When she heard she was named one of AZ Big Media’s Most Influential Women in Arizona for 2022, Grand Canyon University Honors College Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli wanted to make sure the publication had the right Breanna Naegeli. She shares her name with her sister-in-law, who she says, humbly, “is far more influential as a leader,” though others at GCU would say their colleague is 100% deserving of the honor.
AZ Big Media confirmed she is the Breanna Naegeli it named to the list of the state’s most influential women, all of whom are being honored in the July/August issue of AZ Business and AZRE magazines and will be celebrated at an awards dinner Aug. 25 at Phoenix’s Chateaux Luxe. (See her video spotlight here.)
Thinking of the accolade still floors her.
“I asked about it when I got there (for the magazine photo shoot). How am I here?” she said with a big smile from her office in the Technology Building.
She was nominated, alongside more than 2,000 others, and that’s after filtering out duplicates and previous honorees.
She is the second GCU female leader in the past two years to be recognized as an AZ Big Media Most Influential Woman. In 2021, Vice President of Athletics Jamie Boggs also was named to the list. Boggs is one of just five Asian American athletic directors among 353 Division I programs, in which women make up about 14% of all Division I athletic directors.
“It’s featuring women in general and women in all different phases of their professional careers. Some have been doing what they do for 30-plus years. So to be recognized alongside them is such an honor and a privilege,” said Naegeli, who didn’t know who her fellow honorees were until the photo shoot for AZ Business Magazine.
She is in the publication’s sprawling cover photo, front and center, alongside impressive women she knows.
“To see familiar faces of, ‘Oh! I work with you!’ We collaborate on all these different projects and initiatives. But to be able to celebrate that success with some of my greatest colleagues …”
Colleagues such as Christine Gannon, founder and CEO of BrightWorks Consulting, who sits on the Honors College’s Advisory Board.
“I have been working with her for the last decade,” so to be sharing the honor with her made the award even that more meaningful, Naegeli said.
In looking across the span of all those Most Influential Women in Arizona, Naegeli said she realized the unique position she is in in her role as dean of the Honors College, stepping up to take on that position in the spring after serving as the college’s associate dean for 3½ years.
Unlike other colleges on campus, the Honors College spans all disciplines, serving students from GCU’s other colleges. What that means is collaboration with the entire academic swath of the University.
“I think the most fascinating part is that within the Honors College, we are one of nine colleges. So we are here to support the students academically, but we are also a supporting department, so we are required to cross-collaborate with all the different colleges.”
Naegeli added, “Because the Honors College is interdisciplinary and supports students across 200-plus different disciplines, we can’t be the expert in all of those things. So we rely heavily on external relationships to help guide and support us in supporting our students.”
That means expanding its reach to experts beyond the University’s walls.
“I think that’s where I feel extremely blessed. Our network outside of GCU is so diverse. You look at our board, and you see all these different industries and disciplines. It’s been really great to be able to field that network and community both inside and outside GCU.
“I think that has played a really huge part in accolades like this.”
What also has played a huge part in those accolades, such as Naegeli being named one of the 10 Young Business Leaders to Watch by AZ Big Media in 2021 and the Athena Valley of the Sun’s HAIL Award recipient earlier this year, are the strides the Honors College has made under her leadership.
Naegeli, who started at GCU in 2009 as a university development representative and joined the Honors College in 2014, has helped the college grow from 59 students in its inaugural year in 2013 to more than 3,000 students today.
The Honors College, at the cusp of the 2022-23 academic year, is expecting 1,200 new students, which would be its largest incoming class. That influx marks an 8% growth over last academic year.
“We’re really excited about that growth,” she said.
And Naegeli herself has grown in her years at GCU, where she has held numerous positions. One of her great personal achievements is completing her doctoral degree in 2021. She received her Ph.D. in performance psychology after defending her dissertation, “The Influence of Fan Engagement Through Social Media on Performance Anxiety in Male, NCAA Division I Athletes.”
During the seven years to complete that degree, she squeezed in a marriage and children — she has three children — and balances her personal life gingerly with her job as the dean of a burgeoning college on a campus experiencing exponential growth.
Naegeli speaks of the Honors College’s future events with enthusiasm, such as the Week of Service in October, which in 2021-22 included more than 150 unique volunteers at 14 different service events.
“That’s the first time we blew it up from one day to a week, so this year, I can imagine it’s going to double in size and effort.”
It’s those kinds of results that answer her question of “Why am I here?”
“I feel like I just get to learn a new thing every single day,” she said of her place at GCU, where she’s around so many strong, successful people on and off campus. “I don’t get to live in one space. I get to live through our students, through their successes and watch them learn.”
You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
AZ Big Media: Most Influential Women, Dr. Breanna Naegeli
AZ Big Media: Most Influential Women, Jamie Boggs