Students at leadership event inspired to break barriers

Keynote speaker and NASCAR Phoenix Raceway President Latasha Causey talks about her professional journey during the Honors College’s 2024 Next Generation Leadership Conference.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Mental blocks, cultural blocks, physical blocks.

They’re barriers students experience in their academic and career paths as they go through college.

“How do we teach students to overcome that and to equip them with a growth mindset so that they can overcome things they might not think they can’t?” questioned Grand Canyon University Honors College senior Jennifer DeVries.

The answer seemed obvious – create an opportunity for students to hear from encouraging speakers who have broken barriers of their own to excel in school and become experts in their career fields.

The Honors College hosted its Breaking Barriers Leadership Conference Monday, attended by more than 200 students in Building 71 who learned about overcoming obstacles and rising above their academic and career challenges. Ten GCU students from the college’s Rise Fellowship organized the inspiring event, which featured speakers and breakout sessions on life topics.

Go Media Co. CEO Gregg Ostro talks with Phoenix Raceway President Latasha Causey (center) and Honors College Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli.

“This is important because it gives students an opportunity to be provided with valuable information,” shared Honors College freshman Shane Feichtinger. “But it does so in a way that they get to make it with others who are likeminded. It’s a stress-free environment where they are not necessarily having to perform a certain way. They are just here to take in the information they desire.”

President of NASCAR’s Phoenix Raceway, Latasha Causey, kicked off the event. The Phoenix native shared her diverse career background with students, ranging from United Services Automobile Association (USAA), to U-Haul, Bell Bank, Teach for America and more.

“If I can teach you anything, it is to build a good network,” Causey said. “You cannot build a good network unless you have integrity. If you do not do what you say you are going to do in your network, it will never grow or thrive.”

Honors student Olivia Stradley welcomes guests to the Honors College’s 2024 Next Generation Leadership Conference.

Causey, who started out in Human Resources and never envisioned herself as part of NASCAR, emphasized how building simple connections provided most opportunities for her.

After serving on a women’s panel and being asked to help support the new Phoenix Raceway president at the time, Causey took that chance simply by wanting to be a helping hand. But that turned into an opportunity of a lifetime a few years later when that president was moving on and selected Latasha as the next president because of her willingness to serve and support.

“When you are a leader, whatever you are doing, the people around you will want to do the same. It’s doing the little, simple things that teach one how to be of integrous character,” Causey said, encouraging students as they consider their future careers.  

Students get their photo taken on Monday with the Integrity Tiger and a NASCAR race car from Phoenix Raceway during the Honors College’s 2024 Next Generation Leadership Conference.

Various breakout sessions followed Causey’s motivational talk, including:

  • “Fostering Cultural Awareness” by Honors College advisory board member Jeff McGee
  • “Breaking Perfect: Overcoming Challenges with Resistance” by Dr. Breanna Naegeli
  • “Navigating the Realm of AI” by Colangelo College of Business faculty chair Greg Lucas, GCU alumnus Luke Amargo and film students Tony Acevedo, Henry Graybeal and Ridger Palma

An especially popular breakout session was “Creativity and Innovation in the Workplace,” hosted by John Hamby, an Honors College advisory board member, who captivated the students with his remarkable journey to success and honorable “40 under 40” mention in the Phoenix Business Journal.

After graduating from Arizona State University, Hamby spent more than 10 years in the hotel business before moving on to Silicon Valley Bank’s opening operations field. He made his big debut when he joined Uber in 2014 and helped launch the business across the globe. He then served as the executive director of Phoenix Community Alliance before settling at Resilience Lab as the vice president of operations. In addition to his GCU title, Hamby is also a St. Vincent de Paul advisory board member.

However, long before Hamby was making headlines, as a college student he struggled to maintain a job for more than two weeks at a time. From one place to another, it took Hamby multiple tries to find the right career path.

Honors student Emma Kreuzwiesner was the event emcee at the Honors College’s 2024 Next Generation Leadership Conference.

“It’s important to recognize when you aren’t ready for a job,” Hamby stressed to GCU students. “It takes time to find the right spot. You can’t break barriers without being confident in yourself and the profession you are involved in.”

At such a crucial time as college, the pressure to build the perfect resume is constantly nagging at the forefront of students’ minds, said Hamby, and what could be an exciting time of self-discovery easily can turn into rushed and forced decisions.

“You don’t have to have it all figured out right after college,” Hamby said. “Right when you graduate, you don’t have to have the perfect plan. That does not matter. What matters is that you are focused, learning, finding a good boss, finding good ideas and that you are happy.”

Students show their excitement at the start of the Breaking Barriers Leadership Conference.

To soak in all their new knowledge and connect it all together, students made their way to the main lecture hall at the end of the evening for the final closing keynote speaker, Gregg Ostro. The president and CEO of GO Media Companies visited the GCU campus earlier in the semester for the Honors College’s Integrity Week campaign, in which he encouraged students to be integrous leaders.

“You have a brand. What do you want it to be? What is your brand?”

Ostro reminded the students of his previous Integrity Week talk and encouraged them that they have the power to create their own path, but to truly break barriers, they must start by practicing integrity.

“The biggest thing I took away is that being yourself is so important,” shared Honors College sophomore Emma Kreuzwiesner. “Making sure you are true to who you are and not trying to put on anything else other than you. Breaking barriers means being able to work on obstacles in all aspects of life and being able to be authentic to who you are.”

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]


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