Women in Business co-founder will leave legacy after GCU graduation

Senior business management major Belle Rakestraw graduates Friday after amassing impressive credentials at GCU.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Belle Rakestraw did not hesitate when answering what she thought was her most significant achievement at Grand Canyon University.

“I would have to say I'm most proud of starting the Women in Business Club, and I say that because I think it's way beyond me,” she said.

Rakestraw’s response does not come as a surprise to those close to her who have benefited from her friendship and wisdom during her 3 ½ years in the Colangelo College of Business.

“The way she’s led by serving other people is seriously incredible, and there are big shoes to fill, because Belle has left such a great impact on, specifically, the female students of CCOB,” said Abbie Gage, who succeeded Rakestraw as President of WIB – the biggest club on campus, with nearly 800 members. “She’s so knowledgeable and has used so many different connections in the Valley to help the students of CCOB.”

Belle Rakestraw (right) received praise from current Women in Business President Abbie Gage (left) and Colangelo College of Business Senior Associate Dean Dr. Allison Mason.

Rakestraw will leave with much more than just a bachelor’s degree in business management when she graduates on Friday at GCU Arena.

She spent her academic career also handling challenging requirements as a student in the Honors College. “Right at the beginning of my freshman year was difficult, but I think it taught me how to be a good student right off the bat, and it made the rest of college that much better,” Rakestraw said.

She added that the Honors College opened her to more contacts once she and co-founder Havilah Houston started WIB. She earned a human resources job at GCU, served as a fellow for St. Vincent de Paul and will start a new job as development associate at St. Vincent's in February.

And as a Colangelo Scholarship recipient, Rakestraw leaves GCU without any debt while earning respect and admiration from students and leaders who watched her excel despite a heavy schedule.

Belle Rakestraw helped start the Women in Business Club.

“Belle Rakestraw has left a lasting impression at GCU,” said Dr. Allison Mason, CCOB senior associate dean. “We knew she was special from the first interaction we had with her, but we had no idea the impact she would make within the college. She is a strong woman of faith and has proven to be a great mentor and leader for her peers.

“She and Havilah Houston (a 2022 GCU grad) helped set the bar high for the CCOB Women in Business Club and have created amazing opportunities for our future members. I am excited to see what her future holds, and I’m confident it is very bright.”

WINTER COMMENCEMENT CEREMONIES
9 a.m. Friday: Colleges of Engineering and Technology, Humanities and Social Sciences, Natural Sciences
2 p.m. Friday: Colangelo College of Business and the College of Theology
7 p.m. Friday: Colleges of Arts and Media, Education, Nursing and Health Care Professions

But for a while it looked like Rakestraw was not going to leave her hometown of Peoria, Illinois. She worked as a marketing student trainee at Caterpillar, one of the world’s largest machine and engine manufacturers, for 16 months with the possibility of continuing to work there and enroll at a community college.

It was not until members of a local youth group told Rakestraw of GCU’s Discover Trip that changed her destiny.

“It was just about who GCU is – private, Christian, affordable,” Rakestraw recalled. “I heard a lot about that. I would think to myself, ‘There is no way. This is too good to be true. There’s got to be something wrong with it.’

“And then I went on my trip (in November 2019) and felt the presence of the Lord and just what’s happening with this community. The stirring up in this campus was what really hit me.”

Leaving home and a strong relationship with her parents created some apprehension, but Rakestraw said she was greeted with open arms from people she didn’t know and “felt the love of Jesus.”

Earning a Colangelo Scholarship cinched her decision and fueled her confidence to make an impact at GCU, such as brainstorming with Houston in the middle of her freshman year, which led to the creation of WIB.

Former Women in Business President Belle Rakestraw (third from right) is flanked by CCOB Senior Associate Dean Dr. Allison Mason (third from left) and WIB members.

“I saw that there was an area of opportunity to create, lead and start things, the entrepreneurial sense of CCOB,” Rakestraw said. “That’s a big thing we stand for, as the way the school was financially stable. At most schools you’re paying $60,000, and out-of-state tuition is so ridiculous. It felt almost like it's too good to be true that I can like make this happen.”

Being mentored by Houston actually sparked the idea to form WIB, but they had no inkling they would have 400 members during their first year.

“I think we intended it just to provide value, whether it was five or 10 (members),” Rakestraw said.

Her networking skills helped her and other coeds connect with female business professionals in the Valley. At one of the first WIB meetings, Rakestraw expressed to guest speaker Reena Green, vice president of human resources at GCU, that she was interested in learning more about HR.

“Within a few months, I started working in HR here,” Rakestraw said. “But I’m just one example of how that has happened.”

Rakestraw regrets that WIB has not kept track of members who have landed internships and jobs, “but I'm very confident that there were certainly girls who had stories like me.”

Rakestraw credits Mason for her relentless support for her and the WIB, and Dr. Breanna Naegeli, Honors College dean, for introducing her to unique opportunities.

Roommate Riley Mattson, an elementary education major who also will graduate Friday, marvels at Rakestraw’s humble nature, stemming from her faith.

“She leads with Him at the center,” Mattson said. “That’s why she’s so calm, collected and organized because everything she does flows from Him. That’s what everyone gets to see on a big scale.

“But as roommates, we get to see her reading in the morning, praying at night with us. Everything is rooted in Him, and that’s where it comes from.”

Spending a brief time with Canyon Angels during her freshman season was a learning lesson for Rakestraw, who soon recognized she wasn’t a fit.

Belle Rakestraw is getting married in January and starting a full-time job with St. Vincent de Paul Feb. 12.

“Canyon Angels is great,” Rakestraw said. “I think that I learned that. Analyzing the finances of startup companies isn't necessarily my strong suit. But I think it is an awesome opportunity for students to learn and get in front of investors, and just getting to learn that way was really cool.”

And there was one more perk. Rakestraw spent enough time with Canyon Angels to meet club president Connor Keane.

“If I’m going to be quite honest, (Keane) is what kept me in (the club) for as long as I was there,” Rakestraw said with a smile.

“So, I met him my freshman year. We started dating in my sophomore year, and now we're getting married in January, which is a pretty sweet thing.”

That will be in the midst of a crazy two-month stretch for Rakestraw, considering her graduation, followed by a wedding and then her new job, which she starts Feb. 12.

Rakestraw’s connection with St. Vincent stemmed from a conversation with its chief philanthropy officer, Ryan Corry, about fundraising and structuring a club like WIB.

Rakestraw made a favorable impression last summer as a fellow at St. Vincent's, where she learned the intricacies of donor relations and fundraising.

“And just getting to be a part of another mission-minded organization has been a blessing in what they do in our community,” Rakestraw said.

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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