankets.
It got students talking – and thinking about the dynamic duo’s dedication.
It was a brilliant move from marketing major Marasco’s big vision and the behind-the-scenes logistics of Cantrell, a double major in psychology and behavioral health.
“He would cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s. I would keep talking to students, and he would put out the fires,” Marasco said.
Marasco loves marketing. He came from a Tennessee family of doctor parents – dad in medicine, mom in pharmaceuticals – and a sister who is seeking a doctorate in physical therapy. But chemistry and physics bored Marasco, so when he found GCU it fired up his entrepreneurial passion.
He quickly launched a business as a freshman, a mental health application for social media that won second place in the GCU startup contest, Canyon Challenge, and operated for a year. He later became an instrumental fundraiser for STELLAR, a GCU team that has designed a project to be included on the International Space Station.
“I come from a family where hard work is just expected. And I just love working with people,” he said. “I like assembling a team, giving them potential and seeing how far it can go. And I enjoy the marketing and branding. Ninety-five percent of the campaign was marketing strategy.”
As this year’s sustainability director for ASGCU, he found a perfect match in the organization. Cantrell has worked his way up at ASGCU from election director to this year’s chief of staff for current ASGCU president Darion Padilla.
“From that standpoint, the chief of staff sees things other students don’t – how the administrations’ minds work, what things they are receptive to,” Cantrell said. “So from day one we understand what everyone is working on and how to approach it.
“When we talked about goals … they are small and measurable. They won’t be a huge cost but will be a great benefit to students.”
Cantrell comes from a small Idaho town where his dad is a police officer, and he did ride-alongs as a youngster to get a peek inside human nature.
“That led me to understand how people make decisions, how they grew up and how those things affect them,” he said. “I love understanding people and why they do what they do.”
That combination of talents and their experience got them elected after nearly 5,000 votes were counted.
“We had years of ASGCU experience. I didn’t know that would carry the weight that it did, but whenever volunteers would tell students about it, they were really receptive,” Marasco said.
In the campaign against George Munguia and Maddie Landes, they did a lot of closeup, grip-and-grin with students and not much yelling through bullhorns, running on easing life for students on a growing campus.
Marasco is especially passionate about cutting down waiting times at food outlets on campus, perhaps with a third-party mobile delivery service, and cutting the time students wait in line to get into events.
Cantrell is hoping to make improvements to student safety.
To accomplish those tasks in the 2022-23 academic year, they know, requires working as the liaison between student needs and University administration.
“During negotiations with anybody, you make sure both sides are winning,” Marasco said.
For example, when rules were put in place this year to prohibit wheeled transportation on Lopes Way, a solution that will help satisfy both parties may be improving the surfaces on other routes to make the board ride less jarring.
“One thing about college students, they love it easy and love it when it doesn’t become a hinderance to them,” Cantrell said. “From an administration side, it’s ‘This is what we are doing for safety and this is what we are doing for alternatives.’”
After an April inauguration and May training, the two will get to work in August on those plans, leading the student senate and working with several departments, such as Student Engagement, Canyon Activities Board, Welcome Programs, Spiritual Life and clubs.
It will be almost a full-time job on top of studies, but Marasco will be working hard on solutions with his entrepreneurial mind. Cantrell’s self-described “Debbie downer” role will ensure that ideas stay within a practical framework.
“It’s the little things that matter, the small interactions we have with people. The simple hellos. The smiles. Taking time to do those things is very important to me,” Cantrell said. “It’s how you leave people and make them feel in your interaction that is more important than anything else.”
Marasco still gives campus tours, a longtime passion of his that keeps him engaged with people, who no doubt notice the lanky junior’s ready smile and engaging confidence.
“In any career, it’s helpful to know how to work with people,” he said. “People will get tired, people will get frustrated and work doesn’t get completed. But it’s how you approach those people and how you resolve conflict to make sure tasks get completed.”
If it takes a campout to get it done, so be it.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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