Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Garrett Ohrenberg
GCU News Bureau
Summer on the Grand Canyon University campus can look and sound a bit serene. There aren’t thousands of students bustling around, their skateboard wheels rattling across the walkways, or music and conversation filling the air.
But this year?
“We were really surprised by the number of students who wanted to stay on campus over the summer,” said Sarah Boeder, Executive Vice President of Operations.
This summer, 1,137 students are housed in three University residential complexes on campus – Roadrunner Apartments, Diamondback Apartments and Willow Hall. That's the most ever. The total number of students taking classes also beat last year’s record.
“Students are glad to be on the backside of COVID,” said Matt Hopkins, Director of Residence Life.
Also, summer school is more appealing this year because it’s the first time that students can live in University apartments during the summer.
That sigh of relief as the pandemic wanes is from GCU students, some of whom are making up for lost time by taking classes.
“We had a larger number of students who didn’t live on campus in spring applying for summer housing, which is why I believe the high number is related to students trying to catch up,” said Sarah Castro, Director of Housing Operations.
That’s the case for Dabiana Wilson, who sat outside the Student Union on a recent morning waiting for class to start.
She said she had trouble in a couple of courses over the past year, so she is catching up by making up credits this summer, which runs in two eight-week segments that started the first week of May.
The junior in Advertising and Graphic Design says summer school courses are fast paced but at the same time more relaxed.
“I feel like you have more one-on-one time with teachers because they don’t have many students in classrooms to focus on,” said Wilson, who was waiting for her in-person design studio class.
She’s also taking a class online, and that option is another reason University officials say there is an increase this year.
“During COVID, a lot of students became more comfortable with the online format – and a lot of summer courses are offered online,” Boeder said.
Also, Arizona became a good option for out-of-state students to spend their summer.
“Arizona is a pretty open state with COVID, so some students were more comfortable remaining here rather than in their own state,” she said.
Some of the draw to attend summer school hasn’t changed: Tuition is a lower, it’s easier to qualify to live on campus (enrollment in only four credits or maintaining a job on campus), students want to lighten their load during rigorous programs in the fall and spring by taking summer classes, or they simply want to get more credits in the bag toward graduation.
Keigan Willingham, a senior in Nursing, is a veteran of summer school. She has gone every year.
“I think a lot of people take summer classes because they want to graduate faster,” Willingham said, sitting alone outside GCBC. “That’s why I did it. People are trying to graduate in three years. It saves money on housing.”
She expects to graduate early – in December – and also has used the summer to work at a hospital. She soon will start a residency in Chandler.
Even though the chirping birds are sometimes the only noise on campus, there is activity, especially near the apartments where students live. Bicycles are lined up outside the halls, pools are open, and several campus dining venues maintain summer hours.
“We try to make sure everyone has a good summer and they don’t have to worry. We create events, give out snacks and get everyone connected,” said Caleb Canfield, a resident assistant.
With the tough year of COVID, when some students were home for parts of the prior year and for extended weeks this year, they’re eager to maintain ties with friends in Phoenix, he said.
“For me, having the option of being on campus and getting a job and doing it for a lower expense – I would take that to be with my friends a bit longer,” said Canfield, who added that summer courses will allow him to graduate early with his degree in Business Administration.
The senior said though it’s odd not seeing the volleyball courts and fields filled with students, some take advantage of gatherings and the three Canyon Activity Board events during the summer, including Wednesday night’s “Feeling Fan-Cactus” on the Prescott Promenade, a cactus-themed event with free cactus plants and cookies.
“With a lot of upperclassmen, this might be one of the last summers everyone can be together,” he said.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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