Story and photos by Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
What is the recipe for making acquaintances? How do new relationships blossom into friendships? All the sociology professors at Grand Canyon University are well versed in the most authentic research on burgeoning socialization. For the latest Exhibit A, they need to look no farther than the approximately 400 students at Wednesday’s Out-of-State Social in ThunderGround.
With uncertain expressions they descended the stairs, filled out tags with their names and states, perused the refreshment tables and made use of a dozen activities and a giant living room filled with couches and comfy chairs -- and then they started talking. The crescendo of voices grew louder and louder as the crowd expanded, and connections were made in small groups, trios and pairs.
“Last year we had 50 people at this, and this year it is 10 to 11 times that many, all of it is attributed to GCU Engage app because students can see what’s happening from their phone. They know to be here -- they don’t have to find a random poster,'' said Noah Wolfe, President of the Associated Students of GCU (ASGCU), which organized the event. "We are asking every student how they knew about the event, and they say they saw it on GCU Engage or someone who saw it told them. We are really, really excited about the success of the app.''
Attracting new students to the event was only half the task, however. If the event was not to their liking, hundreds of students could have easily left, especially given the potential for awkward social situations. But the Class of 2022 rose to the task with its willingness to meet and greet while bowling, playing billiards, foosball, card games, particularly Uno, the ring game and Jenga.
Aly Halbakken, the ASGCU Chief of Staff, was thrilled by the turnout. An out-of-state student herself, from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes'' (Minnesota), Halbakken marveled at the way students were so open to making new connections.
"I would go up to groups and say, 'Were you already friends?' And they would say, 'No, we just met.' They are having so much fun.”
Brittani Hornstra from Linden, Wash., and Hannah Gerrish from Stanwood, Wash., fit that bill. Although Gerrish was not wearing a name tag, they were introduced by a mutual acquaintance they both met earlier. They were surprised to discover that they live only one hour apart in the Evergreen State.
In the couch area of ThunderGround, Wolfe and Tim McGill, the ASGCU Administrative Vice President, played Uno with a group of five young men. Uno was the most popular card game, drawing the largest groups, while Jenga took hold of one particular trio. Although all three hail from disparate places that are too far to visit over a long weekend, none of them expect to become homesick as each ascribed to a feeling that GCU already was feeling like 'home."
Trevor Baines left Kenneth Square, Pa., for the cybersecurity program at GCU. Moreover, his 4.6 grade point average earned him scholarship money.
"I will miss my family, but I have gone on other trips so I am getting used to it, and GCU is a good place to be,'' he said as he gently placed a Jenga piece into a tiny opening near the bottom of the large stack.
Cameron Harrington, also a Jenga enthusiast, drove 16 hours to campus from his Dallas home. As he deftly arranged a Jenga piece, he said, "I'm ready to do something on own, ready to accept responsibility.''
Natalie Monson, from Elkton, Md., hadn't met anyone at the social who hails from her state, the Old Line State, but she was already comfortable after meeting Baines playing Jenga on Tuesday night.
Across the game room area, freshman Emily Meek of Castle Rock, Colo., astonished herself by landing the ring on the hook (in a game that is much more challenging than it appears), double high-fiving her companion, a sophomore from Castle Rock.
Asjha Thompson from Lancaster, Calif., and Terrell Smith, from Lakewood, Colo., sat on the ring game, but did not play. They were deeply involved in a conversation.
"I introduced myself to him,'' Thompson said. " I just wanted to talk to someone I thought I could relate with.''
Madison Shatterfield, from the faraway city of Scottsdale, accompanied her roommate Abby Snyder, of Mission Viejo, Calif., and immersed herself in billiards game and bowling.
"I am so glad that we don't start classes right away,'' Satterfield said. "This way we can get to know people and get settled first.''Snyder said, "These events are great to get to know each other because being new can be intimidating.''
The event was scheduled for one hour, but it did not slow down for nearly two hours. Madison Lee and Jean Carlo Martinez were among the 100 students who were still talking at 5 p.m.
“I've been talking with so many different people from all over,'' said Lee, from Sioux Falls, S.D. "It has been so awesome to get to know so many different people. I met so many good friends that I will be able to hang out with now.''
Like Martinez, Lee did not know a soul when she arrived in Arizona -- for the first time in her life -- on Monday.
"It has been a great experience getting to know people who also don’t know anyone,'' she said.
Martinez, from Chatsworth, Calif., was talking in a large group when he spied Madison.
“I saw Madison and we made eye contact and I asked her to join us,'' he said. "We were in a group socializing, and then the group left and we stayed. We got to know more about each other. I was alone in my dorm this afternoon, so I thought I would go to this event and I'm glad I did.''
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].
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