Students can revel in The Rivers in multiple ways

Sierra Jones (left) and Emily White are resident directors in The Rivers, GCU's new student housing complex.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Sierra Jones’ metaphor was mixed but aptly described the landscape of the newest apartment complex at Grand Canyon University.

“The Rivers are like their own island,” she said of easternmost student housing on the expanding campus. “We have the opportunity to make it our own identity as individual (buildings) and as The Rivers together.”

Jones and five other resident directors are excited to welcome students to three apartment buildings named after Arizona rivers (Agua Fria, Salt, Verde) and hailed for a design that takes full advantage of outdoor spaces.

Jones in Salt River and Emily White in Verde River said that each six-story, 600-bed building hall will have its own personality and culture, formed by the students.

“It’s all very organic. We can say what we want but we don’t know who our residents are going to be. They take it on themselves,” Jones said.

For example, one year as an RD in Ocotillo, students made a play on the name to create “Ocotaco” that became “Taco Town.” And Encanto earned the nickname “Encanto Chateau” when White was the RD there.

They are already working on verbal plays: “Salt … we bring the flavor,” Jones said.

“We are ‘Verde’ excited,” said White, laughing.

Really, she will leave it to the 12 student resident assistants in each building, who are responsible for bringing fresh ideas and enthusiasm to a new hall.

The Rivers are three six-story residence halls on the east side of campus.

“They are the real community builders,” White said. “It’s the energy they bring, and it ends up being this amazing thing, this community we strive to build. It’s the reason they chose GCU.”

White has seen GCU's campus blossom in her five years here to 27 living areas for 16,000 students who will be campus residents this fall.

When students start to move into the complex off Missouri and 29th avenues on Aug. 30, the RDs will be moving in right alongside them, though they are full-time employees who are responsible for building, event and conflict management, not to mention being a shoulder to lean on.

“I can say we are just as excited as the students,” White said. “As someone from the Midwest, the school year is the best part of the year in Arizona and our courtyard and flex space will be really great.”

The courtyards are not just cut-through areas but open and inviting venues -- wider than in other complexes on campus and featuring seating and activity spaces.

“It has more of a hang-out feel. We like to cultivate space for more than studying,” said Holly Neely, Residence Life Manager. “We are hoping it’s a pretty relaxed environment so students can get charged for academics.”

The swimming pool’s design creates less of a lap-swim vibe than a creative hangout space, she said, or one for water games.

Students can dine in the new Panera Bread and Nekter Juice Bar options outside Verde, grab a coffee at the GCBC at Agua Fria, while the Salt River will include an indoor-outdoor play area called The Riverbed with lawn games outside and a board game room, study room, movie theatre and arcade room inside.

But what students are just as excited about is the adjacent 2,800-vehicle parking garage that is a very short walk away, she said.

Students will be able to get in shape in other ways.

Verde’s first floor includes garage doors that open to a flex space from a fitness facility full of weight training and cardio equipment. It is only the second hall facility to feature a fitness studio for a variety of classes, such as spin, yoga, strength training, and more, said Matt Lamb, Director of Campus Recreation.

“They will be fittest students on campus,” White said, referring to the walk to the campus core.

There are other transportation options, however. Regular shuttles will run from The Rivers to Building 57. Vice President of Facilities Planning and Operations James Kossler said the transportation schedule will meet student needs for class times and adjust as needed throughout the year.

The Rivers’ finishing touches will be ongoing through the fall, but the heart of the complex is still the students.

The enthusiasm they bring tends to spread and set the tone, Jones said, while helping each other out when things get hard builds community.

“Last year during COVID, students felt isolated, so we were managing and navigating that side by side with them, and it pushed me to be more vulnerable. I can be a strong leader and be vulnerable,” she said. “That is the growing part of the job, being there with students in their hardest times, shoulder to shoulder.”

White said they aren’t just the bad guys who crack down on the rules.

As they walked into the larger offices behind the front desk on a recent morning, the decorating options started to form. Jones had a taco theme for her former hall but was eager to see what unfolds.

“I think the students will bring it to life,” White said.

They are certain the office door always will be open. The Resident Directors won’t be an island on this new river.

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

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Related content:

GCU Today: New housing complex to offer fresh (air) amenities

GCU Today: Things are looking up for life on campus this fall

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