By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
New students to Grand Canyon University are in good hands despite a delay of in-person classes until Sept. 28 because of the COVID-19 surge.
One reason is GCU’s First Year Experience program. Over the summer, FYE is conducting student-led webinars called Walk to Class for more than 8,000 new students to help with their transition to college life, become familiar with the University and learn the digital programs they will use when they begin classes online on Sept. 8.
A key part of the 30-minute webinar is a tutorial on LoudCloud, a learning management system to engage in courses, support and communication. Most new students are trained on LoudCloud in a typical year because they take an online course called University Success, so the process was already in place.
GCU hired seven FYE LEADs, student leaders who are conducting the webinars from their homes in four states.
“We want the best, kindest student workers we can find. They are the servant leaders, and we want them to have that heart when they are going to guide students,” said William Lange, FYE Program Manager. “Our LEADs have been in their shoes. They know what it’s like coming into GCU and trying to find their way. When incoming students see and hear from someone like them, they tend to be more at ease and comfortable with asking questions.”
One of those FYE LEADs, Eunice Ishimwe, called it a “beautiful experience” because she meets so many new people while leading the live webinars. She said new students are excited and love to talk about themselves and their hopes for their first steps at GCU, though they may have typical freshman nerves.
“We tell them we are not only here for their career but also personal support. If they want to talk, we are here to talk,” Ishimwe said. “Our job is to calm their hearts and tell them GCU is going to be a really good experience and that even if we’re going through a lot of bumps right now, they will see benefits as they go forward at GCU.”
The Rwanda-born Electrical Engineering senior said her personal background comes in handy while training and helping new students from across the country or internationally. She wanted to work in the program to serve people.
“I feel like it is so important. When you are coming in from the world you are lost. You are not with your parents or friends. They need to have guidance and learn of the way at GCU,” she said.
Beyond technical instruction, Ishimwe said she tries to tell new students about all the career and support services available in the Academic and Career Excellence Centers, where she spent a lot of time early on.
However, the first steps these days are all about finding where to click.
“Our LEADs know LoudCloud the best, as they have been using it for years in their classes," Lange said. "They know and share the tips and tricks of how to best use LoudCloud and how to manage their time as a new student.”
During a recent webinar, Patience Momoh encouraged students to keep up with the tools in LoudCloud, including discussion questions, because the start of fall classes will be different this year. The planners on LoudCloud also are important to keep track of assignments as well as tap into the academic support or advisors in the Student Success department.
“If you are struggling a little, this is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said. “We are here to help you.”
Momoh told the new students that LoudCloud allowed her to put faces with names on the class rosters, which always eases her nerves entering new courses.
Larenza Cordova, a junior in the College of Education, leads Walk to Class from her home in Albuquerque, N.M.
“It’s definitely a learning curve, but through this experience I’ve got to help a wider variety of students,” she said.
Her main advice is to be consistent with your coursework.
“Especially when classes are online, it can be hard to keep up. Make sure you don’t fall behind because once you do you can dig a deeper hole,” Cordova said.
Walk to Class was launched nearly two years ago, but Lange said the webinars since June have taken on added weight to provide a “touch point and to build rapport” with students very early during these uncertain times.
“GCU is one of the best institutions in the world in providing support for students. Sometimes there is so much support they don’t know which direction to find it,” he said. “So we pride ourselves in being that first step; it doesn’t matter your question, we will help put you on that path.
“GCU is known for that culture of support, and we want to make sure, on ground or online, that the culture of caring is still there.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.