Sky-high alumni plans include online students

Noah Wolfe, GCU's new Director of Alumni Relations & Engagement, is focused on building relationships with current students, online graduates and alumni chapters far beyond Phoenix. (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

Editor’s note: Reprinted from the November 2020 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU Magazine

The foundation for the rest of Len Keso’s life was formed when he set foot on the Grand Canyon University campus in the 1980s.

He met Michelle, his wife of 34 years and fellow College of Education graduate. He earned the degree that led to his government job in communications. And, together, they started a mutual admiration that would inspire their children to follow in their footsteps.

The Keso family (from left): Len, Michelle, Larae, daughter-in-law Hannah and Nathan.

It’s just one of the numerous stories about how GCU changed the trajectory of someone’s life. It’s also just one more reason why the Office of Alumni Relations, under the leadership of its new director, Noah Wolfe, is working to keep building relationships with alumni.

Wolfe, an alumnus who was President of the Associated Students of GCU as an undergraduate, wants to hear their stories.

 “We’re really excited about where we’re going to go down the road,” he said. “Our office exists to build relationships and support the GCU community through connection, engagement and opportunities to give.”

The goal is to reach as many graduates as possible and build an active community of Lopes, not just around the country but across the world.

The key to achieving this goal comes down to (1) engaging future alumni while they are still students, (2) creating stronger connections to online graduates and (3) creating more events and activities to bring alumni together, in Phoenix and beyond.

Dr. Kale Gober

Wolfe and Dr. Kale Gober, Vice President for Advancement, spent the summer strategizing ways to create an even stronger alumni community and already have started implementing their plan for a new era of engagement.

During Welcome Week, they launched efforts to build alumni relationships with current students by setting up a table on campus where they could answer questions about the department and its events.

“Getting students involved when they’re in their freshman and sophomore years makes it so much easier to get them to connect when they’re three or four years out,” Gober said. “It’s helping them understand that ‘you are one of ours and we’re here for you and these are the ways we can help you.’

“That’s a lot of what Noah’s group is focused on: What can we provide them through career networking and career placement?”

Gober and Wolfe also are working to strengthen the bonds of online alumni to the campus and the GCU culture.

“We’re really excited about integrating with online students,” Wolfe said. “We could be a pioneer in the world of online education when it comes to alumni relations. There’s no playbook for online engagement and what it looks like.

“We’d be an industry leader in that area, which I think is exciting, but also we have to figure out strategies for how to connect with them because they’re valuable, too.”

With most of the University’s alumni population graduating from online programs, the department is determined to grow online graduates’ sense of belonging to the campus and GCU community despite completing their degrees off campus.

This leads to Wolfe’s final major focus area: creating a stronger sense of community for in-state and out-of-state alumni through the alumni chapters.

Vince Licciardi, a 2007 graduate and President of the Phoenix alumni chapter, is excited to work with them on developing this new era.

“I think that we’re going to have some really cool things over the next several years,” he said. “We’re such a unique university in our industry; we’re such an anomaly because of our history. When I left with my undergraduate in 2007, I left not knowing if there was even going to be a GCU. We were in the transition of new leadership, and there were a lot more questions than there were answers at the time.”

Things have changed drastically since then, and now Licciardi is excited to see the Lope community grow in cities with higher alumni populations. Patrick Kendrick, a 2015 grad who’s President of the Seattle alumni chapter, looks forward to seeing what more can be done for out-of-state alumni, particularly when it comes to sports.

“Seattle University is one of the schools that has always been playing against GCU, and the competition runs deep,” Kendrick said. “That’s actually how I first got introduced to GCU, not knowing that this is where I would land.

“It would be something that we’d be more than enthusiastic about.”

Although Michelle Keso has made a career for herself as a professor in GCU’s College of Education, holds season tickets alongside Len for GCU basketball games and joins him at alumni events, the potential of having even more options to stay connected to the University as alumni is openly welcomed in her household.

“I think we can speak on behalf of our children, who are millennials and are younger: They’re very proud to have graduated from Grand Canyon,” she said of son Nathan, a 2015 Sports Management graduate, and daughter Larae (2019, Educational Studies). Nathan’s wife, Hannah, also is a GCU graduate.

“Over time, when there are opportunities that are meaningful to us and we feel as though we can make a contribution, we absolutely will take advantage of those opportunities because we believe in the mission and we believe in the values of this university. So if we can contribute to that, we would do so.”

That dedication to GCU is what Wolfe and his office want to embrace.

“We want to thank students for creating the culture, both when they graduate and beyond,” Wolfe said. “I think in the next year here there are going to be a lot of unique touch points where students are just thanked a little bit more from our office for creating something very special.

“There’s nothing like this in the world of higher education … we’re really grateful for that.”

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

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