May 15, 2013
By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
One award was expected. The other was a surprise.
A delegation of 60 Grand Canyon University employees who attended the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce IMPACT Awards luncheon on Tuesday already knew GCU had been named 2013 “Economic Driver” for the Chamber’s large-business sector.
The unexpected second award — for 2013 Business of the Year, out of the same sector of businesses of 250 employees or more — brought several tables of GCU folks to their feet at the event at Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa. Many put their ’Lopes up in celebration, which led at least one presenter to remark about the unidentified “hand gesture” coming from six tables in a corner of the ballroom.
|President and CEO Brian Mueller accepted the awards, explaining the honors as the result of GCU's reinvention of higher education through an innovative investment-based model that rejuvenated a nearly bankrupt institution. Since Mueller and other leaders took the helm in 2008, GCU has grown into a major job-creating force in the Valley - both for incoming students and for approximately 3,000 people who work for the University.
"We absolutely have the strongest, best team in America," Mueller told the audience of businesspeople as he accepted the Business of the Year award.
"Some of us have been together over 20 years, some us as much as 30 years together. We wouldn't have been able to do any of this without them."
Mueller told the hundreds of business leaders in the audience Tuesday that GCU's traditional ground campus in west Phoenix could hold nearly 8,500 students by the fall, about 70 percent of them from Arizona.
He added that online enrollment of working-adult students is around 46,000 nationally, and that more than $300 million in capital improvements, such as the soon-to-be-completed revitalization of the Student Union, have enhanced the quality of campus life for incoming students. GCU hopes to expand to sites in the East Valley and Tucson to provide even more access for students.
Mueller also used the anecdote of a student from west Phoenix who grew up about a mile from campus to highlight the University’s focus. The student graduated in three years from GCU’s pre-med program and is now in medical school with the hope of returning to Phoenix to work as a pediatrician.
“That’s what drives us, that’s what we’re all about,” he said. “We want to make education affordable to all social classes of Americans. We want to make private, Christian education available, regardless of social class, for all classes of Americans.”
To roaring approval from the crowd, Mueller also challenged Arizona State University to a “great community project” that would showcase “Christians versus the Devils” in a basketball game at a major venue such as US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. As part of GCU’s growth, the University is joining the NCAA Division I Western Athletic Conference this fall.
The Chamber credited GCU for opening up “a world of possibilities for thousands of students and our economy through an energetic reinvention” of higher education. A seven-member panel of past award winners, business leaders and community leaders selected GCU from a group of more than 50 original applicants.
Katie Campana, director of community relations for the Chamber, said Mueller’s “vision and passion” resonated with selection panel members during the interview process. While he touts GCU’s excellence as a university and public company, Mueller also takes great pride in sharing the stories of how GCU students and staff help elevate the less-fortunate in west Phoenix.
“That’s a big reflection of how (GCU) is working with the surrounding community, and how GCU is growing,” Campana said.
Stan Meyer, GCU’s chief operating officer, said the awards would only continue to position the University among the top businesses in Arizona.
The focus for the future, Meyer said, was to aim for the “highest level possible” – at the academic level, with NCAA athletics and among other education providers. Recognition as an Economic Driver for the Phoenix area helped validate the years of hard work that went into changing how GCU serves students and the community.
“It’s just a great indication of the wonderful work our faculty and staff are doing every single day to make GCU a great place for our students,” Meyer said.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or michael.ferraresi.gcu.edu.