Campus jobs are working to help students kick off their careers

GCU alumnus Riley Getty (left) talks with a potential client as Branch49 Sales Director Sean Snyder stands by at their office space in Canyon Ventures.

Photos by Ralph Freso

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the April issue of GCU Magazine.

Brooke Swanson recalled traveling from Fargo, North Dakota, with her mother to visit New York when she was 10 years old.

A decade later, she returned to the Big Apple for a whirlwind, mid-February weekend.

Less than one month after landing a job as a part-time employee for NineteenTwenty – a startup company in Grand Canyon University's Canyon Ventures – the GCU marketing and advertising major found herself in the middle of the company’s two-day pop-up event, where she handled a spectrum of duties, from moving and unpacking merchandise to talking to customers.

“Getting to be a part of that? I’m very grateful for that,” said Swanson, who graduated this spring. “I never thought I’d have that type of experience, especially while still in school – and especially going to New York for a weekend.

“It felt very surreal, especially after not joining the company until January," she said of NineteenTwenty, which produces puffer jackets that convert to totes. "There are so many opportunities here that I didn’t even realize how many there would be until I kind of started networking.”

Brooke Swanson, a GCU Honors College student, relishes her role with NineteenTwenty, which produces a series of puffer jackets that convert to totes.

Student workers do everything from helping run the engineering shops, to tutoring fellow students at the Academic and Career Excellence Centers, to creating advertising campaigns or shooting video and photographs for marketing, to producing apparel and signs for Canyon Promotions.

They’re jobs that give students hands-on experience that can lead to jobs later. “I was a student worker here in 2010,” said Shareka Purnell, associate director of IT at Grand Canyon Education. “We’re about to hit 14 years, and I go into that with them, telling them that I was a student worker and now I’m an associate director. Let me be that motivation for you. You can get there. There’s a path for you.

“We have a lot of student workers that go to full time, so we show them that. And then we talked about the student workers who can take on great positions outside of this corporation.”

Purnell said it is not uncommon for companies to share with the IT department how grateful they are for the kind of training student workers received before being hired full time. And alums have expressed their appreciation for the way GCU provided them with the opportunity to work and learn.

Ethan Anderson worked in GCE’s IT department when he was a student before earning internships at Best Western and Tesla and then being offered a full-time position at the latter company after graduating with a degree in cybersecurity last spring.

Riley Getty (center left) and Connor St. Louis (center right) made the jump from student workers to full-time employees at sales and marketing agency Brand49, headed by Chief Revenue Officer John Darby (left) and CEO Corey Frank (right).

“Beyond the classroom, what helped me the most at GCU was having the opportunity to gain real industry experience through IT student worker jobs,” Anderson said via text. “I worked in both Technical Support and the IT Help Desk for employees. Those roles taught me hands-on problem-solving skills and how to be resourceful under pressure.”

Branch49, a sales and marketing agency, was one of the first companies housed in GCU’s Canyon Ventures Innovation Center, which helps nurture startups, and has developed a reputation for hiring GCU students for part-time work.

Founder/CEO Corey Frank and Chief Revenue Officer John Darby subscribe to the adage of making things better than you found them – in this case, improving the quality of work of GCU’s students.

“It’s not necessarily a form of graduating from school but graduating from Branch49,” Darby said. “That means that we’ve done our job and that they’ve gone on to do something that they were meant to do … something that is setting themselves up for success down the road.”

One of Branch49’s success stories is GCU graduate Riley Getty, whose performance as a student earned him a full-time job even though he didn’t join Branch49 until the spring semester of his senior year.

Canyon Ventures Director Robert Vera has stressed to student workers the importance of communicating their ideas and turning in high quality work.

“It’s just amazing how far he’s come, from really not knowing what to do on the phone,” Darby said. “And he just got promoted to sales leadership a few weeks back. So being able to take his hustle, his grind and his mentality and because he’s not afraid to pick up the phone, he’s not afraid to talk to people and is really becoming a lifelong learner.”

