48 Hours at Grand Canyon University

Story by Mark Gonzales, Mike Kilen, Lana Sweeten-Shults and Izabela Fogarasi
Photos by Ralph Freso

Additional photo contributions by Alistair Gurley, Caitlyn Graves and Tanielle Gilbert

Students socialize around one of the fire pits near Colter Field.

Two days, a flurry of activities, all the good that goes on ...

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published in the February issue of GCU Magazine.

The sun might set. But that doesn’t mean anything at Grand Canyon University, where something is going on somewhere at some time, all the time.

So we ran around for 48 hours, looking for special moments that are uniquely GCU.

What we found: Students up at 5 a.m. to serve the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul.

The mini morning chaos at GCBC.

The academic spark in one of the engineering labs as students presented their capstone project.

The absolute hysterical joy of Lopes fans who rushed the basketball court after a big win.

Students in quiet moments reflecting on their day in Bible study groups on Prescott Field.

But most of all, what we found: the servant’s hearts of the University’s students and all their goodness – their kindness – in light of their faith.

Monday, Dec. 4

6 a.m.

It’s Quiet Week, when students prepare for finals. But Local Outreach student leader Bella Etheridge has no problem rounding up 11 volunteers to serve meals to the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul.

Junior Saylor Rother volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul.

Students place water pitchers and salt and pepper packets at each table, where about 600 will be served. As food arrives, they transfer waffles, sausage, potatoes and toast from heating trays to pans, then package them in Styrofoam containers for pickup.

“I’m very thankful there are outlets at GCU that give us this opportunity to serve,” said freshman finance major Judah Floyd. “It’s really great to see everyone and how committed they are to serving.”

Freshman Judah Floyd, Sophia Rubano and a group of GCU Local Outreach students serve breakfast at St. Vincent De Paul.

The line starts to dwindle 35 minutes after the serving line opens at 7 a.m.

But the smiles persist.

“Everybody’s always so joyful and happy to serve,” said Etheridge. “And it’s honestly what fuels me to keep going, just knowing that everybody shows up, and they’re ready to go every week without fail.”

8:30 a.m.

Students line up early at the Student Union GCBC, a student-run, alumni-created coffee shop. It is one of four on campus.

Students line up to order their favorite morning beverages at student-run, alumni-created GCBC.

Junior Natalie Headrick comes here for the ambiance and community but also for the large Stampede energy drink, which students created. However, “my orders are not based on taste but how I can gather the most amount of caffeine before I go to class,” the pre-med major said.

She’s joking … kind of.

“I triple the order without tripling the price. No ice. I ask for a medium cup of ice and pour it (the beverage) over ice three times, then ask for a ‘surprise,’ which means the barista gets to choose the flavor and usually means you get two pumps.”

Students’ ingenuity is not only on display in the orders but in GCBC’s success, “a combination of being involved and part of the GCU community and letting the students lead and create a space for their peers,” said GCBC General Manager Lauren Lentini.

10:15 a.m.

Allison Mancinelli Kolanko, in her best game-show hype voice, asks if anyone remembers the location of the GCU Honors College: “For $500, what building IS that?”

“Building 57!” someone offers up.

Mancinelli Kolanko, silver-and-black microphone in hand, knows she has a winner.

Allison Mancinelli Kolanko leads a LOPES Academy class for neurodiverse adults.

The program manager for the LOPES Academy, a two-year, nondegree program for neurodiverse adults (few initiatives like this exist at the college level), does whatever she can – including play game-show host – to engage the 11 participants in class that morning at the welcoming Cardon Center.

Participants review the internship sites they recently visited, like the Honors College.

They talk about the meaning of a hybrid job.

After class, a LOPES Academy participant asks a LOPES Buddy – GCU students who serve as participants’ companions – “Would you take a hug?”

Hug approved.

Participant Hannah Kossler shares her thoughts: “Miss Allison is cool,” she said. The fashionable Charlie Paparone, another participant, is just excited about the arrival of their Buddies for Chapel and lunch.

“My whole life I’ve worked with people with special needs,” said Lopes Buddy Emma Spafford, a freshman education major who’s excited to be part of the program. “They bring a joy that’s very unique to them.”

11 a.m.

Foot traffic toward Global Credit Union Arena ramps up for the semester’s final Chapel, when a guest pastor sermon is traded in for mood-lifting Christmas music performed by the all-student Worship team.

