Welcome Week is social, the eye-to-eye kind

Sophomore transfer students from Chicago Grace Minder (center) and Davis Whitehead (right) mingle during the ASGCU Transfer Student Social at Thunderground on Wednesday.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Social Human Bingo Challenge is a popular game at Welcome Week student socials. Each square holds an attribute a participant must find in another, such as “does yoga,” or “has an older sister.”

But when Davis Whitehead and Grace Minder approached each other at Wednesday’s social for transfer students at Grand Canyon University, they discovered something that was not on the bingo card.

Each attended a small college near Chicago.

Each played college volleyball but won’t at GCU.

“We didn’t know each other,” said Whitehead, who transferred from Wheaton College.

“It’s really crazy,” said Minder, who transferred from Olivet Nazarene University, 60 miles from Wheaton.

Both said they wanted a fresh start in a place that was warmer. And now they’ve met a friend with a lot in common.

That’s the idea of socials, a growing aspect of Welcome Week activities focusing on community-building. There were nine this year, featuring everything from out-of-state students, international or first-generation students to those for Honors College students or engineering freshmen.

“I think all the socials are not only a great way to advertise our different departments and campus resources, but also infuse an aspect of engagement in these events,” said Alden Sia, Welcome Programs Manager. “Like most things Welcome Week-related, we always want the GCU culture of community to shine through.”

Rhett Peters (left), a transfer student from Iowa, trades social bingo information with Portland transfer Luke Javier.

You might meet someone from Iowa at the transfer student social (shout out Hawkeye Community College transfer Rhett Peters).

Or you might meet someone from Minnesota at the out-of-state student social, where 200 crowded into Thunderground within 10 minutes, no surprise since the majority of GCU students are from out of state.

“I heard great things about it,” said Twin Cities-area freshmen Stephen Rodemeyer, who could conveniently help others fill the bingo squares that read, “Is a resident of Minnesota.”

“I wasn’t even originally planning on coming here, but when I told people I was looking at the Southwest, they were like, ‘Have you heard of GCU?’ After like five people said that, I felt like I had to check it out. I fell in love with the campus and the people.”

Two things are a given for any freshman coming to a social. You will be fed a delicious cookie, or if you’re clever like one student, a cookie sandwich featuring two smashed together. And you will find some friendly people.

Global Citizens team member Jadia Blake meets with a group of students during the International Student Welcome Party.

Three socials were started by the Associated Students of GCU last year, and its leaders were determined to bring them back.

“Student government is about building community on campus,” said ASGCU President Jagaar Halverson. “So all of our events are done with a purpose, whether it’s to connect students at out-of-state or first-generation socials or any event throughout the semester.

“A lot of people find friends from their initial week of Welcome Week at events like this. I met someone from Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania in just one group,” said the Iowa native. “There are a lot of reasons people come here, and I think it’s because of the community and the weather.”

Other socials have more specific goals, such as the International Buddy Program Welcome Party held on Monday afternoon.

The goal is to match international students or third-culture students (who grew up in countries different than their passport) with mentors and friends with a global mindset who help them adjust.

“They are not just adjusting to American culture but GCU culture,” said Global Outreach Coordinator Caitlin Titus, whose department collaborated with the International Student Office and the Multicultural Office to create the International Ambassador Program. “It’s helpful to get that support.”

She said there are approximately 400 international students at GCU.

Sol Jadur of Argentina talks wtih new friends about coming to GCU.

At the party, Sol Jadur of Argentina was happy to meet U.S.-born fellow students Mercy Andersen and Samantha Algernon, who stopped by to meet others with varied experiences different from their own and support students who they admired for having the nerve to start college in a place so different from home.

“I learned some English in school,” Jadur told them, “but mostly I picked it up from movies.”

What movie?

“Ten Things I Hate About You.”

The three students laughed about the plot of that movie, a high school girl who wanted to leave her hometown and travel far away to college.

“I’m looking forward to making new friends and leaving old things behind,” Jadur said.

The students were from Asia and Europe, Africa and Central and South America.

They were students who met new friends, like Jadia Blake from a tiny town of 400 people in Papua New Guinea, who found helpful advice from Riley Salter, who joined Global Outreach at GCU after living across the world from New Zealand to Panama with her geologist father.

Global Citizens team member Riley Salter talks about Global Outreach with international students.

She said her “entire psychology” is as different as the culture and languages, but it all comes down to learning new skills in life and dealing with change.

“I’ve been to the slums in Panama. That really changed the trajectory in my head. I started noticing people in the corners, the unseen,” she said. “So I decided I wanted to go into social work at GCU.

“This is a time to decide who you want to be,” she said of making faith her own endeavor apart from parents. “My advice is to be uncomfortable. Short term pain for long term gain.”

And, at these socials, that means being uncomfortable for a moment to approach a stranger.

“I met a girl here and asked her, ‘How are you doing?’ She was from Japan,” said Salter, who tries to help people remember her by calling herself “Smiley Riley.”

Salter asked her if she wants to be buddies. They plan to meet at this weekend’s International Student Orientation.

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

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Related content:

GCU News: Welcome Crew is encouraging sign of year ahead

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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Bible Verse

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21)

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