GCU's workforce center honored for its economic impact

Greater Phoenix Chamber President and CEO Todd Sanders (from left) joins GCU Board of Trustees members Dr. Lupita Hightower and Dr. Jim Rice, and College of Engineering and Technology Dean Paul Lambertson and award presenter Chad Luchiano of Wells Fargo Merchant Services after winning the economic driver award.

Grand Canyon University’s economic impact in the Valley was acknowledged Wednesday night at Greater Phoenix Chamber’s 37th Annual IMPACT Awards at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown.

GCU’s Center for Workforce Development won the award for Economic Driver for Mid to Large Companies. The center offers a program of training and education through trade pathways for electricians and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinists.

College of Engineering and Technology Dean Paul Lambertson accepted the award that acknowledges companies “making substantial contributions to our state” by telling the crowd that GCU is in the business of helping people find their purpose and serve the community. (The center moved into CET's organization earlier this year).

“Our GCU product are graduates of excellence and character, steeped in the entrepreneurial mindset,” he said.

Center for Workforce Development Program Manager Thom Ortiz, College of Engineering and Technology Dean Paul Lamberson, Program Manager Shelly Seitz, Program Director Brian Jones, former student Hunter Johnson and Program Manager Mickey Nunez (from left) posed after winning the Phoenix Chamber award as an economic driver.

Leaders in the Pre-Apprenticeship for Electricians Pathway and CNC Machinists Pathway, Director Brian Jones and Program Managers Shelly Seitz, Mickey Nunez and Thom Ortiz, were delighted to win a category voted on by the public after a panel selected finalists that also included CVS Health and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. More than 100 businesses were nominated in five categories.

“In two years, we have put 279 people in the workforce in this program,” Nunez said. “And in September, we will have a record number of new enrollees.”

The economic impact is quickly felt in Phoenix, Seitz added, both for businesses and individuals.

“They come from homes where their financial lives are changing drastically because of the employment they gain,” she said. “When you make more money, the dry cleaner makes more money, the grocery store makes more money … It’s that circular effect that impacts our city and changes the trajectory of people’s lives.”

Alexis Veleta Lujan and Erika Sarabia Martinez and their twin boys (from left) Mateo and Matias.

Alexis Veleta Lujan of Phoenix is an example. He impressed members of a recent GCU advisory board meeting by telling his story of helping family members in construction trades through high school — setting tile with a cousin and doing drywall with an uncle — but was unsure about attending community college.

Then he found GCU’s Pre-Apprenticeship of Electricians Pathway.

“I heard it was electrical, and that was me,” he said in an interview.

Lujan, 20, began taking classes in math, English and electrical skills, learning much about communication and problem-solving skills.

“I never thought I would go to school and two months later I would be put in a work area,” he said of earning an apprenticeship with Corbins Electric, one of the program’s sponsors, after the April 2023 completion of his GCU pathway.

While learning pre-fabrication work and later about breakers and panels, the 20-year-old also learned he would become a father. In December, his partner Erika Sarabia Martinez gave birth to twin sons, Mateo and Matias.

“They were born premature at seven months, so they stayed in the hospital for 40 days,” he said. “I would go to work, get showered and go be with the kids.”

He had a new purpose, a future now brighter to provide for his children, who he said are healthy today.

Nearing completion of his first full year of apprenticeship through Western Electrical Contractors Association, he has begun more advanced electrical work inside QTS Data Centers and can make up to $27 an hour with incentives.

Alexis Veleta Lujan

“I like being able to bring electricity in. You can build and build but electricity makes it run,” he said. “I like to work with my hands and get things done.”

His goal is to one day be a master journeyman or supervisor. He credits GCU for the change in his future.

“I see other people try to come to Corbins, but they don’t have the background in electrical work and the recommendation,” he said. “Corbins sees people from GCU, and they see we’ve got that hunger.”

In only one year, the CNC Machinist Pathway is also making an impact for individuals.

Mauricio Manrique said he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life after high school, but the classes and hands-on training at Lux Precision Manufacturing, housed at the 27th Avenue and Camelback Road campus, gave him confidence that he could make parts.

He didn’t understand it at first, he told the advisory board recently, but they took the time to deal with measurements down to a “hundredth of an inch.”

He was hired by Lux as a quality associate, verifying those measurements.

“You have to really try to focus and figure out what you’re looking for if we find something wrong,” Manrique said.

“Thanks to the pathway I can see myself pursuing a career that I know I can be successful in if I put in the effort and hold myself accountable.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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