The band fans out on stage, beams of white light stretching into the audience as they belt out: “Oh come let us adore Him!”

Chapel unfurls on Mondays, when there are fewer classes. Attendance is not required, so the fact that the 7,000-seat Arena is nearly filled each week speaks to the GCU community’s commitment to its Christian faith and to starting its week with the right mindset.

Students kick off their week at Chapel.

“It’s so meaningful, especially building a community like this,” said freshman behavioral health science major Cadence Lucas.

A few Christmas songs later, University Pastor Dr. Tim Griffin takes the mic. He speaks about Quiet Week, exams, and acknowledges the hard work of Arena workers and the Worship team as the fall semester winds down.

Griffin asks students to sign up for 20 minutes of prayer during the three days leading up to finals.

“Thank you for contributing to the community and culture at GCU,” he said, before the band returns to conclude Chapel.

1 p.m.

Honors students fill the seats of the Technology Building lecture hall, coffee cups in hands and backpacks hanging off their shoulders, for a Leadership in Action workshop.

Honors students sharpen their leadership skills at a Leadership in Action workshop.

Hosted by the Honors College, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, a motivational speaker makes his way to the front. Students jot down information from the smart board on how to take proactive steps to make a difference in the community.

“This is very insightful,” said junior Keerthana Krishnakumar Juttu. “Seeing their views on leadership and how they approach different facets of it has enlightened me and opened my mind to more ideas.”

More chatter fills the air as the students finish off the hourlong session by splitting into groups and working on innovative projects that will positively impact the school and the city.

2 p.m.

The GCU softball team is grinding it out, but they’re not working out for the season.

They are lifting boxes in the GCU CityServe warehouse. It’s full of items like hairbrushes, toothpaste, raised toilet seats, furniture and exercise equipment – anything a family might need, including the watersports items senior Makaiya Gomez is helping sort and stack.

The softball team volunteers at GCU CityServe.

The team comes here every Monday to volunteer.

“It’s a great way to give back to our community,” Gomez said. “We are so fortunate to come to a school that is so beautiful, and we are helping every way we can.”

In just more than two years, the warehouse, which touts more than 88,000 feet of storage space, has gathered from donors and disseminated more than $12 million in goods to families in need.

Said CityServe HUB manager Nathan Cooper, “no other university has a CityServe model, so others don’t have near the number of volunteers we have on a daily basis.”

Everyone, from University leaders to entry-level employees, faculty with doctorates to freshmen students, arrives to help.

Junior Kaitlyn Brannstrom said, “Knowing that you are helping people, being able to help your community, makes you feel accomplished.”

3:30 p.m.

Confetti flies in the air, and student leaders chant loudly at the Sunset Auditorium doors as they welcome students to the Spiritual Formation Workshops. Wooden chairs fill up quickly, and the attached pull-out desks are folded out as students take out their Bibles and notebooks.

Student leaders high-five students at the Spiritual Formation Workshops. (Photo by Alistair Gurley)

Kelsie Doan, Spiritual Formation manager, makes her way to the front of the stage with a white board and dry-erase markers to her right and a PowerPoint presentation on “Practical Tools to Live Out One’s Faith” displayed on the big screen behind her. “This is to help equip students with practical resources and ways to see transformation in their faith,” said Doan. “They have great opportunities to worship, serve, lead Bible studies and build community, but how well do they know about the smaller things that make up one’s relationship with God?”

Pens click, pages turn and microphone sounds fill the room as the workshop begins.

3:35 p.m.

At GCU’s rapidly evolving commercial hub at 27th Avenue, a vast study space starts to fill with elementary and secondary students from neighborhood schools.

The groundbreaking Learning Lounge, for more than a decade, has helped thousands study for class every weeknight and on Saturdays with free tutoring from GCU students. It’s a place that boldly declares that education is the way up.

GCU student volunteers assist elementary school students with their studies at the Learning Lounge.

“Because with a little bit of support, they will thrive,” said Jenn Mitchell, director of K12 Outreach. “You just come in and give them love and let them have fun.”

On this day, kindergartners through fourth graders are in one room, like Marcella Rivas of Saints Simon & Jude Cathedral School. GCU student Belicia Kelly, who helps her, comes because she has a little brother and loves to see youngsters progress.

“This one is grammar,” says Rivas, lifting her paper with pride. “The words are the grammar. You learn big words and little words. We put them together to make big words. Like high to higher to highest.”

