GCU Alumni Awards
At the Office of Alumni Relations, we take great pride in recognizing the accomplishments of our esteemed GCU graduates through alumni awards programs. Every year at Homecoming, we honor outstanding alumni accomplishments by inducting new members into the GCU Alumni Hall of Fame.
GCU 30 Under 30
GCU’s young alumni are using their education to make an impact in their careers and on the people they serve. Every year, we recognize our 30 under 30 alumni who have made outstanding achievements early on in their careers.
Colangelo College of Business, Class of 2008
Melissa obtained her Bachelor of Science in Business Management and MBA from GCU. She is the co-founder and CEO of Arizona Charter Academy, an accredited public charter school. She has cofounded three charter schools and has been awarded and managed numerous state and federal grants and tax-exempt bonds. Melissa is also the president of Education Redefined, a consulting company that supports schools, businesses and nonprofit organizations in all operational areas. Her passion for employee culture has won numerous awards for the organizations that she has led, including the Business Journal’s Best Place to Work, Arizona’s Most Admired Companies, the prestigious Top 100 Companies in Arizona and Top Companies to Work for in Arizona. She also serves on the GCU College of Business Advisory Board. Melissa was named an Athena Award finalist from the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, one of the Phoenix Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business, Business Leader of the Year from the Arizona Charter School Association and the City of Surprise Citizen of the Year.
Colangelo College of Business, Class of 2008
Jeff graduated in 2008 from GCU with an Executive MBA. Jeff currently serves as the president of Thermo King West an industry leader in transport temperature control systems for trucks, trailers, buses and rail cars. Thermo King West, headquartered in Tolleson, Arizona, was given the 2019 North America Dealer of the Year award and recognized for its commitment to customers, its leadership in the industry and its endless pursuit to delivering quality. Jeff is also a member of the Thunderbirds and Young President’s Organization. He is a Phoenix native, has raised three kids here in the Valley and has been married to his wife Lori for 31 years.
College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Class of 1981
Garth graduated from GCU in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. Garth is a Phoenix native with over 38 years of experience in the IT industry as a software professional. Much of his time has been in the aerospace and defense industry with Lockheed Martin located in Goodyear, Arizona. He has been a software developer and built and led high performing teams in a variety of leadership roles. These teams contribute to many state-of-the-art intelligence systems. He has his Master of Science in Technical Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and his PMP. Garth has served his community through the American Cancer Society’s Climb to Conquer Cancer Phoenix for 19 years. His passion for this cause is driven by the memory of his sister Donna, who graduated from GCU in 1984 and lost her battle with cancer in 2002. He has also served in his local church in a variety of leadership positions over the years. He is currently an elder, small group leader and a member of the worship team in a technical role. Now, Garth is the CFO for Lorts
Manufacturing, a producer of high-quality wood furniture here in the Phoenix area. He and his wife Linda have three sons and five grandchildren.
College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Class of 1983
Jim graduated from GCU with a Bachelor of Arts in History. He is the founding member of Ledbetter Law. Through his practice, he represents a number of mining interests, oil and gas producers, physicians, hospitals, insurers and long-term care facilities. Jim and the firm also defend tribal nations and governmental entities. He serves on many different boards and committees in northern Arizona and was the founding director for the Boys and Girls Club of Cottonwood. With the Old
Town Mission, he established a pro bono legal clinic which has now run for decades and received licensures to operate a free medical clinic for the homeless. Jim is recognized by his colleagues and has been selected as one of Arizona’s Finest Lawyers.
Colangelo College of Business, Class of 1986
Rita graduated from GCU with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Rita worked alongside Jim at Ledbetter Law for many years and has supported various nonprofits and community organizations along the way. She has been involved in various causes at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cottonwood and Verde Valley Medical Center. Rita also created the Verde Valley Baby Pantry, which provides supplies to teenage mothers in need. Rita and Jim have been married for
over 30 years and have five sons together. The Ledbetters have been champions in the state of Arizona serving their Verde Valley home community in a truly remarkable fashion.
College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Class of 1997
Rachel Winkler serves as the vice president of individual segment at Blue Cross Blue Shield. Rachel has spent the past 21 years with Blue Cross Blue Shield, serving in a variety of positions, including as director of healthcare economics. Rachel graduated from GCU with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1997.
College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Class of 1981
Garth Bailey is a Phoenix native with over 38 years of experience in the IT industry as a software professional. Most of his career has been in the aerospace and defense industry with Lockheed Martin in Goodyear, Arizona. Bailey has been a software developer and has built and led high-performing teams who have contributed to state-of-the-art intelligence systems. He earned his master’s in technical management and his PMP from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Bailey has served his community through the American Cancer Society’s Climb to Conquer Cancer for 19 years. His passion for this cause is driven by the memory of his sister Donna (GCU class of ‘84), who lost her battle with cancer in 2002. He has also served in his local church in a variety of lay leadership positions over the years. Bailey is an elder, small group leader and a member of the worship team in a technical role. He is currently the chief financial officer for Lorts Manufacturing, a producer of high-quality wood furniture in the Phoenix area. Bailey and his wife, Linda, have three sons and five grandchildren.
