Family programs give parents clear view of GCU

March 03, 2022 / by / 0 Comment

The Parent Council for 2020-22 includes front row, from left: Tracy Bartholomew, Parent and Family Programs Coordinator Robyn Hord and Becky Swelland; back row, from left: Mary McNeil, Stacie Sanger, Le Var Seymore, Michelle Everitt, Nancy and Jason Damkoehler.

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the February 2022 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version of the magazine, click here.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU Magazine

Ed Newton lives in San Antonio. His daughter London is a freshman at Grand Canyon University, nearly 1,000 miles away.

But after the initial nerves, Newton quickly grew comfortable with where she was living.

“It was a huge step of faith,” he said. “For us to know that London is in a Christian environment, she’s going to Chapel every week, she’s in a community group in her dorm and her RA (resident assistant) specifically and intentionally is investing in her to help her feel welcomed – that was the game changer for us.”

As a first-time college dad, Newton wanted to feel in the loop without intruding on his daughter’s campus experience. It’s a juggling act GCU has made easier with its Parent and Family Programs. The idea is simple: create a more harmonious collaboration between the University and GCU families.

“Our role is to help parents and families know how to partner well with the University,” Parent and Family Programs Coordinator Robyn Hord said. “I always tell parents, ‘You love your students more than anyone else, and so of course the University wants to partner with you because you’re our most important partner to care for your students.’

“I always encourage them to coach, support and role play from home so that their students can really gain that confidence that they need, so that when they graduate, they’re ready to go.”

Since the initiative began in 2014, the University has kept families informed in multiple ways. Some of the most popular are a monthly newsletter, social media pages and the option to participate in one of 100 Lope Family Groups around the nation.

And where does that partnership and all that communication begin?

Orientation, of course.

Robyn Hord speaks to families at orientation during Welcome Week.

“With orientation, you’re really introducing them to ‘What does it mean to be a parent of a GCU student?’” Hord said. “They learn that there are basically four values that really push what we do: pray, care, serve and give.”

In the months after orientation, Hord encourages families to also get involved in those core values by serving in their hometown, praying for their students or giving to a good cause. It takes GCU’s “paint the Valley purple” spirit to the next level.

“For me, it’s paint the nation purple,” she said. “Go big because why not? Our parents love this university, and so we can really utilize that love to just continue what we know is phenomenal.”

Parents who want to be more involved with the University can join the 15-member Parent Council. It’s scheduled to meet during Family Weekend, part of Homecoming on March 4-6.

Once selected from the application process, Parent Council members commit to participate in monthly virtual meetings and travel to GCU twice a year for two years to participate in service events and experience the campus.

Those parents get a front row seat into the ins and outs of the University.

Mike Fournier, a member of the Parent Council until his son Andrew graduated in 2021, found that learning more about the University was eye opening.

“It was really just a window into what happens at GCU,” he said. “It was not just with the kids but also what the adults are doing for the kids and how thoughtfully and prayerfully they go through making decisions there and what the leadership is like.”

His wife, Kathy, was not a Parent Council member but occasionally tagged along on trips to Phoenix to help with orientation and Family Weekend.

Every time she came to campus, she felt something special.

“It’s just such a neat home-away-from-home feeling of family,” she said. “We love it. We have loved watching our kids there.”

Now the couple’s youngest, Emma, has followed in her brother’s footsteps. The Fourniers have continued to keep up to date with GCU via the newsletters and social media groups since Emma started her freshman year last semester.

“It really helps because you have that connection,” Mike said. “I know a number of families really struggle with that when their kids go to college. They really are sort of shut off to what’s happening. So this parent connection, I think, is really helpful.”

Hord has big plans to broaden the program, such as Parent Council service events at GCU’s new CityServe hub and growing the services and opportunities for Spanish-speaking families. Her team partnered with Welcome Programs at the start of the academic year to stage GCU’s first Spanish orientation.

“It’s just really making that bigger and normalizing that because this is who we are,” Hord said.

What makes it all worthwhile for Hord? Her answer is simple.

“It’s the people. It really always comes down to the people for me.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Initiative welcomes parents into the ‘Lope familia’

GCU Today: Homecoming incorporates Chapel, GCU families

GCU Today: Slideshow: Homecoming 2020

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