How Welcome Week left a great impression

Incoming GCU students and parents roll their belongings into Acacia Hall during Move-In.

Photos by Ralph Freso/Slideshow

First, the important news about Welcome Week at Grand Canyon University.

"The biggest thing I heard was the Move-In process was really smooth and quick and easy, which is great – that’s what we want," said Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs.

Welcome Crew member Justin Kocher greets incoming GCU students – loudly.

But there's more to it than that. For years, Move-In was known for the crazy scene where thousands of student volunteers gathered at every residence hall, ready to carry the belongings of arriving students to their rooms. GCU's rapid growth made that system unworkable three years ago, and express Move-In became appointment Move-In – students arrive at a scheduled time and have 45 minutes to get the car unpacked.

Talk about a blessing in disguise.

"The golden nugget that we never saw coming and really didn’t understand when we were doing express Move-In was how important it is for parents to have the opportunity to unload their car with their student, get them moved in, unload the cart and really have that opportunity to get their student settled in," said Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor.

"In years past, it was exciting to have all of the busy-ness and the spectacle around a hundred students grabbing stuff and running it up to a room, but the parents would get lost in that shuffle. I think what has happened is the families are having a much better experience – not waiting in lines but, more importantly, having time from curb to room to really be with their student.

Another Welcome Crew member, Maddie Green, shows her spirit.

"Having been a parent of college students, I know how emotional it is to drop your kids off at college and then leave campus and leave your student, maybe for the first time, in the hands of somebody else. For them to have that unique opportunity to be more attentive to getting their student moved in has been something that I’ve noticed more this year than in years past."

How much did parents appreciate it? Check out this social media post from Stephanie Jarnagan:

"Today was the best day! We pulled up at our 8 a.m. move-in time with no wait. Four student volunteers helped us unload and take everything up in one trip. Totally flawless. Spent the morning setting up her room. Got her ID and schedule fixed in a snap. ... Attended the welcome event and parent orientation. I cried … kind of a lot. But I have an overwhelming sense of peace now, and I know this is where she is supposed to be. I mean … just read that mission statement! As a Sun Devil alum, I was a little unsure of her last-minute (June) change of heart. But I am now sure she made the right decision. This mama is so proud of her baby girl tonight! #lopesup"

Below is a sampling of other Welcome Week moments that got an equally positive endorsement, accompanied by more of photographer Ralph Freso's favorite shots.

Junior Elly Kenninger displays the Brian Mueller Lopes Up temporary tattoo.

The most humorous Welcome Week innovation? That's easy. Had to be the temporary tattoos of GCU President Brian Mueller doing a Lopes Up. One of Norman's student workers had that idea, and cheerleader Hope Gibson was all in when the AZ Family 3TV news crew asked her about them.

“They said, ‘How do none of you have these?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but we should be the first people!’” Then she quickly found some water to apply the tattoo just seconds before the news crew started its 9 a.m. broadcast.

Many students and their parents embraced after their pinning at the Welcome Session.

Another innovation focus of Norman's team was attendance at orientation, which students were supposed to do after sitting in the Welcome Session with their families. The fun solution: Volunteers created a tunnel for the students coming out of GCU Arena, similar to what happens at the end of every Commencement ceremony. Staying to fill the tunnel was an optional shift for volunteers, but those who stayed said they loved it.

Spanish Parent and Family Orientation also was a big success. The first session was standing room only even though it was in a lecture hall. 

Women’s softball player Leinani Lutu balaces a frisbee on top of a pool noddle in a relay race during the Student Athletes Welcome Back event on Wednesday.

Women’s basketball guard Tiarra Brown wasn’t about to let anyone outshine the team during a live broadcast by an AZ Family 3TV news crew on the first day of Welcome Week. When reporters Olivia Fierro and Kylee Cruz asked who could jump the highest, she didn’t hesitate to raise her hand. “I can jump pretty high. I can grab the rim,” she said. So to end the segment, Fierro and Cruz coaxed her to do just that and, live on camera, she did.

A student enjoys one of the many water slides at the Canyon Cool Down.

Director of Campus Retail and Licensing Andy Dunn noticed something unusual at the Lope Shop: “We’ve seen a lot of moms buying something special they’re going to have with them while they’re Facetiming their student to feel that connection. I heard some people say they’re going to get one of our big, heavy tackle twill blankets and are going to wrap themselves in it while they’re talking to their daughter, so it feels like it’s a hug, kind of. I have seen many moms buying a SINGLE wine glass, and I’ve heard multiple times they’re going to be drinking wine out of this glass while they’re Facetiming their student. I thought that was pretty funny.”

This student flipped for the Project L multicultural event.

Overheard from a mom helping her daughter move into her room at Acacia Hall: “They’re more friendly here than at (another university).”

Students enjoy a late night card game on Lopes Way next to Prescott Hall.

If you didn’t watch out, Army ROTC students on the Promenade tried to coax you to do pull-ups. The record pull-ups for noncadets was 16, and the cadet record was 20, completed by senior Jacob Doest.

The Havocs showed their spirit at Lope-A-Palooza.

“My favorite part of Welcome Week so far was while speaking at New Student Orientation and playing a game with the crowd,” said Havocs President Cole Baker. “The winner of the game was a grandmother who was extremely excited to win some Havocs gear."

Students showed their best dance moves in Silent Disco.

A Welcome Crew volunteer greeted a car arriving for Move-In with “Woo!” as she jumped and screamed with excitement.

The dad responded, “No more sugar for you!”

Members of the Welcome Crew made their own welcome signs for cars to honk at, dyed their hair purple, painted their faces, cheered for hours – and, of course, asked for more Brian Mueller temporary tattoos. 

Rick Vacek, Lana Sweeten-Shults, Mike Kilen, Lydia Robles and Cassandra Coria contributed to this story.

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