Scott Van Newkirk
Colangelo College of Business, Golf Student-Athlete, Class of 1991
Born and raised in Gering, NE, Scott Van Newkirk attended GCU where he competed on the golf team from ’86 through ’91, graduating with the class of ‘91. He holds a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in business administration and marketing. After college, Scott began his career in the golf industry at Desert Mountain Club, moving on to Eagle Mountain as the general manager in 1995 and, eventually, to Troon in 2002. Scott has worked at Troon for 19 years where he has held various roles, including operating the Asia division based out of Tokyo, serving as the regional director of operations overseeing both resort and private clubs and, most recently, as the global development officer leading all business development initiatives. He’s been married to his high school sweetheart, Heidi Notman Van Newkirk (also GCU class of ’91) for 28 years and is the proud father of two amazing children, Tanner and Brynn, and his yellow lab, Babe. Scott is proud of his affiliation with GCU and incredibly humbled and honored to be selected for this award.
Colangelo College of Business, Baseball Student-Athlete, Class of 1997
Dan Snyder was a GCU student and member of the baseball team from 1995 to 1997. He graduated from GCU in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, with cum laude honors. Dan was the recipient of the Top Marketer Award in his graduating class. Shortly after college, Dan joined American Express Global Business Travel (formerly part of American Express Co.) where he still works today after 23 years. In 2008, as director of operations in Miami, he received top honors with the President’s Club award for his achievements and contributions to the business. Since 2011, Dan has been a member of the senior leadership team as vice president of operations in the Americas and, more recently, as vice president of mergers and acquisitions.
Bachelor of Science in Business Management, Class of 1954
Pete Gorraiz graduated from GCU in 1954. He played on the men’s basketball team and was a member of the first men’s baseball team while attending. Pete taught sixth and seventh grade for 34 years in the Squaw Peak School District, dedicating countless hours to his students and deeply investing in each of his schools. Pete has also volunteered much of his time to the university, even helping to establish the antelope monument that stands at the entrance of GCU today.
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Class of 1968
Rex Collins has always been an active member of the GCU community, being heavily involved in student government and acting as student body president during his senior year. After graduating and entering the food industry Rex started his own food brokerage company, Collins, Benford & Gray and served as president for 23 years. Rex has been recognized as the 1999 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and as Arizona Food Marketing Alliance’s 2016 Supplier of the Year. Rex also serves on several charities, including the March of Dimes, City of Hope organization and the Salvation Army.
Bachelor of Science in Vocal Performance, Class of 1990
Bachelor of Science in Ministry, Class of 1990
Rick Calcutt has served in ministry for over 35 years, striving to serve God through music and worship. He started out his ministry as a children’s pastor and since then has worked as a worship leader and creative arts pastor for churches throughout Arizona. Rick has written children’s worship curriculum for 15 years and, in 2010, published his own book, “The Blame Game.” Throughout his ministry, Rick has used his talents to bring together teams of creative people to further the kingdom of God through worship.
Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, Arizona State University, Class of 1999
Master of Education in Educational Administration, Class of 2008
Theresa Killingsworth has worked as a teacher, academic coach, character education trainer and principal for the Alhambra Elementary School District. After graduating from GCU, she remained involved in the community and has since organized a mission trip that brings members of the GCU and Alhambra communities to the Dominican Republic. The mission trip is the only education-based trip to the Dominican Republic, providing professional development to teachers in the country and aiding in the construction of much-needed buildings. Her goal both in and out of her professional life has always been to create a positive impact in children’s lives.
Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Class of 2014
Master of Science in Mental Wellness with an Emphasis in Prevention, Class of 2018
Shor Denny has spent her career working as an advocate for at-risk populations. Shor began her public service with the Safe Routes to School program, which used over $9 million in grants to improve the safety of pedestrians and bikers in Moreno Valley, California. Shor is the founder and CEO of Community Now, an organization that provides mental wellness programming for California youth. She additionally founded the Get Plugged In program to teach students positive coping skills and the Me, Myself & Mine program, which educates foster families on taking care of curly hair. Shor has received many awards for her community work, including Woman of the Year and the Women of Distinction Award.
Master of Science in Nursing Leadership, Class of 2015
Alicia Shields’ work has shaped the field of nursing in Washington and Arizona. She has worked as the chief nursing officer of multiple hospitals, transforming the culture of each. At a former hospital, Alicia founded a leadership program to develop future leaders within the organization. She has served on an advisory panel for the Arizona Nursing Association’s revision of the Nursing Code of Ethics and on the Arizona Nurses Public Policy Committee. Alicia also donates her time to the community, working as a volunteer fire fighter and acting as an anti-human trafficking advocate. She is scheduled to present on human trafficking in Italy and her first book, “The Empowered Nurse,” will be released in November.
Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, Class of 1959
T.C. Dean was recruited to attend GCU on a basketball scholarship, graduating in 1959 as the first black student to earn their degree at GCU. T.C. spent his 50-year education career in the Phoenix Elementary School District, returning to schools he had attended as a child to work as a teacher and a principal. He remains the record holder for most rebounds in a season, with 20.1 in the 1957-58 season. T.C. hopes that through his story he is able to inspire and be a role model for other young black students at GCU.