A GCU student volunteering with the Canyon Pointe Thrive ministry helps refugee youth make bracelets. (Photo by Tanielle Gilbert)

In another room, older students, like 10th grader Naftale Timotheo of Bourgade Catholic High School, receives help from GCU student Grace Minder in writing a paper on the nature of humanity. The native of Africa is finding the nature here is quite good: “If I figure out what I want to do in the future, I can come to college and prepare for it,” he said, adding that GCU would be his choice.

4:45 p.m.

A teen in Crocs sprints full force, his face intense before skidding across Prescott Field to save a soccer ball from barreling out of bounds.

Soccer is a popular activity for Canyon Pointe Thrive, one of the refugee ministries of Global Outreach, which picks up about 20 refugee youth every other week, ages 8 to 15, and brings them to campus for fellowship, mentorship and the word of God. Canyon Pointe, a west Phoenix apartment complex, houses refugees from many countries who have few resources.

Youth play soccer on Prescott Field as part of the Canyon Pointe Thrive refugee ministry. (Photo by Tanielle Gilbert)

Abraham Burleigh, head student leader, tears across the field alongside the refugee youth. He volunteers, he said, because of the impact he knows he can have. He was adopted and sees himself in these children. “It drives my heart,” he said.

While some teens go full-tilt in the soccer game, others make friendship bracelets before the end-of-the-semester Christmas party, fueled by gifts from GCU CityServe.

Global Outreach coordinator Caitlin Titus, who worked at another Christian college before GCU, said she searched for a university that did the kind of outreach work she wanted to do. Global Outreach coordinates more than 10 ministries, from serving refugee populations to helping asylum seekers.

“No university does this,” she said.

6 p.m.

One of the largest clubs on GCU’s entrepreneurially minded campus gathers in a spacious second-floor Colangelo College of Business classroom with two large screens and two television monitors.

Women in Business members arrive in small groups, greeted warmly by club officials who offer more than just a handshake or hug.

Students gather for a Women in Business Club meeting. (Photo by Tanielle Gilbert)

In just its third year, membership has grown to more than 700 members.

“I think it’s really shifted the culture of the University, just to make business more about community rather than competition and try not to get on top of other women, but rather, try and assist each other,” said junior business management major Corinne Carlson, secretary/treasurer. “It’s really fostered a community of openness and encouragement.”

She believes others will follow in her footsteps and earn internships because of the connections and professional advice gleaned from the club.

Graphic design/advertising major Katie Potter said the practical skills the club teaches, like building a resume or LinkedIn page, supplements what she learns in class. But even more than that, Potter added, “It’s a sweet thing to have women encouraging women.”

6:15 p.m.

Once a week, they sit criss-cross-applesauce in a corner on Prescott Field for an hour.

A prayer group meets on Prescott Field.

They pick a spot that’s welcoming. Most importantly, they bring their Bibles; one is lavender with flowers.

They talk about what’s going on in their personal lives, what’s bogging them down. Then they look to the Bible for guidance. The group of six GCU friends, all women, are like many other life groups formed in the University’s residence halls. Any night of the week, you’re likely to see prayer groups, like this one, for devotionals or Bible study.

Alyssa Miner, a junior exercise science major, is one of the students in this prayer group. “It’s really cool on this campus,” she said, “because everyone strives to have a relationship with God.”

8:15 p.m.

Cheetos, 160 tents, hammocks layered like bunk beds up tree trunks, video games and pizza lend to the electricity of Camp Elliott, a makeshift campground on the Quad in front of Global Credit Union Arena.

But mostly, it’s powered by more than 600 hyper-enthusiastic student fans of the men’s basketball team. They camp before big games, like the looming battle with San Diego State.

Student fans camp before big games to get the best seats.

Some started pitching tents a couple days before to get good seats in the Arena. They told Wilson Neitzel, vice president of the Havocs leadership that runs this camping cadre, “I just can’t wait to get in there.”

Members of the men’s basketball team are delivering Canyon Pizza Co. pepperoni and cheese, including star player Gabe McGlothan.

One group of young men who land a box ask McGlothan to say grace.

“Dear Lord, I want to thank You for us to be out here at this beautiful university,” McGlothan prays with the group, arm-in-arm in a circle. “... We just pray that You have favor over everything tonight and in the game tomorrow against San Diego State. I just want to pray that we give glory to You in everything we do.”

