Economic summit illuminates GCU's local impact

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

It’s a typical reaction when people hear what Grand Canyon University is doing in west Phoenix.

After listening to GCU President Brian Mueller speak Thursday at the WESTMARC West Valley 2016 Economic Development Summit, a woman whose daughter is weighing her college choices made it a point to stop by the GCU table and share how Mueller’s ideas had swayed her thoughts about where her daughter should go.

“Sold!” she said. “I was on the fence. I’m not on the fence anymore.”

GCU President Brian Mueller (right) was part of a panel Thursday at the WESTMARC West Valley 2016 Economic Development Summit Thursday.
GCU President Brian Mueller (right) was part of a panel Thursday at the WESTMARC West Valley 2016 Economic Development Summit.

And it’s a typical reaction when people visit the fast-growing GCU campus. Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, introduced Mueller with this observation:

“If you haven’t been to the campus, I know Brian loves giving campus tours. Every time my board members go through there, they call me and say, ‘Hey, have you heard what’s going on at GCU?’ And I say, ‘Are you kidding me? I’ve been there six times, and I’ve gotten a tour every time. It’s unbelievable.’”

Job development

Mueller was part of a panel discussion at the Glendale Civic Center on how to develop more jobs in the West Valley. He shared his passion for the west side and showed how GCU has gone about investing in the community by explaining his ideas about “radical integration.”

It goes two ways, he said.

Radical integration up means developing advisory boards, populated by Valley business leaders, that help the University develop a curriculum that will produce readymade employees.

“We have a lot of West Valley companies that are helping us develop our colleges and develop our programs so that we’re creating things that are cutting edge and that you will directly benefit from,” he said. “We hear all the time about the gap between what colleges are producing and what industry wants, so we need to get radically integrated upward so that we can make sure we are doing that.”

Radical integration down means helping the community. Mueller went through some of the GCU initiatives designed to grow west Phoenix:

  • The partnership with Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona that aims to renovate up to 700 neighborhood homes within four years – with students doing the work. Mueller said 90 already are done.
  • The Learning Lounge, a free on-campus tutoring program designed to help students from kindergarten through 12th grade improve their academic performance. All tutoring is done by GCU students.
  • As an outgrowth of the Learning Lounge, the new Students Inspiring Students initiative, which this spring granted 100 full-tuition scholarships to students from inner-city high schools who have used the Learning Lounge. Those students will then pay it forward while in college by becoming tutors for the next generation of high school students behind them.

More students, more jobs

The University also has helped the community by putting more people to work and bringing more students onto campus. Mueller laid out these facts:

It has more than 3,500 employees, up from 1,000 before it started growing.

Student enrollment is expected to be 17,500 in the fall and is expected to get to 30,000 within four years.

The University has invested $600 million in the campus in the last six years and plans to spend another $400 million on new buildings and other improvements by 2020.

But the University’s reach extends throughout the community.

“We’re building businesses everywhere we can in our neighborhood,” Mueller said. “One of the things we tell the city is that you can only invest your way to prosperity, you can’t cut your way to prosperity. Inner cities come about because people start cutting. One business leaves, another business leaves, pretty soon no one wants to be there, and the gangs move in.

“If someone puts their stake in the ground and starts pushing back, you can push all that out — and a lot faster than people think you can.”

It’s all part of GCU’s mission and vision. Noting that housing prices have gone up 30 percent and crime is down 30 percent, Mueller told the audience how the conversation turned to investing in the community after he arrived at GCU in 2008:

“The discussion was, should we do more than teach about economic development, workforce development? Should we teach it in our classrooms and should we do it in the neighborhood that we live, and could we be more impactful in terms of graduating students if we did it that way? And that was the beginning of this plan.”

In sync with West Valley business goals

The University’s push fits perfectly with what WESTMARC is trying to accomplish, according to the organization’s president and CEO, Sintra Hoffman.

“It’s absolutely connected,” she said. “One of the things I was most impressed about Grand Canyon is when Mike Mobley (executive director of GCU’s Center for Integrated Science, Engineering and Technology) came out and visited with our education focus group, he talked about Grand Canyon University creating an engineering program in response to business needs within eight months.

“That’s tremendous because that’s what we’re hearing — all these companies we’re working with right now, they want to come in now. They want to know they have the labor force, or that they have the training program that will graduate those folks pretty soon.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was the keynote speaker of the event. Later, Mueller emphasized the importance of having students do internships with local companies and continuing to create synergy with those companies.

“We don’t need more money,” he said. “We just need more integration up the chain, more integration down the chain. We need more partnerships. The closer we work together and the more we focus on what students need to be successful students and go to college, the better we’ll be.

“We’re on a really good track. … We have a project-management approach to teaching, especially science, technology, engineering and math, to prepare them for work environments. We are very interested in partnering with you across health care and technology and engineering so you can create in your company real-world scenarios for our students to get real-world experience. …

“We believe our students are going to be tremendously educated from a technical perspective — that’s what we really think will be valuable to you, is that they’re going to have gone through an experience that’s going to be transforming.”

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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