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Class of 1977
George Holm was a GCU basketball player from 1975 to 1977. More recently, he was appointed chairman of Performance Food Group’s (PFG) board of directors in January 2019. Holm became president and chief executive officer of PFG when it was acquired by Vistar Corporation in May 2008. Prior to that, he served as president and chief executive officer of Vistar, which he founded in 2002. Holm grew Vistar, a multichannel food, snack and beverage distributor, into a $3.5 billion company that was purchased by the Blackstone Group in 2007. During his 40-year career in the foodservice distribution industry, Holm has held leadership positions with Alliant Foodservice, US Foods and Sysco Corporation.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Class of 2014
Hagir Elsheikh is the founder and CEO of HSE Staffing Agency, LLC. HSE Staffing is one of the fastest growing and leading staffing agencies in Central Pennsylvania, earning Harrisburg Magazine’s 2017 Simply the Best distinction for staffing services. She is also an advocate for victims of violence through Tomorrow’s Smiles, LLC, her nonprofit organization. Additionally, Elsheikh serves as a clinical instructor and board member at Harrisburg Area Community College, co-host at a local radio station and host for a TV talk show. She is a domestic violence survivor and advocate, as well as a board member with the Capital Coalition on Homelessness and YWCA of Greater Harrisburg. She is a motivational speaker and passionate about inspiring others using her life as an example.
Randi (Johns) Riggs
Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Class of 2009
Randi (Johns) Riggs was a GCU softball player from 2006 to 2009 who has achieved 12 GCU career records and 10 GCU season records, taking success to new levels for her teammates and herself. In 2006, Riggs made the 2006 NCAA Independent All-America team. With six years of experience in the field of education, she has served as a teacher, softball coach, social worker and now, a high school counselor at Copper Canyon High School in Glendale, Arizona. Much of her career is focused on helping individuals find career paths and reach their postsecondary goals. Serving in the education field has allowed her to give back through softball, softball clinics and outreach
opportunities to help nourish the community around her school.
Master of Science in Executive Fire Service Leadership, Class of 2008
Reginald Freeman is the 37th fire chief/emergency management director for the City of Hartford. Prior to the City of Hartford, Chief Freeman served as the international fire chief for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Ft. Worth, Texas, while at Air Force Plant 4. Furthermore, he served as the assistant chief/deputy director of Emergency Management for the City of Hartford, Connecticut, as well as fire chief for Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Georgia, (U.S. Air Force Plant 6) where he was named Professional of the Year in 2009. Chief Freeman served in Iraq as a civilian fire chief for the U.S. Department of Defense and coalition allies from 2004 to 2008. He has worked in a number of fire service capacities and currently serves as the chair for the Commission on Professional Credentialing via the Center for Public Safety Excellence, Inc. He’s also a member of the board of directors for the National Fire Protection Association and adjunct professor for Anna Maria College, University of Florida and Franklin University. Lastly, Chief Freeman is an accredited chief fire officer (CFO) through the Center for Public Safety Excellence, Inc., as well as a credentialed “fellow” with the Institution of Fire Engineers, USA Branch.
Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, Class of 1956
Sharky Baker was a GCU basketball player during 1952 to 1953 and a baseball player in 1953. He has since had a major impact on various communities as a teacher, counselor, coach, principal, district superintendent and more. While highly active in the Arizona Education Association (AEA), he has also served on the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) board for many years. Baker is a longtime GCU supporter; he served as a sports information officer, president of the Alumni Association, president of GCU’s Scholarship Foundation and was nominated as GCU’s 2011 Alumnus of the Year. Today, Baker continues to regularly attend university and alumni relations events with his wife Leona.
Baseball Student-Athlete, Class of 1981
Eric Rasmussen was a GCU baseball catcher from 1978 to 1980. He was a First Team All-American in 1979 and 1980. He made it to NAIA District Championships both years he was on the team and was on the national championship team in 1980. His career batting average was .370 with 30 career homeruns. In 1980, he played on the USA Baseball team and signed a professional contract with the California Angels in 1980.
Michael Baird, PhD
College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Class of 1971
Michael Baird is a Bible, theology and ministry educator. He was a professor at Grand Canyon University for over 35 years and has also educated students in Bible and theology at Gateway Seminary, Fuller Seminary, Wayland Baptist University and Kino Institute. He is devoted to inner-city ministry and is a part-time pastor and preacher at several congregations, serving urban, poor and multilingual ministries.
Colangelo College of Business, Class of 1992
Cathy Poplin is a board member and the current executive director of the Arizona Technology in Education Association. She is the deputy associate superintendent for educational technology at the Arizona State Department of Education. She focuses on e-Learning Task Force, IDEAL Education Portal, Statewide Instructional Technology Project, Intel(r) Teach Affiliate and the EETT program. She is also a member of the State Educational Technology Directors Association Board of Directors.
Mystie Johnson Foote, MD
College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Class of 1994
Colangelo College of Business, Class of 2015
Dr. Mystie Johnson Foote worked for Banner Health from 2011 to 2018, where she also completed her residency and training in OBGYN from 1998 to 2002. She was the founding owner of West Valley Women’s Care private practice, where she practiced as an OBGYN from 2002 to 2016. During her seven years at Banner Health, she served in multiple leadership roles, including CEO and CMO of the Banner Medical Group, CMO of Banner Thunderbird Medical Center and CMO of Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. She is now enjoying retirement and planning her next chapter.