They yell amens.

It’s community, players showing love for their fellow students and fans, and everyone showing their faith, and that’s special.

“They are absolutely the best,” McGlothan said. “It’s surreal, being at a university that has this much support. Just the love they have for the program, it’s honestly a blessing. You dream of it as a kid but ... how can it get any better than this?”

9 p.m.

Shaeffer Kirkes gets ready for finals.

Freshman mechanical engineering major Shaeffer Kirkes studies late into the night.

Day 2: Tuesday, Dec. 5

6:50 a.m.

While some students are just dreaming about rolling out of bed for class, four learners are firing up machines to their manufacturing future, right here on campus.

Nathaniel Gardner checks the specs on a piece of aluminum inside one of the CNC milling machines at the LUX Manufacturing space at the 27th Avenue and Camelback Road complex.

Joel Santiago never thought he would get up this early. But he’s now holding a small brass piece for medical equipment made by Lux Precision Manufacturing. It’s precision work, measuring and cutting a part less than a half-inch thick.

“When I came in the first day of work, it was super surprising,” said Santiago of the 12 machines in GCU’s 27th Avenue complex already humming with four interns in the CNC Machinists Pathway.

The GCU Center for Workforce Development launched the program this year with 18 participants to meet the industry need for machinists, similar to its other pathway for electricians. Lux CEO Weston Smith, a GCU graduate, gives students paid experience on the machines over 15 weeks that also includes math and English courses.

Some, like Santiago, plan to study engineering at GCU, but most will fill well-paying jobs in industry.

“I had to Google machinist before I came here. But I’ve learned it’s not just pressing a button. They showed us how to write code, adjust on the fly, and know how to read the programs,” said Nathan Gardner. “For me, it was the opportunity to have a career, and there is a big difference between a job and a career. The opportunity here was what I was looking for – to set up my future.”

9 a.m.

Alyssa Collins approaches the nurses’ station and is debriefed on her patient, a woman from a long-term care facility.

“I see you have some wounds,” Collins says, clipboard in hand, as she seeks assistance from fellow nursing student Caleb Palmen.

A few feet away, faculty and staff watch them intently on video screens, wearing headsets to hear the action.

GCU nursing students train at the West Valley Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing facility.

“They missed a couple of things,” said one instructor.

Ten minutes later, the simulation is over.

Collins and Palmen enter the debriefing room, where they and other students watching the scenario receive feedback from Lauren Hopkins, immersive simulation facilitator.

Different simulations run all morning at the new West Valley Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing site at GCU’s 27th Avenue and Camelback Road complex.

It is among six sites for the ABSN, a hybrid program that delivers the classroom online, while hands-on skills lab, immersive simulation experiences and clinical hours are completed in person. The program allows students who have previous college credits and are likely changing careers to complete their nursing degree in as little as 16 months.

Plans are to open 40 GCU ABSN facilities over the next five years as part of the University’s efforts to alleviate a dire national nursing shortage.

“They get tunnel vision,” Hopkins said of how intimidating it can be to go into that simulation, take charge and be confident – to be a nurse. But in the end, “The GCU nurses who come out of here are the best kind of nurses.”

12 p.m.

Students hauling backpacks scurry to the eateries on Lopes Way, forming lines that extend outside the dining room doors. The brick walkway is home to just a few of the campus’ 35 dining options.

Dr. Tim Griffin, vice president of Student Affairs, dean of students and University pastor, said Lopes Way was designed to encourage students to gather and build GCU’s unique culture.

Students stroll along the eatery-filled Lopes Way.

Sophomore Sophia Irvine and Rachel Redmen are among the hundreds of students gathering around metal tables, topped by Chick-Fil-A bags and GCBC cups.

Students nearby sit picnic-style on blankets unfurled on the grass, eating Subway and Pita Jungle. Some are enjoying their alone time, reading books or dozing off as they hang in hammocks in front of North Rim Apartments.

All are refueled.

1:30 p.m.

Kailani Williams, Liberty Urias, Sumeja Habibovic and Anabelle Lapuste hear winter break beckoning. But first, the biomedical engineering seniors are in the hot seat.

They’re presenting their capstone project in Engineering Building classroom 144. The lab is empty except for them and a few faculty, such as engineering professor Vance Collins, their faculty mentor, and Director of Electrical Engineering Capstones Samantha Russell.

