In the Phoenix, Arizona, metro area lies one of the largest Christian universities in the world: Grand Canyon University (GCU). With nearly twenty thousand on-campus students and seventy-five thousand online students, GCU has become a hub for people of various cultures, backgrounds and belief systems to achieve a higher education. Since its establishment in 1949 as a Southern Baptist college, the university has undergone several contemporary changes to sustain such large numbers, including a recent transition from being a for-profit organization to its original nonprofit status, as well as a move toward a more nondenominational Christian focus.
Despite these changes, GCU has never lost touch with its culture—a trait that has kept the university resplendent in the hearts of its current and past students. So, naturally, when GCU reached out to alumna Junette West to take on a lead role for the newly nonprofit school, she couldn’t say no.
Since graduating from GCU with an accounting degree in 1985, West has implemented strategies throughout her career learned from her old classrooms. She describes how small classroom sizes and an overall sense of togetherness allowed her to develop important problem-solving and communication skills that have translated into her work regardless of position or rank.
Though GCU taught her the skills to be successful within various roles, it subsequently gave her the opportunity to flourish in a role that was essentially made for her. Now, rather than sitting in the classrooms she once frequented as a student, she claims her chair as vice president of business and finance, overseeing all finance and accounting decisions at the university.
Despite working in a left-brain concentration, West approaches her work from the perspective of a financial analyst and a humanitarian. Her work centers on the philosophy that each decision should be made for the good of the students and faculty, not just the business. Luckily, the university’s nonprofit status gives her the capability to practice this principle.
“As a nonprofit institution, our mission of education with a Christian worldview is the lens we look through as we make decisions,’” West describes. “We pay careful attention to how we allocate our resources, but in the end, the decision is always centered on what is best for our students and the community in which we serve. It gives me a sense of personal satisfaction, and I really enjoy it.”
The drive behind her method? Her ongoing passion for higher education. Coming from several mathematically driven positions, including twenty-eight years with Apollo Education Group, West has always celebrated the opportunity to positively change lives through education. Inspired by her own kids and her personal opportunity to earn a degree, West advocates for the importance of allowing young adults the chance to gain knowledge through experience.
“I feel very strongly that a college education helps mold a young person’s life,” West expresses. “Any student that works hard, is motivated to go to college, and has the potential to succeed in school should have the chance to go, whether it’s at Grand Canyon or another school. It’s important to provide them with life experiences in addition to their education.”
“We pay careful attention to how we allocate our resources, but in the end, the decision is always centered on what is best for our students and the community in which we serve. It gives me a sense of personal satisfaction.”
West’s emphasis on the importance of higher education resonates throughout the campus with a resounding accentuation on harvesting diverse, driven students. West says the university has taken strides to promote acceptance of all walks of life with a particular aim in attracting young adults within its neighborhood. Despite the large population of the school, West notes that the sense of community has only become stronger since her time as an undergrad when there was a comparatively modest 2,500 students.
While the students at GCU operate with a sense of commitment and an urgency to learn, West holds her team to the same expectation. The open-ended nature of basing decisions off the good of the students allows her to implement a method called “What If Analysis,” which encourages the consideration of all possible approaches and outcomes before landing on a verdict. Since the goals of West’s department altered entirely due to the school’s transition from for-profit to nonprofit status, their approach to problem-solving had to alter concurrently to meet the needs of the students and GCU’s mission.
“When we’re talking about whether to change processes, add new campus facilities, or adjust tuition rates, we have to think through what will happen if we do it one way versus doing it another way,” West says. “We are committed to being wise stewards of our funds and ensuring that our decisions align with our mission. ‘What If Analysis’ is a helpful way to see the impact of various decisions, and it usually makes a desired path clearer.”
Using these comprehensive approaches, one of West’s current objectives is to “give students opportunities to work on grant-funded projects that they may not have a chance to work on otherwise.” With the goal of enriching students through education, West has managed to integrate the warmth of a human touch into a profession saturated with numbers. In turn, her efforts bring the students of GCU one step closer to achieving their dreams.
BMO Harris congratulates Junette West and celebrates her notable accomplishments in the community. As one of the oldest and largest banks in the US, we are proud to be a financial partner to Grand Canyon University and support their efforts to empower and advance the growth of women.