Story by Jeannette Cruz
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller set the tone for the annual Students Inspiring Students banquet Tuesday night when he directed his attention to the new 100 scholarship recipients, former recipients, donors and local school administrators and asked each group to rise one by one.
“We are so excited about this evening because of how many people in the community come together to make this happen,” he said. “This is not just Grand Canyon University – it’s a whole bunch of people coming together and saying that as a greater West Valley community we can do something significant through the lives of the students that are coming up in this next generation.”
Now in its third year, Students Inspiring Students is a collaboration of the University, the GCU Scholarship Foundation, schools and businesses and philanthropic leaders. Each year, the University awards 100 full-tuition scholarships to students from inner-city schools who meet academic criteria and demonstrate financial need. They then pay it forward as college students by volunteering for 100 hours per academic year in the Learning Lounge -- GCU's on-campus source of academic assistance for students of all ages -- serving as a tutor and mentor to the next generation of students behind them.
Mueller told the story of how it all started in 2013 with a conversation with Alhambra principal Claudio Coria, now executive director of leadership for the Phoenix Union High School District, to discuss the challenges at the high school, where 82 percent of the student body is Hispanic and more than 90 percent fall below the federal poverty level.
From that conversation, the Learning Lounge on GCU’s campus was opened to provide free tutoring and mentoring to any Alhambra student seeking academic assistance with the help of student LEADs (learning advocates). Located right down the street from GCU, Alhambra went from a D-minus school to a nine points away from B rating in just three years.
From 10 LEADs in the first year, Mueller said, the program has expanded to 1,500 students providing one-on-one tutoring from 3-8 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays to K-12 students at 76 schools in GCU's neighborhood.
He added, “We are just beginning here. The goal eventually is that we have 800 students from the neighborhood schools in the scholarship program.”
Next up was Dr. Joe Veres, GCU's Executive Director of Student Development and Outreach. Veres put in perspective how hard the local achievers have worked: Besides the group's 3.97 GPA, he said, it has accumulated more than 5,000 visits, totaling 15,000 hours, to the Learning Lounge to improve their academic standing.
“Without a doubt, we know that you are going to continue your success, and GCU is honored to be a part of that," he told the students. "As a university we are united by that purpose. We want to give back to the community, and nothing will shine brighter than the Students Inspiring Students scholarship.”
Two former recipients, freshman Jose Monarrez and sophomore Sara Rojas, stepped onto the stage to share advice on how to get through the first year in college.
Monarrez recalled how on his first day he walked into class 20 minutes late and without a laptop and all eyes were on him.
“The moral of the story? Don’t be late, and bring your laptop,” he said.
Piece of advice No. 2: “Sometimes you might feel like you don’t belong or fit in and it’s OK. You’ll adapt. Give it time.”
He added, “You guys are on to great things, and this is just the first step to your journey so – felicidades y bienvenidos a la familia – congratulations and welcome to the family.”
Looking at the audience, Rojas smiled and said, “I can’t tell you how many opportunities this scholarship has opened for me, and I’m sure it will do the same for you.”
Rojas added, “I come from a place where college is a far-reached privilege and opportunities are very slim. I think it’s safe to say that we can all relate. Because of this scholarship I’ve been able to shut down all of the stereotypes. I’ve been able to make connections with people inside and out of the Lounge.
“Just remember you’re not alone on this journey. I will spread love and kindness and support you from the very same place that showed me light in some of my most difficult moments in my life. GCU has allowed me to be the first (in my family) to go to college and set a trend for generations to come. … I know you’ve already experienced a sprinkle of that magic.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or [email protected]