Laveen Resident Sets Sights on GCU Online Education
Jennifer Scott is on a mission. But even though she is provost and chief academic officer of Grand Canyon University, a private, non-denominational Christian school based in Phoenix, it’s not the kind of mission you might guess.
Scott, a Laveen resident, is hunting for people who share her belief in online education.
“A lot of people just don’t know about (the online classes GCU offers),” Scott said. However, GCU, under her tutelage, has been steadily growing its online course offerings since 2004—shortly after being purchased by private investors—as a way to get out of debt.
Online educational programs have exploded in the past several years, offering people the chance to earn college credit without stepping foot on a traditional university campus. The concept has become the alternative of choice for many working professionals or anyone who is considered a “non-traditional” college student.
Today, there are 8,000 Grand Canyon students taking classes online in education, business, nursing, fire sciences, and some liberal arts fields such as psychology, Christian studies and family studies. Students have 500 classes to choose from, taught by a faculty of 900. Some students can even earn their entire degrees virtually, never having to step foot in a classroom at all.
“It’s just been an awesome, fun time here,” Scott said about the online campus growth, her characteristic youthful enthusiasm belying her education, expertise and years of experience as an agent of change in several highly competitive, largely testosterone-driven industries, most notably, aerospace and defense.
Scott, who said she’s always been interested in business and education, began her career in Arizona in the late 1970’s with Unidynamics Defense Systems, working for 11 years preparing, negotiating and managing contracts for the U.S. government, commercial enterprises and foreign militaries.
From Unidynamics she landed at Honeywell—then AlliedSignal—in Tempe, where, over the course of three positions, her expertise became taking “fat out of the process(es).” When she left AlliedSignal in 2001, it was because she chose not to travel internationally as her three children were still at home.
Instead, she decided to pursue her doctorate degree in organization and management from Capella University in Minneapolis. She wrote her dissertation on graduate students’ perceptions of the online classroom community, drawing from her own experience as a master’s candidate in organizational management at the University of Phoenix, a degree which she earned, like many UOP students, while continuing to work full-time.
Scott united her professional experience and enthusiasm for education to become the director of academic affairs for the University of Phoenix Online, helping the school run more efficiently in order to increase its online course offerings—during her tenure, the school’s online faculty increased from 2,000 to 20,000 instructors; its student numbers swelled from 10,000 to 100,000.
Scott is a “transformational leader,” said Godwin Igein, dean of academic services at GCU. “She is a person who believes in her vision and who’s able to achieve that vision. She challenges herself and she challenges others to find their hidden talents and inner strengths.”
Indeed, Scott is known as an ethical, enthusiastic, decisive and cooperative leader who says her personal beliefs are in synch with the Christian underpinnings of GCU.
Today, as chief academic officer and provost, a university term used for a high-ranking executive, Scott is responsible for the university’s academic and administrative dimensions. She is excited about the university’s expansion of its communications college, planned to launch in December, which will provide opportunities for students to study fields such as broadcast journalism, communications, public relations, animation and graphic design.
But what she says she likes best about her job, though, is working with people: “I love people. I like to meet with students, I like to watch students grow.”
Scott met her husband, who also works in the aerospace industry, when they both lived in an apartment complex in Goodyear. But since the mid-1990’s they’ve lived in Laveen.
“It was a great, sleepy little town away from the concrete,” she said of Levine. “We had to drive 10 miles to the nearest grocery store, although we did have a Circle K.”
But that’s changing, she said: “Geez, we even have a Starbuck’s now, and it’s packed every morning.”