Student leaders set the tone for GCU's campus vibe

Darion Padilla (left) is president of Associated Students of GCU and is joined by vice president Ben Claypool.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Energy and community spirit will be evident on Grand Canyon University’s campus by month’s end, and it’s no accident. The planning for it starts in early August, when student leaders walk across a quiet campus in small groups to the first training meetings.

On Monday, leaders did personality assessments to identify strengths and weaknesses, said Darion Padilla, the student body president, and later will learn how to set up event tables, manage a meeting and conduct themselves according to professional standards.

But these leaders also are building a web of enthusiasm.

They are part of 1,040 student leaders just from Student Affairs – joined by dozens of others across various departments — who do everything from organizing popular events and awareness campaigns to handing out stickers and helping fellow students adjust to life in residence halls.

“GCU places a lot of responsibility on students to lead other students. We have a unique opportunity; I’ve talked to a lot of other college leaders, and none do more than GCU,” said Padilla, President of Associated Students of GCU. “Students really respond to being led by peers.”

As Director of Student Engagement, Jeremy Mack has seen the network of student leaders work wonders.

“They value it more if they create it,” Mack said. “They get excited about it and tell their friends about it.”

For example, the Canyon Activities Board includes 35 student leaders who create and plan huge campus events such as Mr. GCU and Lip Sync.

“We put them in the driver’s seat,” said Mack, adding that University staff guide them to stay on track. “But by and large, that’s how our big events got created. Students got together and said, ‘This may be a dumb idea, but let’s try it.’”

Student leaders apply for positions in January, and hundreds more applicants seek them than are available.

Student leaders are selected who are enthusiastic about helping engage other students, build the community into a vibrant atmosphere and preserve a culture that reflects GCU’s Christian values.

“Within Student Affairs, a vast majority of what we’ve accomplished wouldn’t have happened without student leaders,” said Danielle Rinnier, Assistant Dean of Students.

She describes her staff as “coaches” of student leaders, whose job on the front lines is to keep the campus engaged and vibrant – “and they are really good at it.”

“The biggest thing that stands out is they really create a culture of buy-in. I don’t know if hype is the right word, but because of their energy and passion about GCU, it feels like it is contagious.”

Students leaders are awarded scholarships but also gain valuable leadership skills and hands-on training. They may work with vendors on event planning, for example, or learn to work within a budget.

“If you ask any student leader why they do it, a scholarship will be the last answer,” Padilla said. “I think they are in it for the growth, the mentorship and leadership. Our students care. I think our students care what GCU has given them.”

Among the first to arrive on campus in early July were student leaders from Welcome Programs, who are deep in preparation for the invasion, beginning Aug. 30, of 16,000 students moving in on campus and Welcome Week events for all 25,000 traditional students.

“We couldn’t host Welcome Week orientations without them,” Charity Norman, Director of Welcome Programs, said of her 12 student leaders. “They are very hospitable and service-oriented and are skilled at doing creative things, like building a scavenger hunt, but are also willing to do grunt work, like putting up traffic cones and organizing T-shirts.”

Residence Life and Spiritual Life utilize the most student leaders in Student Affairs, providing essential contact with the student body on a consistent basis, while Campus Recreation and the Department of Diversity and Inclusion also have student leaders.

Donald Glenn

Last spring’s Culture Fest, by Diversity and Inclusion, was largely put on by student leaders, who set up an expo, stage, performers and prizes.

“Basically, they are responsible for our programming,” said Donald Glenn, the department’s director. “We build the skeleton and we let the students have the creativity of what we put in place. They are the heart of soul of the Multicultural Office.”

Among them is Jeff Bazezew, a senior going into his third year as a student leader. This year he directs the most-ever — 16 student leaders.

“Especially being a first-generation student, culture is a big thing for me,” he said. “Being able to learn from people who are different than me is a big part of my college years in growing as a leader, student, global citizen and Christian.”

He’s learned a lot helping organize events to mark Black history or Latin heritage, events where student leaders set the tone.

“We can set an example for others to be able to have a conversation with others that you don’t necessarily agree with and be OK with being uncomfortable with other cultures you aren’t aware of,” he said. “It’s about having that desire to always learn, be accepting of others and be open to change.”

Student leaders will continue training throughout the month and will collectively gather on Aug. 25 in GCU Arena for inspiration to start the fall semester and continue to make the campus a vibrant place.

“The more students who are plugged in, the more they will stick around,” Rinnier said. “We see student leaders as a factor in students who want to come back to campus every year and have that experience.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: New student leaders say their mission is to listen

GCU Today: Window of opportunity for future student leaders


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