College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Class of 1957
James Carter worked for the City of Phoenix from 1965 to 2005. He was the assistant prosecutor from 1965 to 1972, chief prosecutor from 1972 to 1974, assistant city attorney from 1974 to 1986 and the city magistrate from 1991 to 2005. He was a member of the Board of Governors of Phoenix Baptist Hospital from 1965 to 2000 and has been a member of the Board of Directors since 2000. He was the president of the Antelope Foundation at Grand Canyon University from 1979 to 1982 and a member of the Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1989.
Dr. Jackie Schiller II
Ken Blanchard College of Business, Class of 2007
College of Doctoral Studies, Class of 2016
Dr. Schiller is a decorated member of the United States Marine Corps where his time served was nothing short of noteworthy. After graduating with distinction from Basic School and Infantry Officers courses, Dr. Schiller was assigned as a platoon commander and participated in two 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit patrols and a three-month deployment to the Philippines. Later, in June 2008, Schiller served as rifle company commander, weapons company commander and battalion executive officer in deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon completion of the tour, he assumed command of Weapons Company where he led a successful rescue mission for the MV Magellan Star, a commercial vessel that had been captured by Somali pirates off the coast of East Africa. His personal decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (with three gold stars) and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (with three gold stars). Major Schiller is now retired from active duty and serves as the senior military instructor at Round Rock (Texas) High School.
College of Theology, Class of 1975
After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in religion from GCU in 1975, receiving ordainment and later earning a master of divinity degree, Michael Rochelle joined Shadow Hills Church in Las Vegas as the senior pastor. In 1986, the church had attendance of around 250 people each week. Thirty years later, under Rochelle’s leadership, Shadow Hills Church has grown to more than 3,000 people in four weekend services. Rochelle serves on multiple Baptist convention boards of directors, is president of the Nevada Baptist Convention and is vice chairman of the board of Canyon Institute which supports the GCU Scholarship Foundation and makes grants to numerous Christian organizations in Arizona and around the world. Mike Rochelle has been so impactful on the city of Las Vegas that in 2011 Mayor Carolyn Goodman declared Oct. 1 “Michael Rochelle Day.”
College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Class of 1989
College of Education, Class of 1999
Kim Tobey’s passion for leading students to higher education began as a GCU employee in the College of Education. Currently, Tobey is the director for community partnerships and programs in the Education Preparation Program at Rio Salado College, one of 10 Maricopa community colleges in Arizona and is the executive director for the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs. During her 16-year tenure with Rio Salado College, Tobey has partnered in the development of a state approved community college post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program, an alternative path program for certification and an undergraduate 3 + 1 Bachelor of Education partnership. She currently serves as the vice president of the Coalition of Affiliation Councils through the American Association of Community Colleges and president of the Arizona Educator’s Rising Advisory Board.
College of Education, Class of 1973
Tim Carter is the superintendent of Yavapai County Schools where he oversees 26 school districts, 24 charter schools and 96 campuses throughout the county. Having spent nearly 45 years in the education industry, Carter has an extensive list of career positions and achievements. Carter was selected for the North Central Accrediting Association’s Circle of Excellence in 2001, has been recognized with the Robert Taft and Melvin Jones Fellowships, was inducted into the Arizona Track Coaches Hall of Fame and was selected as the 2003 Arizona School Administrator of the Year. Unanimously appointed as the Yavapai County School Superintendent by the Board of Supervisors in 2005, Carter was re-elected for the position in 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Women’s Tennis Student-Athlete, Class of 1991
Michelle Knapp is one of the most decorated student-athletes in GCU women’s tennis history. Knapp competed for the Lopes all four years at GCU, earning 1st Team All American three times and All American Scholar twice. Knapp ranked in the NAIA Top 25 nationally all four years, including a third overall singles ranking her senior year and third in doubles her junior year. Michelle won NAIA District VII Team Championships in all four years that she played. In addition, no team on which Michelle played ever finished the season worse than 9th nationally, including a second place finish her sophomore season. Knapp is the only player in GCU tennis history to earn the NAIA’s top three individual tennis awards: Rookie of the Year, Arthur Ashe Award and Senior Player of the Year Award.
Dr. Brian Bucina
College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Class of 1998
Dr. Bucina is Chairperson of the Department of Surgery at Little Colorado Medical Center in Winslow, Arizona, where he is also the founder and medical director for the center’s Wound Care Clinic. Board Certified in General Surgery, Dr. Bucina serves as Clinical Faculty at Midwestern University, A.T. Still University, Michigan State University and the University of Arizona. Prior to beginning his decorated career, Dr. Bucina graduated summa cum laude from GCU in 1998 and went to attend the medical school of Midwestern University. While attending GCU, he served as president of the Pre-Medical Club while also working in the campus health clinic.
Men’s Golf Student-Athlete, Class of 2001
John Davis is the most decorated student athlete in the history of GCU Golf. Davis earned NCAA Division II First-Team All American honors in both his sophomore and junior seasons and went on to become the #1 ranked player in the nation as a senior. Today, Davis’ name continues to dominate the GCU record books, including a record eleven tournament wins which stands as more than twice that of the next closest competitor, as well as six of the 10 lowest single round tournament scores in Grand Canyon University men’s golf history.
