GCU showcases revitalization efforts at relaunched 27th Avenue business complex

LUX Precision Manufacturing CEO Weston Smith (second from right) talks with industry representatives during a tour of the company's new workspace in Building 66 during GCU’s West Valley Revitalization Event on Monday.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Ten years from now, thousands of electricians and machinists will have fanned out into the workforce after earning a certificate from Grand Canyon University.

GCU graduates will be making a difference as nurses and teachers, filling spots left by nationwide shortages.

Ten years from now, they will be pastors rooting themselves in Arizona after having answered their calling at the University’s seminary, or they’ll be an immigrant from west Phoenix who earned a GCU degree and did what they never thought possible: achieve the American dream.

GCU President Brian Mueller speaks on the University’s role in the workforce during a press event at Cañón 49 Restaurant.

It’s a vision GCU President Brian Mueller shared Monday at the relaunch of its business complex at 27th Avenue and Camelback Road. The University has repurposed 500,000 square feet of what was once office space into new academic and workforce development offerings that will address labor shortages in several industries.

“What we are here to talk about and what we are here to celebrate is what we can do in places like this, the Canyon Corridor, Maryvale,” said Mueller, who told the story of 27th Avenue and Camelback Road, once a “very tough place” that housed a car dealership, swap mart, drug deals and other crime.

It has since been transformed into an educational haven for nursing and seminary students, startup businesses, a K-12 tutoring facility and a distribution center of goods to families in need.

A free-market entity combined with the Christian worldview of putting the needs of others before your own “can make an incredible change in a short period of time and impact thousands of people; this place, in 10 years, you won’t to be able to recognize it,” Mueller said.

Students, faculty and special guests tour the new LUX Precision Manufacturing workspace. The company manufactures components for the medical, aerospace, semiconductor and defense industries.

The event, attended by government, business and community leaders welcomed by GCU Cheer, Dance, mascot Thunder and the Thundering Heard Pep Band, celebrated the opening of several new spaces, including the west Phoenix Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing site.

It is GCU’s sixth nursing site (four in Arizona, one in Nevada and one in Utah) and comes just a week after the debut of an ABSN location in Chandler, Arizona. The 16-month, hybrid program – students study online and at on-site labs for hands-on learning – is designed for students with a non-nursing education who want to re-career.

The goal, Mueller said, is to open 40 GCU ABSN facilities across the country over the next four to five years. It is part of the University’s effort to alleviate a national nursing shortage caused by a lack of clinical placements and not enough faculty, preceptors or classroom space.

Approximately 1.5 million additional nurses will be needed in the U.S. in the next five years, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 195,000 spots for registered nurses will be open in Arizona between now and 2031.

Dr. Lisa Smith, Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, shared another sobering statistic. More than 66,000 qualified applicants were turned away last year alone from baccalaureate nursing programs, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

The ABSN program is one of the ways GCU is addressing the nursing shortage.

The University is educating more than 300 students between its five Arizona nursing locations, Smith said, and the new West Valley site already is operating at full capacity with 72 students.

GCU's new west Phoenix Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing site in Building 71 is already at capacity this semester.

GCU is partnering with Abrazo Health for clinical placements for its West Valley/Phoenix ABSN students.

“We’re happy to partner with them and be part of the solution,” Smith said.

Brian Elisco, CEO of Abrazo Health Arizona, said a year and a half ago, his company saw “an incredible exodus of highly qualified health care workforce,” including nurses.

“We realized that we were part of the problem. We didn’t open enough clinical slots to be able to allow nurses to have a meaningful educational experience,” said Elisco, who was amazed by the speed at which GCU set up its ABSN site and put their partnership into action: “We thought it would be years. … It took less than a year.

“We recognize that halo of influence that health care has on an entire community,” Elisco added. “We’re humbled to say GCU is our partner.”

Students at the new west Phoenix ABSN site, toured by guests at a Monday press event, will do hands-on training at the facility's skills labs, which mimic a hospital or clinic setting.

