Welcome Crew is encouraging sign of year ahead

Sophomore Welcome Crew student volunteer Nadia Perez is true to the sign she holds to encourage students moving in.

Photos by Ralph Freso

The Welcome Crew is 750 student volunteers and leaders in purple T-shirts. They stood in the darkness of early Monday morning before the sun could even slant between the six-story residence halls, where the first cars loaded with duffle bags and laundry baskets, students and parents round the corner.

They lift signs, messages of welcome and reassurance.

Senior Welcome Crew student volunteer Halle Kishbaugh greets students and family members.

There wasn’t as much noise this year, it seemed, as the Welcome Crew efficiently moved in students to Grand Canyon University’s campus on Monday. Welcome Programs staff said that these days it’s all about efficiency, offering directions, a friendly smile and a helping hand on the growing campus Move-In by appointment and not mass.

But the message remains clear – and it’s in the signs.

The Best Is Yet To Come.

That is one of three sign messages that the Welcome Crew raise up to the faces in the cars. (Of course, another is an Antelope pun for returnees, We Herd You Missed Us).

Nadia Perez lifts her sign at 6 a.m. on the corner of Sonora Apartments, hoping that many of the 17,500 students who live on campus know that, yes, the best is coming.

“You are just starting your journey. The best four years,” she said of the meaning behind the sign for newbies. “I want to help them just like people helped me.”

Last year, she was scared on that first day.

“I was all over the place. I didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got here. But I wasn’t here long before, they made me feel it: ‘Oh yes, you belong here.’

“I was loved here. I felt a sense of belonging, even after Move-In week and every week.”

Perez felt so good that she joined a Club sport for power lifting. She was nervous at first, but lifters at the Canyon Activity Center hoisting heavy weights were nothing but encouraging.

“There are people who want you to be the best you can be. You feel like there are people who believe in you. It helped me with my confidence,” she said.

One day, with all those lifters telling her that she could do it, and with 375 pounds resting on her shoulders, she lifted a personal best squat of 375 pounds.

Junior Welcome Crew student volunteer Riley Kollbaum directs students and families as they arrive on campus.

The Best Is Yet to Come

Belle Raeburn was holding that sign, too, just outside Diamondback Apartments.

She grew up in the small town of Canby, Oregon, where “I would go to the store and see four people I knew.”

The marketing major came here last year to experience a big campus and big city but wondered how it would go, not knowing anybody.

But after she was welcomed, Raeburn’s excitement grew, thinking that she was learning to “grow a community somewhere else.”

She found herself transforming from a reluctant student in high school to looking forward to going to class with engaging professors who told fascinating stories about the psychology of advertising.

There were students with different thoughts and new ideas.

“I met so many awesome people,” she said. “It helped me to be more diverse.”

Raeburn found community. Now she sees four people she knows when she walks into a class.

The sign she held was true.

Other volunteers helped unload cars or directed traffic, like Riley Kollbaum, a junior engineering major wearing a bright vest, strapped with a two-way radio.

When he heard there was a job with a walkie-talkie and a clipboard, he was in. There’s nothing a guy with a clipboard, a confident wave and old-school communication can’t do.

“Do you think I have this sense of confidence?” he joked.

“I saw this as a freshman when I was ‘crewed in.’ That is what I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to be that smiling face at 6 a.m. Nothing better.”

Kollbaum walked across the main campus more than nine hours later, still wearing the vest as temps eclipsed 115 degrees. “I pulled a double shift,” he said. “My body is good at regulating temperature. I’m young.”

Nearby, another volunteer sat on the corner of Prescott Hall in the shade – but with her sign aloft.

Welcome Crew student volunteers cheer on students and families as they arrive on campus.

The Best Is Yet to Come

“I feel like GCU is a campus for opportunity,” said sophomore Elexis Alexander. “New people can get a new life.”

She didn’t feel all together when she came to GCU last year.

Then she found God here.

“You become the people you surround yourself with,” she said. “They really showed me with God in my life that I could do anything.”

And now she plans on it, majoring in psychology with an emphasis in child development.

“I have a soft spot for kids and teens. I want to be someone they can come to,” she said.

Students and family members busy hauling in stuff look to her as she lifts the sign. They smile or nod.

She can tell them the sign is true.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: Students get moved in and plugged in to GCU life

GCU News: Student leaders create a Havoc-racy of untamed student solidarity

GCU News: Santa Cruz, Copper, other new additions make campus shine

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