College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Class of 1994
Max Fose has emerged as one the world’s leading practitioners in messaging and digital strategy. Currently the president and CEO of national advertising and public affairs firm IWS, his work has been recognized by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN and MSNBC. Fose served as a Practitioner in Residence at the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University, as well as two years as an Expert Panelist for the Congress Online Project. He was recognized by Politics Online, Harvard University and the American Association of Political Consultants as one of 25 Internet Professionals Changing the World of Politics.
Dr. Nicholas J. Markette
College of Doctoral Studies, Class of 2008 and 2011
The director of finance and strategy for Zenith Media and Tracking is also a senior doctoral adjunct supervisor for GCU’s College of Doctoral Studies and teaches with the Colangelo College of Business, overseeing 24 adjunct faculty members who hold doctorates. Markette is a past winner of the Outstanding Graduate Dissertation Award from the Arizona Professors of Education Administration.
Dr. Jim Rice
College of Education, Class of 1971
Dr. Rice served the Alhambra Elementary School District for 39 years before retiring in 2010 as superintendent. Alhambra School District is a sprawling and culturally diverse district serving more than 14,000 students in preschool through eighth grades across Phoenix and Glendale, Arizona. Currently in his 45th year in the education profession, Dr. Rice is continuing his service as interim superintendent for both Gilbert Public Schools and Union Elementary School District. Dr. Rice has received a host of awards and recognitions, including ASA Administrator of the Year-Superintendent Division in 2006 and Arizona’s Superintendent of the Year in 2007.
College of Business, Class of 1990
While still attending Grand Canyon University, Andrew Unkefer married his high school sweetheart and fellow GCU student Amy. By 1994, they had founded Unkefer & Associates, a national insurance marketing firm which now distributes financial solutions through thousands of agents across America. The company’s mission is “Helping Americans achieve retirement success.” With the assistance of Executive Vice President and fellow GCU alumni Chad Hilkemeier, Unkefer & Associates has evolved into a nationally respected brand. Andrew has received many insurance industry awards for service, creativity and market innovation as well as job creation and public impact.
In the community, Andrew extends his leadership as a member of the Board of Directors for two Christian universities.
College of Education, Class of 1973
Calvin Baker has come a long way during his 42-year career in education. He has been superintendent for one of Arizona’s top three school districts, Vail School District, located in Vail, Arizona, for over 26 years. His leadership roles include president of both the statewide superintendents group and the Arizona School Administrators Association. Baker has been recognized as Arizona Superintendent of the Year and Mentor of the Year by the Arizona Daily Star. Baker has also been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pima County Metropolitan Education Commission.
Dr. Stephen Hall
College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Class of 1990
Dr. Stephen Hall has extensive experience in molecular medicine and biomedical engineering and has founded several life science companies. He invented a vaccine technology that resulted in novel vaccines for several diseases. In addition, he developed a class of biomaterials that are being used to treat a number of diseases, including cancer and hereditary muscle diseases. Dr. Hall has held faculty positions where he taught, served as a thesis advisor and mentored graduate students. He holds a doctorate in biological sciences from Purdue University and has completed post-doctoral training in molecular and structural biology at The Scripps Research Institute.
College of Arts and Media, Class of 1998
Michael Kary is a professor for the College of Arts and Media at GCU. For the last 17 years, Kary has worked as a professional actor and writer in New York, Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix. Kary has performed in and around New York City, most notably as an original cast member for the musical, “Fame on 42nd Street.” Kary is also co-founder of Nobody in Particular, an award-winning production company with whom he has written and produced three television pilots, “Deal With It,” “Little League” and “Surviving Out of Doors with Louis.”
College of Business, Class of 1972
Mitchell Laird is the owner and president of the law firm, Laird & Associates, P.C. He is also the owner and CEO of MCL Enterprises, Inc., the largest Burger King franchise in Arizona. He serves as the CEO of Canyon Institute, a nonprofit organization that awards grants and gifts to Christian nonprofit organizations. Laird is a member of the Arizona Bar Association, Maricopa County Bar Association and the Christian Legal Society and serves on the board of directors of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. In 2013, he was appointed as one of five commissioners to the Arizona Clean Elections Commission.
Horacio Llamas Grey
Basketball Student-Athlete, 1994-96
Horacio Llamas Grey is an assistant coach with the Pioneros de Quintana Roo, a professional basketball team based in Cancun, Mexico. As a student-athlete at GCU, he was named NCAA Division II Player of the Year. Llamas also earned First Team All-California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) honors, when he helped GCU win the CCAA Postseason Championship Tournament and a spot in the NCAA Division II Regionals. Llamas played basketball professionally for 17 years, including two seasons in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns. He made NBA history, being the first Mexican-born player to appear in a regular season game.
Dr. Timothy Sieges
College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Class of 1975
Dr. Timothy Sieges is the clinical director of counseling ministries for Wycliffe Bible Translators, an international mission organization that translates and delivers Scripture to people around the world. Since 1987, Dr. Sieges’ work at Wycliffe has included counseling, consulting, leading workshops and seminars, conducting post-trauma debriefings and supporting the work of missionaries around the globe. Dr. Sieges traces his passion for God’s Word, world missions and service to the Body of Christ to his undergraduate experience at GCU.