Getty said he never forgot what innovation/entrepreneurship professor Robert Vera once told him about being evaluated "out in the wild."

  • What is the quality of your work?
  • How well can you read and write?
  • And can you communicate your ideas?

“Just the absolute pinpoint needle focuses here on those three faculties that lead out into every other skill of every other thing that exists is just super cool,” said Getty, who is the manager of persuasion alchemy/team lead at Branch49. “And the vision boards that are everywhere (at Canyon Ventures) and the consistent culture toward constant improvement.

“It’s just super fun and a really cool environment to learn from people that have been doing it for their careers, and they want to see you learn and they want to see you succeed.”

Anderson said GCU gives an advantage to students by connecting them to internships through Career Services’ Career Connections portal, where he found his first role in cybersecurity.

GCU alum Connor St. Louis, who was a student worker with Branch 49, now is a full time member of the company’s sales team.

“Internships in IT, and especially cybersecurity, can be very competitive,” Anderson said. “So GCU partnering with companies to allocate their intern positions with students was a huge help.”

At Branch49, student applications go through a formal interview process. Those who are not hired are given feedback on where they can improve, and some remain under consideration if there is a project for which they are better suited.

Purnell has received applications from students who were not IT majors but had a specific skill set that made their credentials attractive.

Darby raved about Connor St. Louis, who graduated from GCU in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering but “fell in love with the craft of sales” and is a “revenue dynamo” at the company, just as Swanson – who is enrolled in GCU’s Honors College – has been a dynamo for NineteenTwenty.

“Her unwavering dedication and enthusiasm exemplify the essence of a proactive and engaged employee,” NineteenTwenty Chief Operating Officer Zach Sankar said in an email. “We take immense pride in fostering talent like Brooke’s, as it not only benefits our company but also serves as a testament to our commitment to preparing students for the challenges of the full-time workforce. 

“Her presence enriches our environment, and her drive sets a high standard for excellence within our organization.”

Shareka Purnell, who was a student worker for GCU’s IT department, is now IT Associate Director at Grand Canyon Education.

Sankar said hiring Swanson was one of the best decisions made by the rising startup, operated by him and founder Ashley Sankar, his wife.

The instant responsibility is not lost on Swanson, who served internships with two companies in consecutive summers.

“I don’t want to overstep, but they’ve been asking me my ideas,” said Swanson, who loves the creative freedom she has in the company.

Meanwhile, Purnell makes sure that recruiters know that GCU student workers are not merely performing level-one duties, where they are just resetting passwords.

“They’re doing more than the average student coming out of college,” Purnell said. “This makes recruiters very impressed.”

Recruiters that include the Department of Justice.

“We want to be able to make (student workers) ready for the workforce, which also means we don’t go easy on them here, either.”

That includes pointing out their mistakes and talking about those learning moments.

“We want to see them succeed,” Purnell said.

Branch 49 employee and GCU alum Riley Getty rings the golden bell signifying a successful sales call at the company’s office space in Canyon Ventures. Getty was a student worker with Branch 49 and is now a full-time member of the company’s sales team.

Darby feels the same.

He views GCU students as well-polished with an eagerness to learn and succeed.

“They’re good, good humans,” Darby said. “They typically come from a faith-based background. They grow up with good morals and good ethics. It’s great we can talk about God, talk about the Word and surely talk about it openly.

“But we also know that when we have the GCU student come over, they’re going to work hard. They’re here to learn. They’re here to get a great education. If we can play a small role in that … They report back to us years later and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m so far ahead’ because of the communication skill I’m talking about.

“It’s very rewarding to work with the GCU students.”

For Swanson, the experience of a paid trip to New York to assist in all facets of operating a pop-up shop for two days with little sleep exceeded her wildest expectations.

"I wanted to say, 'You guys don't need to pay me,' you know what I mean?" Swanson said. "Because that experience was so amazing in itself, and I was very grateful for that."

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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