Showcase shines light on Cardon students’ work
Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Jaden Lowery has a plan. He has it figured out, diagrammed out and mapped out.
“I’m going to be a construction worker,” he said with a bigger-than-the-room smile, “so I can build my own restaurant.”
Lowery LOVES to cook.
Burgers. Loves them.
His restaurant will be called JJ’s Burgers.
And the genial Chase Baird?
He might step in after you’ve downed one of Lowery’s burgers at the restaurant he builds. Baird’s targeted job: fitness instructor.
“I want to help people get strong, get shredded and get healthy,” Baird said.
Once you get shredded and in shape, thanks to Baird’s help, then it’s off to make your film debut and greet upbeat Matthew Adams, Baird’s bestie (their moms call them “brothers of the heart”). Adams researched what it takes to be a production assistant.
Lowery, Baird and Adams are just three of the 10 participants from Grand Canyon University’s L.O.P.E.S. Academy at the Cardon Center. They presented their job research projects at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ inaugural Senior Showcase.
Wednesday’s academic show-and-tell incorporated not only the academy, which is housed in the college, but featured research projects by seniors in CHSS’s various disciplines, from psychology to behavioral health, professional writing, justice studies and social work, to name a few.
L.O.P.E.S. Academy students spent weeks preparing for the Senior Showcase, filling out a self-assessment and career exploration tool that revealed their personality strengths – “artistic,” “social,” “enterprising” and more – then suggested jobs they might like.
They researched those jobs … then came the hard part.
“We practiced our presentations,” said L.O.P.E.S. Academy Program Manager Allison Kolanko, who helped ready them to answer any off-the-cuff questions.
After all that hard work, “to be able to see everything come to fruition today was just amazing,” she said.
For Assistant Dean Dr. Heidi Boldway, it was important to see the students delve into the Senior Showcase alongside the rest of the college.
“It’s important to activate their critical thinking skills, and to actually present (their research) supports their social skills,” said Boldway.
The job presentations — and a celebratory Chick-fil-A lunch afterward — were the culmination of a groundbreaking year for the University’s first-year L.O.P.E.S. Academy, which gives adults with mild intellectual and developmental disabilities the college experience on a Christian campus.
Participants in the two-year program not only take an hourlong class two days a week but receive personal development, social time, lunch with their L.O.P.E.S. Academy Buddies (GCU students they are paired with), and experience what other GCU students do, from Chapel to basketball games.
“We feel very fortunate to be a part of this program,” said Sharon Baird, Chase Baird’s mom, who spent a lot of time researching post-secondary education programs for her son. “This came up and, right away, I called Allison and asked her, ‘How do we become a part of it?’”
The program, which already had launched a couple of months before, wasn’t accepting more students until the fall. But then Kolanko called and said the academy was looking for four more participants to round out its first cohort.
“We’re really loving it,” Sharon said, sharing how much fun the family had at GCU baseball’s Autism Awareness Night in March.
That and experiences such as the CHSS Senior Showcase have been invaluable.
Matthew Adams’ mom, Michelle Adams, didn’t know what to expect from the showcase. But after hearing everyone’s presentations, she said, “Oh my gosh, this is really awesome.”
She added, “They’ve done research projects in the past, but it hasn’t quite been led like this. The testing beforehand, the profile beforehand, that, to me, made it more meaningful, I think, because before, it was ‘pick a job and research it.’ And then they would go off the wall and be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a rock star.’”
Kelly Eaton, L.O.P.E.S. Academy participant Lindsey Eaton’s mom, said, “I LOVED going around to each student and hearing about their projects. All 10 are different, and each one of them is very excited to tell me what they’ve learned.
“It’s also fun for me to have this tool to speak to each of them. I’ve been shocked at some of the gifts they have.”
Gifts such as the ones shared by the L.O.P.E.S. Academy’s Alexa Herriman, who researched what a forensic technician does, though she also dreams about working as a Disney artist and pointed out the doodles on her poster.
There also were gifts such as the ones shared by Michaela Lilly, Emma Cardon and Vicky Richardson, who all researched teaching. Lilly is looking into being a teaching assistant, Cardon wants to be music teacher and Richardson is interested in teaching in a day care.
With their Buddies alongside them — such as business management senior Jordan Trammell, who held Lowery’s poster throughout his presentation — the academy’s participants gave their “elevator pitch” to faculty, parents and other visitors in what was perhaps the busiest area of the CHSS Senior Showcase.
The presentations cap off the initiative’s inaugural year and set up students for their second year in the fall, when they’ll return to GCU for more classes, college experiences and internships.
“It (the showcase) is also helping them prepare for job interviews and for internships, because they’ll be asked questions just like they’re being asked questions here,” Boldway said.
They’ll be joined in the fall by the second cohort of academy students, bringing the number of participants to 20.
Boldway said she has seen so much growth in the participants over the past year, such as in Lowery, who was shy in the beginning but now speaks up, no problem.
“We’re looking forward to next year,” said Michelle Adams, who’s hoping her son, Matthew, and his best buddy, Chase, will get even more college experiences.
“You worry as they go out how people are going to treat them,” she said, tearing up as L.O.P.E.S. Academy students shined so confidently in the hallway behind her. “But here, we don’t worry about that.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at la[email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
GCU Magazine/GCU Today: Cardon Center accents possibilities, not disabilities