The University also expanded its own circle of influence on the trades, establishing the Institute for Workforce Development at the 27th Avenue and Camelback Road complex.

Rosendin Electric CEO Mike Greenawalt told Mueller that for every electrical engineer GCU graduates, his company needs 100 electricians.

Of the 80 aspiring electricians from the neighborhood in the first year who entered the nondegree, certificate program, 79 completed the coursework. They’re making $50,000-$60,000 and can earn $70,000-$80,000 further along in their career.

“It’s an industry problem-solver,” said Greenawalt of the program, who added, “We can scale this, but we need partners.”

He shared his own story of working his way up from a C student to CEO of Rosendin, the largest employee-owned electrical contractor in the U.S. with 7,500 employees. He’s passionate about the program, he said, because “I see 40 Mike Greenawalts sitting there.”

He added, “I really think we’re changing the world with this.”

The University is continuing on that educational pathway for the trades in its partnership with LUX Precision Manufacturing. The onetime electric skateboard company now manufactures components for the medical, aerospace, semiconductor and defense industries. The company started with just a couple of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, and now its new 10,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Building 66 houses more than a dozen CNC machines on which aspiring machinists will be trained.

It’s the University’s second nondegree, certificate program for those in the trades.

Grand Canyon Theological Seminary's new 17,000-square-foot physical space also was on display.

“Our mission is to re-energize American manufacturing,” said LUX Precision Manufacturing Founder and CEO Weston Smith, a GCU alum who noted how 2.1 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2030 because of the manufacturing skills gap.

Christine Mackay, Community and Economic Development Director for the city of Phoenix, shared how Arizona is No. 1 in job creation across the country, and sees how GCU is pushing Arizona forward when it comes to job creation.

Not only is the University addressing economic development through programs to educate new nurses, electricians and machinists, but through new 17,000-square-foot physical space for Grand Canyon Theological Seminary. It’s where students will pursue their master of divinity degrees and make connections with the pastoral community.

There’s also the Learning Lounge, where GCU students tutor K-12 students from nearby West Valley schools in that crucial 3-8 p.m. after-school time – students who have a chance to qualify for the full-tuition Students Inspiring Students Scholarship.

Brianna Castro, a GCU alumna and SIS Scholarship recipient, spoke about her parents, who came from Central America “hoping for a better future for their families” and got it when Castro received her degree from GCU.

“I now have three younger sisters, all college-bound because of the first stepping stone I took at GCU,” Castro said.

Dr. Meredith Critchfield, Dean of the College of Education, shared what her college is doing to address the teacher shortage in Arizona schools, including a teacher’s aide pathway to teacher certification and an emergency substitute teacher pathway.

“To our knowledge, no other school or university in the United States is doing this work, so that’s pretty special,” she said.

GCU’s students are serving as rescue substitute teachers all over the Valley.

College of Education Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield speaks of innovative initiatives undertaken by her college to address the teacher shortage.

Dr. Lupita Hightower, Superintendent of the Tolleson School District, shared how GCU is known for producing “the most effective teachers out there.”

“How do you partner with more than 5,000 schools and make us feel like VIPs? They do,” Hightower said. She added how the University is helping schools help the families they serve, not only in the classroom, but with programs such as CityServe, which also calls 27th Avenue and Camelback Road home. The GCU CityServe warehouse partners with 120 churches, schools and community organizations across the state to distribute household items and other goods to families who need them. More than $10 million of goods have been distributed to more than 20,000 families.

It takes those partnerships, Mueller said, to make a difference.

“What God has done here has been unbelievable,” he said. “We could never have predicted this was going to happen … the next 10 years is filled with opportunity, and if we come together, we could do something that’s never been done before.”

GCU Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Related content:

GCU News: GCU opens new ABSN site in Chandler, addresses nursing shortage

GCU News: Manufacturing pathway launched at GCU to meet big need

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