College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, Class of 2010 and 2014
Maggie Kigen is a registered nurse at Maryvale Hospital in Phoenix and also owns Eldama Ravine Children’s Home, an orphanage in her home country of Kenya. Kigen felt God’s call on her heart to start an orphanage, which now has about 30 children. She also takes frequent mission trips. On her next trip she will be traveling to Kenya to help educate nurses in the area as well as visit her orphanage. In addition to volunteering to help those who are less fortunate, Kigen is very active in her local community and church.
Dr. James White
College of Theology, Class of 1985
James White is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix. White is also an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church and a professor, having taught Greek, Systematic Theology and various topics in the field of apologetics. White has also authored and contributed to more than 24 books and is an accomplished debater. He has engaged in more than 140 moderated public debates around the world in locations such as Sydney, Australia, as well as mosques in Toronto, London and South Africa.
College of Business, Class of 1981
Stephen Barnes has been in the financial services industry for 30 years, thriving through four major market declines. A chartered financial analyst and certified financial planner, he owns Barnes Investing Advisory Inc., Phoenix, where he specializes in portfolio management and supervision. Barnes writes about and discusses financial topics for media outlets and professional associations and is a member of the Desert Schools Federal Credit Union Board of Directors, the CFA Institute and the Financial Planning Association.
D. Samuel Coffman
College of Arts and Sciences, Class of 1980
D. Samuel Coffman, an employment law attorney at Dickinson Wright/Mariscal Weeks of Phoenix, uses his degree to help those who cannot afford or otherwise cannot access legal services. He is a longtime board member of two nonprofits, Uplift Ministry, providing free Christian counseling to teens and at-risk families, and Helping Hands for Single Moms, helping single mothers obtain financial independence through college education. Coffman has been recognized by Best Lawyers in Arizona, Best Lawyers in America and Arizona’s Finest Lawyers.
College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, Class of 1984
Michelle Gilman has contributed significantly to regional programs focusing on improved patient outcomes through innovative delivery systems. Gilman is director of education and founder of the Learning Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Her background is in intensive-care nursing, organ-donor recovery, hospice and adult education. Gilman was instrumental in implementing the first Arizona nursing education-practice partnership model with GCU and currently leads development of a nursing simulation center and American Heart Association Training Center.
College of Arts and Media, Classes of 2004 and 2008
Nick Halonen believes God has called him to be a role model for teenagers. For 10 years, he has been the choir director at Phoenix’s Trevor G. Browne High, a socio-economically disadvantaged school, where he also offers emotional support and encouragement. Students chose Halonen as 2013 Teacher of the Year and staff named him Employee of the Year in 2009. He is an assistant director of the Phoenix Children’s Chorus and, with his wife, GCU alumna Keslie Kattau Halonen, leads worship at Spirit Song United Methodist Church in Peoria, Arizona.
Dr. Paul F. Kinnison
College of Theology, Class of 1978
Dr. Paul Kinnison has done some grand things in his life: He was pastor of Grand Canyon Baptist Church in Grand Canyon National Park and has taught at GCU. Today, as associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Sun City West, he focuses on Christian discipleship, pastoral care and mission ministries. A graduate of three institutions of higher learning, Kinnison has studied the needs of people in physical, emotional and spiritual crises and worked with families grappling with domestic violence, grief and death.
Basketball Student-Athlete, Class of 2011
Sam Murphy is easily the most “decorated” student-athlete in the history of GCU women’s basketball. Murphy was named Pacific West Conference Freshman of the Year during her inaugural college season; PacWest Player of the Year twice; First-Team All-PacWest four times; and Daktronics First-Team All-American. Murphy was honored as PacWest Female Scholar Athlete of the Year three times and an Academic All American twice. In 2013, she was selected to the NCAA Division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team. Currently, Murphy is finishing a physician’s assistant program at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona.
College of Education, Class of 1988
Natalie Wilcox learned to care for the heart of every child in her sphere of influence during her education at GCU. Wilcox, principal at Echo Mountain Primary School in Phoenix, has worked with orphans in Mexico and Romania and is involved in programs that meet the needs of less-fortunate children. She has been a principal for 14 years and previously taught grades 5-8 for 10 years. Wilcox was named Arizona’s Gifted Principal of the Year in 2006 and has taught at GCU and Arizona State University, among other institutions.
Cynthia Mote Elliott
College of Nursing, Classes of 2006 and 2008
Cynthia Mote Elliott, BSN, MSN, FNP-C, graduated from GCU with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2006 and her Master of Science in Nursing as a family nurse practitioner in 2008. After graduation, Cindy and a colleague from Tucson took a leap of faith to open their own nurse-run clinic: Abundant Health Family Practice. Abundant Health Family Practice has a foundation based in Christ-centered leadership and service, where all walks of life are welcome. The mission is to promote the health and well-being of families by meeting the health care needs of those in the local Tucson community and surrounding areas.
Ken Blanchard College of Business, Class of 2008
Melissa Holdaway is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Arizona Charter Academy, where she oversees the accounting, human resources, marketing, facilities, strategic planning, legal, community development and technology. She is a veteran in the charter school industry with almost 20 years of leadership experience in for-profit and nonprofit enterprises, with the last 12 years in charter school operations and management. Arizona Charter Academy has received numerous awards including one of the Valley’s Best Place to Work from Phoenix Business Journal and Top 25 Workplaces for Women. It has been recognized as one of Arizona’s Most Admired Companies for the last three years by AZ Business Magazine. Melissa holds an Executive MBA from GCU and in 2010 was appointed by the governor to the Commission for Postsecondary Education. Melissa serves as commissioner for the General Plan Commission for the city of Surprise, chairs the Arizona State Charter Association Advisory Board Business Committee and serves on the West Valley Youth Leadership Council.
