By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Photo by Antoinette Proctor
As captain of GCU’s cheerleading squad, Jesi Smith is active enough without serving as a campus Head Life Leader. But she wants the added responsibility.
The junior Christian Studies major uses her natural leadership abilities to hold dormitory Bible study sessions, mentor other student leaders in their faith and provide direction for any open-hearted non-Christian to learn about Jesus.
With the University growing at such a rapid rate, Spiritual Life staff said developing other student leaders like Smith is paramount. By this August, GCU will have nearly 375 students trained as resident assistants, student government volunteers, servant scholars and life leaders – more than ever before.
About 1,500 students currently live on campus. By this fall, the number climbs to around 3,200. Campus officials already have begun training and organizing dozens of new student leaders to cover the influx of underclassmen filling two new residence halls.
The challenge, according to students and staff, is reaching as many incoming students as possible to build manageable campus communities. In some cases, that may extend beyond young people who grew up around churches and ministries.
“The thing I’d really like to see is student leadership as a whole really branch out,” said Smith, 20, who volunteered in youth ministry in high school before enrolling at GCU.
Smith added that, like her peers in student leadership, she has the tendency to settle into working with smaller pockets of students. For example, she finds herself drawn to young women unfamiliar with Christ or those who are distracted from their faith by the transition to college life.
“I think we as student leaders need to reach out to those who are different than us, who don’t know Jesus,” Smith said. “It’s something that I really want to challenge myself on.”
Residential life connections
GCU students’ college experience is different from larger, public universities where Christian studies and organizations find themselves on the fringe.
At GCU’s main campus, faith is encouraged and student leaders evangelize through mini-ministries among their classmates, dorm neighborhoods and extracurricular organizations.
Joe Brooks, GCU’s community life director, who oversees student resident assistants and dorm resident directors, said retaining students’ interest and involvement in Christian events will come through developing comfortable living communities.
Brooks said the University hired nearly 30 new resident assistants to have 80 working by this fall. The student-to-RA ratio, he said, will remain around 30-to-1 with the opening of the new Camelback and Sedona halls. Some RAs may have as many as 50 students, however.
GCU hires “community instigators” who ensure students feel connected to the community, Brooks said. He added that GCU once had 27 or fewer RAs working on campus.
“We look for students who are going to make relationships with people naturally, but who are also interested in being involved on campus and giving back,” Brooks said.
Danielle Rinnier graduated from GCU in 2007 and remained on campus to work in the Spiritual Life office as discipleship coordinator.
She said she has witnessed God’s impact on students and expects to learn about more spiritual triumphs by this fall as student leadership groups expand.
Rinnier said University staff aim to empowered students to care for each other. She oversees 10 Head Life Leaders like Smith, who earn money and credits in their roles. Head Life Leaders train younger Life Leaders who connect with a range of students.
Student Life Leaders are trained to recognize depression, sexual issues, drug-induced behavior and other indicators of more serious personal problems. In their roles, student leaders have the ability to save their peers from falling deeper into destructive behaviors through positive encouragement.
“Real serious, heavy stuff comes up,” Rinnier said. “Life Leaders have the integral role of forming ministries and healing.”
“Peers have a unique opportunity that staff don’t have,” she said. “They really get where students are at in their lives, unlike we’re able to do.”
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].