Collins and Russell listen intently, looking for ingenuity, but also weaknesses during the capstone process, which is done a little differently at GCU. It spans two semesters instead of just one, with students designing and building their devices in the engineering shops and labs, then actually going through the testing to get a device to market.

Sumeja Habibovic, Liberty Urias, Anabelle Lapuste and Kailani Williams (from left) present their cystic fibrosis vest to professors.

The process reflects the entrepreneurial mindset that permeates all the University’s colleges, but especially in the College of Engineering and Technology. Its opening 10 years ago, when it was part of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, marked a shift for GCU as it began to produce STEM-ready graduates for Arizona’s burgeoning tech industry.

The all-female team was in its second design review for a cystic fibrosis vest, which will vibrate and loosen the thick mucus in the lungs that makes it hard for those with the condition to breathe.

One of the students’ friends battles the disease, so the project means a lot to them; winter break will have to wait.

2 p.m.

Less than 24 hours after final rehearsals in front of IDEA Club officials, Isaac Ballew and Steele Shumway visit the Innovation Center to refine the pitch for their Outback Dummy Co., a calf-roping product, as they prepare for the Canyon Challenge entrepreneurial competition.

The opportunity to earn a share of $5,000 is enticing, but the support of Canyon Ventures is just as important. GCU’s business incubator has supported several successful startups, such as Noggin Boss, which gained national exposure when Gabe Cooper and Sean Starner pitched their idea for oversized hats on “Shark Tank.”

“The whole kind of ecosystem is one of a kind, for sure,” said Ballew, a senior business entrepreneurship major.

For him, an extra tune-up couldn’t hurt.

After its “Shark Tank” appearance, Noggin Boss earned a marketing license with the National Football League.

5 p.m.

Lopes Club members gather at the Havoc House before the big game.

The men’s basketball game is here!

Lopes Club members gather for social hour at the Havoc House on the first floor of the Arena, spilling onto the patio and into the Jerry Colangelo Museum. Laughter and chatter chime in the air over dinner. On tonight’s menu: tacos.

Meanwhile, chanting and cheering sneaks in from the Quad, where students are dressed in all white for the game’s white-out theme. They’re anxious to get into the game. Said junior Lindsey Mara: “Front row is so much better than anything …”

Havocs get hyped for the Purple Pre-Game Party.

5:45 p.m.

Havocs make a dash for GCU Arena once the doors open.

The students, behind a barricade, go crazy as a drone flies overhead, mascot Thunder runs the fence line, giving high-fives, and GCU President Brian Mueller emerges to chants, “Bri-an Muell-er ... Bri-an Muell-er!” Minutes later, small sections of students are let loose on a dead sprint for the door, picking up fallen comrades as the mass keeps rolling forward.

6:48 p.m.

After the national anthem, students chant, “USA, USA, USA, USA!”

6:50 p.m.

Student Brooke Grabosch delivers the pregame prayer.

No one does it like GCU, the “Biggest Party in College Basketball,” known nationwide for its spirited Havocs student section.

The Purple Pregame Party starts with the familiar “We Like to Party,” a campy disco beat leading the students, who fill one entire side of GCU Arena to perform a double-time, arms-overhead jerky wave. That leads to a light show, a trumpet solo, banners unfurling and more music (get the theme?), “Party Til We Die.” A student leads a prayer that “everything tonight is done to glorify You, Lord, in Your name we pray, amen.”

That’s followed by more pointing and jumping, while wide-eyed opponent San Diego State takes the floor. The students will never sit down again; they’ll never stop dancing.

9:18 p.m.

Students storm the floor after the game-ending buzzer sounds. GCU has upset last year’s national runner-up team, 79-73. The guy who played that trumpet solo during the pregame, wearing his purple-and-white Thundering Heard Pep Band overalls, is running around yelling. Slate Mitchell: “Students are never going to forget this night right here!”

9:20 p.m.

Players and students celebrate on court after the big win.

The team high-fives, hugs their fans, and each other, then circle up at center court for a team prayer to close the evening. “Praying as a team brings us together and creates a brotherhood. The whole point of playing basketball or doing any of this is to glorify God and make it about Him,” said sophomore guard Caleb Shaw.

9:45 p.m.

Havocs vice president Wilson Neitzel can’t stop smiling: “What a time to be a Lope!”


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