College of Theology, Class of 1981
Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 32 years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of the Year in 1989 by the Christian Booksellers Association. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers, rising to the position of editorial director of nonfiction and was named the Editor of the Year in 2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 800 new books and was named Agent of the Year in 2009. His office is in Phoenix.
Glenn M. Ramey
College of Arts and Sciences, Class of 1959
Pastor Glenn M. Ramey transferred to Grand Canyon College in 1957. During his time at GCC, he served as president of the campus ministerial association and was co-editor of GCC’s literary magazine, Shadows.” In 1966, Pastor Ramey was called to assume the pastorate of West Dunlap Baptist Church, a former mission of the First Southern Baptist Church (now Cross-Connection International Fellowship). He would spend the next four decades there. Through the 1960’s and into the new millennium, Pastor Ramey served a faithful, committed group of believers at the little church on the corner of Dunlap and 39th Avenue in Phoenix. He has spearheaded, with the help of his church, the ministry to Burmese refugees in his community. What started with just one Burmese refugee has grown into a full church with its own pastor and services and members in the hundreds.
College of Education, Class of 1988
Kimberly Rimbey, a 1988 GCU graduate, is passionate about equipping teachers to maximize their potential for impacting student learning. A recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Kim has authored many publications, gleaning from her years as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher, elementary mathematics coach, district mathematics coordinator and a sought-after professional developer. Currently, Kim works for the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona, whose aim is to raise student achievement at schools in high-poverty communities. Presently a PhD candidate, Kim plans to graduate from ASU this May with a PhD in mathematics education.
College of Arts and Media, Class of 2006
American soprano Amber Wagner is a winner of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Finals and was featured in the documentary film “The Audition,” which opened to audiences nationwide in 2009. Chosen by Opera News as one of 25 artists poised to break out and become a major force in classical music in the coming decade, Wagner began the 2012 to 2013 season with a return to the Metropolitan Opera as Amelia in “Un Ballo in Maschera,” conducted by Fabio Luisi. The season prior, Wagner triumphed in the title role in Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” at Lyric Opera of Chicago, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. Highlights from past operatic seasons included Wagner’s European debut with the Prague State Opera, performing Brang ne in “Tristan und Isolde” with conductor Jan Latham Koenig and performances with Lyric Opera of Chicago as Elsa in “Lohengrin,” conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
Dr. Robin Baker
College of Arts and Sciences, Class of 1980
Dr. Robin Baker has made an extensive contribution to the university setting. Dr. Baker is currently the president of George Fox University, after serving as provost for eight years. He has held other prominent administrative positions, including senior vice president of GCU, assistant professor of history at John Brown University and assistant professor of history at Wheaton College. Dr. Baker speaks frequently on integrating faith and learning in a Christian university setting. Dr. Baker and his wife Ruth married in 1980 while he was a student at GCU and have three children.
College of Education, Class of 1989
Marci Salmon has made significant contributions to the community, including serving on the Laurel House Board, Family Matters Board and Changing Lives in Costa Rica Board. She taught kindergarten and second grade in the Paradise Valley School District. Salmon helped establish the Tim Salmon Foundation and the Tim Salmon and Marci Salmon Scholarship at GCU. Salmon has spent countless hours volunteering with Neighborhood Ministries, Maggie’s Place, Scottsdale Christian Academy and Scottsdale Bible Church. Salmon has been devoted to serving those around her and raising her four children.
Ken Blanchard College of Business, Classes of 1999 and 2008
Jared Stauffer is a Phoenix native and met the love of his life, Christine, while attending GCU. Together they have four wonderful children. Stauffer began his first company, Ad World, in 1995, a classified ad and auction website. In 1997, Stauffer shifted his focus to consulting and worked with such companies as Intel and Lehman Brothers. In 1999, Stauffer and Christine founded Brinkster, a managed and cloud hosting company in their New York City apartment. Today, Stauffer is still CEO of Brinkster, employing 35 people with 50,000 customers in 200 countries. Brinkster donates 1 percent of its revenues to charities and missionaries.
College of Nursing, Class of 1995
Shirley Righi has excelled in building a thriving nursing practice throughout her career. She currently is a clinical director for Scottsdale Healthcare, where she has served for over 20 years in multiple roles. Righi also serves as director for the Home Health Department, Professional Nursing Education and the Magnet Project Director. Under Righi’s leadership, Scottsdale Healthcare recently received the prestigious recognition of Magnet status for excellence in nursing care. Her clinical interests are in the elderly and functional status. Her management interests are in building excellence in nursing practice.
College of Arts and Media, Class of 1970
Christine Weidinger has enjoyed a distinguished career as an operatic soprano, starring in most of the world’s major opera houses. The Arizona native made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera. She has shared the stage with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Montserrat Caballe and Marilyn Horne. Her wide-ranging repertoire includes works by Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti and Wagner. The German press celebrated her as “the miracle soprano.” Equally enthusiastic, the Italian press described her as “a genuine prima donna in full measure.” Weidinger teaches voice in Durham, NC and heads the Triangle Opera Studios, an organization founded to provide performance opportunities for singers seeking to begin professional singing careers.
