Honors College kicks off special multiweek programs

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

The Honors College at Grand Canyon University is known for its abundance of programs and resources. It’s something Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli never tires of emphasizing to students. 

The Honors College and CSET have brought back Pre-Health Medical and Graduate School Preparation Program this semester.

This semester, Naegeli's college has launched several multiweek programs, including the Pre-Health Medical and Graduate School Preparation Program and the new Young Athena: Valley of the Sun Leadership Program.

The college will also welcome the new Young Athena: Valley of the Sun Leadership Program this semester.

Each offers students a unique and intensive curriculum. 

“In the Honors College, we place a significant emphasis on co-curricular opportunities and experiential learning opportunities that supplement the academic rigor within the classroom," Naegeli said. "Our goal is to ensure our Honors graduates have more than a diploma at the time of graduation, but a wealth of applied experiences and a strong network of mentors to support that, too. These are the types of programs that really give our GCU students that competitive edge as they enter the workforce.”

Pre-Health Medical and Graduate School Preparation Program

The Honors College and College of Science, Engineering and Technology have brought back in-person sessions to this popular eight-week program, which began before the pandemic and was held virtually last year. It includes networking and curriculum planning as well as preparation for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Dr. Jon Valla will host a majority of this semester's sessions in the Pre-Health Medical and Graduate School Preparation Program.

“This program is a huge collaborative effort,” Naegeli said.

Sponsored by the Honors College, it will feature CSET Associate Dean Dr. Jon Valla hosting most of the sessions and Academic and Career Excellence (ACE) Pre-Health Advisor Chelsea Charbonneau teaching the others. Naegeli and Katalina Inzunza Herrera, Academic Program Manager for the Honors College, also are heavily involved in bringing the program to life.

“It’s an extreme pleasure,” Valla said of the collaboration with the Honors College. “I’m always consistently impressed with the Honors College. They are a joy to work with, and their ability to reach their students and share these events is just unparalleled.

“It’s really one of my favorite things that I do throughout the year. I’m grateful that they put this together and did such a great job in doing so."

Students from various areas of pre-med participated in the first session.

The first seven weeks of the program will be in a lecture format, and the last session will welcome GCU alumni who have endured the rigorous medical school application process to share their experiences with students.

Naegeli said it is popular with freshman and sophomore students even though they are years away from applying to medical school. But, in her view, starting early makes sense in such a competitive field.

“It can feel very overwhelming to a first-year/second-year student to go through something like this, but at the end of the day they are grateful that they’ve had this competitive head start,” she said. “They now know exactly what to do with their next three of four semesters as they prepare to transition into that application process into medical and graduate school.”

One of those freshmen is biology major Natalia Ramirez.

“I feel like it sets me up for success right now and for the future,” she said. “I think something that’s beneficial is learning from other people who are already in this career and just hearing what they tell us and having different mentors.”

Sessions are scheduled for 3 p.m.-4:45 p.m. Thursdays. Students interested in attending can RSVP here.

Young Athena: Valley of the Sun Leadership Program

As more women take over leadership positions, what could be better than using their wisdom to help set up other women for success? That's the goal of the nonprofit ATHENA Valley of the Sun and parent organization ATHENA International.

Naegeli teamed up with several GCU women leaders to bring a new branch of the 10-week program.

Drs. Kristine Quade (left) and Lori Wieters met with students at the Young Athena: Valley of the Sun Leadership Program orientation.

“It all has to do with female empowerment, promoting women in leadership and giving them the tools and skills necessary to be successful in industry,” Naegeli said.

Attendees will be introduced to the eight key principles of enlightened leadership: live authentically, learn continually, build relationships, foster collaboration, act courageously, advocate fiercely, give back and celebrate.

The program was conceptualized by ATHENA Valley of the Sun founder and College of Doctoral Studies (CDS) faculty member Dr. Kristine Quade, who wanted to bring the organization to a younger audience.

“Four years ago, I came across an idea about essentially working with high school or college young women because I started to sense that we were losing a generation,” she said. “When COVID hit, I really became concerned – everything was upside down.”

What started as lunch-and-learns with young women in the Valley shifted to a formal program format thanks to some help from Dr. Lori Wieters, Chief Collaboration Officer of the Wi2 CoLab and a CDS chair.

“What we know right now is that there’s not a lot of programming out there that’s specific to leadership,” she said. “A lot of young women are coming in and they have learned a little bit from family, a little bit from trial and error if they’ve had an opportunity to lead something, but there’s not a core way of living.”

Students at the orientation session of the new Young Athena Program were fed Chick-fil-A.

Wi2 CoLab and ATHENA Valley of the Sun, partnered redesign the multiple Young Athena programs.

Dr. Tacy Ashby, Senior Vice President of K12 Educational Development an Athena Valley of the Sun Award Honoree last year, was paired with a Young Athena from the Arizona State University branch to mentor. A meeting with Naegeli kickstarted a similar program at GCU.

“I think that being surrounded by women at every stage, in every season of their life, who are aspiring to be the best they can be is so inspirational,” Ashby said. “We all bring different gifts and talents to the table, and we just learn from each other.”

Hosting a program at GCU just made sense to Ashby, especially when she reflected on women in the Bible.

“Women in Scripture; women who love the Lord, who felt called to His mission and then in Him and through Him became the best that they could be in serving Him,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the GCU Young Athena club will be able to integrate, as we do in our classes, the Christian worldview.”

The large number of GCU students who want to participate in the program demonstrates the hunger they have to continue to grow, Wieters said.

Junior Megan Victory is one of those students. She hopes to gain wisdom and knowledge of how to lead in grace.

“This program is really awesome,” she said after the first session. “Just how the curriculum for this program is specific for women in leadership, it is really awesome.

“Just being able to expand my leadership skills in a program that is specified to play to women’s strengths is very encouraging.”

The 10 weeks consist of an orientation, a week dedicated to each of the key principles and a celebration in the final week. Sessions are scheduled for 3 p.m.-4:45 p.m. Thursdays.

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Programs a home run with pre-med, pre-law students

GCU Today: Honors College Alumni Board connects, educates

GCU Today: Alum connects with forensic psychology students

GCU Today: Honors students give back by building bunk beds


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