Basketball Student-Athlete, Class of 1986
Kevin Warren holds three fourth-place GCU basketball records: 1,120 points scored over a two-year career at GCU, 23.3 points averaged his senior year and has GCU’s fourth best single scoring game against Concordia College in 1984 with 42 points. Warren earned GTE/CoSida Academic All-America as a senior along with NAIA Academic All-America honors and NAIA All-District VII honors as both a junior and senior. Warren worked with the international law firm of Greenberg Traurig, the Detroit Lions and the St. Louis Rams. Currently Warren is in his eighth year with the Minnesota Vikings as vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer. This begins his 14th season in the National Football League.
College of Education Notable Alumni
The College of Education at GCU proudly produces inspiring graduates every year. Of these grads, many go on to reach impressive heights and take on challenging endeavors, working to change the lives of their students and other educators. Below are a few of our many notable alumni from the College of Education.
Mrs. Theresa Killingsworth
Theresa Killingsworth graduated from GCU in 2008 with a Master of Education in Educational Leadership degree. She has served in the West Central Phoenix area as an educator and school leader in one of the most culturally and economically diverse school districts in the metropolitan area. Her entire 23-year career has been in the Alhambra Elementary School District, which educates students in preschool through eighth grade. She has served as a teacher, academic coach, assistant principal and building principal. Since 2015, she has led five teacher teams to serve in the Dominican Republic to provide professional development to teachers in San Juan de la Maguana.
Theresa has also served on the GCU College of Education Advisory Consortium. She has been a member of their Partnership for Learning, Leading and Serving Alliance and served on President Mueller’s K12 Education Advisory Council. She was a community liaison and board member for the Arizona Character Education Foundation as well as was a part of the TeacherSolutions team, contributing to the joint publication, “Performance-Pay for Teachers, Designing a System that Students Deserve,” which was published in January 2008.
Mr. Dion Jones
Mr. Dion Jones began his career in education after graduating from Coppin State University. After teaching for a few years, he made the decision to further his education with GCU, where he received a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction in 2020. He has continued to educate young minds and has had the pleasure of teaching students in both third and fourth grade. In January of 2023, he was the recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award, an award often referred to as the “Oscars of Teaching.”¹ It is his plan to continue his career in education and move into the field of curriculum and instruction office soon.
Mrs. Melissa Martin
Melissa Yazzie Martin is a dedicated educator, currently serving as principal at Chinle Junior High School, located on the Navajo reservation. Mrs. Martin is a member of the Navajo Nation and an alum of the Chinle Unified School District.
In 2004, she returned to her hometown of Chinle, Arizona after earning her teaching degree from Northern Arizona University. She began teaching at Chinle Elementary School where she worked as a teacher for 10 years. As a teacher, she earned her Master of Education from GCU, which qualified her to move into the role of academic coach at Chinle Elementary. She served in that role for seven years. During her time as an academic coach, she worked with teachers and staff to have an impact on student learning. Mrs. Martin was recognized for her work as an educator in 2021 by being honored with the Milken Educator Award, a prestigious award given to top educators.
Dr. Jim Rice
Dr. Jim Rice graduated from Grand Canyon College in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. He has served for 50 years in education as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent. He served his career in the Alhambra Elementary School District in central Phoenix. When Jim retired from the Alhambra Elementary School District, the governing board bestowed his name, James W. Rice, on one of their schools. He has also won a multitude of awards, including Arizona School Administrator’s Superintendent of the Year in 2007 and was inducted into the Phoenix Union High School Hall of Fame in 2017.
After retirement from Alhambra, Jim directed the Principal Initiative for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona until June of 2013. From 2013 to 2016, he served two interim superintendencies with Gilbert Public Schools and the Union Elementary School District. Jim currently serves as a Board Trustee for GCU and serves as a content expert for doctoral students at GCU. He also serves on the advisory council for the Assistance League of Phoenix. He contributes volunteer time to the Back-to-School Clothing Drive and to St. Mary’s Food Bank.
Dr. Kimberly Rimbey
As the co-founding owner of KP Mathematics, Kimberly Rimbey, PhD, helps elementary teachers and their leaders reimagine mathematics, teaching and learning at foundational levels. After serving in public education for 34 years, Kim frequently says, “We cannot afford for yet another generation to grow up believing that ‘being bad at math’ is something to joke or brag about.”
After graduating from GCU with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education in 1988, Kim worked in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, district math coordinator, state-wide math director and chief learning officer and executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. She was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2001. Furthermore, she is a published author with Corwin Publishers and continues to serve the education community through her business, KP Mathematics. She sits on several state and national boards, primarily focused on developing mathematics teachers and leaders. When she describes herself, she says, “I am an entrepreneur, author, coach, mentor, leader and above all else, a teacher ‘til the day I die.” Kim attributes her early success as an educator to the amazing professors she studied with at GCU.
Outstanding Senior Awards
¹ About the Milken Educator Awards. (n.d.). Milken Educator Awards. Retrieved on June 7, 2023.